Mayhem 30.03.2017, Manchester Academy 2
In many ways, it’s remarkable that this gig even happened in the first place. Out of all the bands in history, Mayhem has a past darker, more murderous, more twisted than most: One of their founding members was hacked to death by a fellow musician, while another killed himself. His succinct suicide note read, “Excuse all the blood, cheers.”
And all this before their debut album had even been released. Who could have imagined that a band haunted by a gory past would be playing to a sold-out crowd in Manchester over twenty years later?
Grisly stories such as these are probably to be expected from a band whose past members include a guy called Dead and another called Maniac. But from some such bloody, haphazard and macabrely comic beginnings came an album that was to cement their legend even more than the murders and the suicides, proving that this bunch of greasy pagans from the frozen north were not just hell-bound gimmicks. And last night, for the first time ever in Manchester, Mayhem performed that eponymous debut album in its entirety to a crowd baying for blood (literally).
And if anyone thought an ageing band who have released only four full-length albums since 1994’s game-changing De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas would have toned things down a bit, last night’s chillingly atmospheric show proved that such fancies were misguided. Mayhem may be one of the founding fathers of Norwegian Black Metal that go way back to a time before I was even born, but they’re still relevant, still evil, and still scary as fuck.
The tone for the evening was set by Dragged Into Sunlight, a nasty, brilliant band who fully deserved their role as Mayhem’s evil sidekicks for the night. Their thunderous sound was complimented by black metal ephemera that turned the Academy’s stage into a sacrificial altar: Candlesticks and animal heads. It was ritualistic. It was pure, old school, theatrical Black Metal.
But Dragged Into Sunlight, despite their penchant for gimmicks (their faces are always covered in photo shoots), are a serious band who are more-than worthy stage setters for the Princes of Darkness. And it was fitting that their hour-long set was greeted by a packed Academy crowd who knew that this is one of the hottest bands around right now. They chugged, screamed and vomited their way through their slender but excellent back catalogue of songs. It was a genuinely terrifying spectacle.
As good as Dragged Into Sunlight were, Mayhem were the real reason the Academy 2 was packed to the rafters with metal-heads of all ages. Black Metal is about more than just the music. It’s about image, theatrics, and ideology. Mayhem know this more than most. So when a bell started to chime and blue smoke rose from the stage, you just knew you were in for one hell of a show from the godfathers of BM.
They teased us for a few minutes with that bell – and I imagine its chime is the same as the bell that tolls for us all when it’s time to exit this mortal coil and enter god-knows-where. It was a prefigurement of the exhausting eternity that is to come. Last night, though, what was to come were pagan fears, Black Metal nightmares, feral, punk-inspired riffs, cataclysmic howls, and all-round sonic derangement.
On stage, Mayhem looked like a coming-together of black-robed ghouls; zombie-like druids here to summon heathen gods. Their frontman, Attila, is a proper showman. More Freddy Kruger than Freddie Mercury, he twists his body into mangled shapes, and conjures imaginary spirits – or maybe he’s just busy resurrecting the dead? His voice is one of the most recognisable in Black Metal; it’s helped to define the genre, and it was pleasing to see that he is able to translate it into a live setting. It’s hard to imagine how one Norwegian man’s voice could sound so deliciously malevolent. It’s the stuff of nightmares.
The band tore their way through the album in complete fidelity to the original track listing, pausing between songs with the lights out. Freezing Moon got arguably the best reception, and to this day it remains their best song. The band captured a feeling when they wrote that opening riff in the early nineties; it was a death-punch that came at a time when Black Metal was reaching its peak. Today, the song as a whole continues to put most modern post-black metal bands to shame with its sinister atmospherics.
And this was really what the show was about to me: The return of Mayhem, the unveiling of De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas in a live setting for the first time, showed the pretenders who the gods really are. The gods are Mayhem. There will never be a band quite like them ever again. They ripped themselves out of their mother’s womb prematurely, they are the quintessential evil twin incarnate. They are the Antichrist whose diabolical past is not pure mythology – it’s very, very real. The album they played live was an album recorded in blood. In a genre that is increasingly being watered down by hipsters, Mayhem returned to vanquish all and reclaim their throne.