Mayhem

support Dragged Into Sunlight + Voodus
author AP date 26/03/17 venue Amager Bio, Copenhagen, DEN

Mayhem’s 1994-début “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas” unquestionably remains one of the most iconic, influential and controversial metal albums ever released — not least because it came out just one week after Varg Vikernes, the group’s bassist at the time, was found guilty of murdering the founding guitarist, Øystein ‘Euronymous’ Aarseth. So as you might imagine, when the Norwegian black metallers decided to tour the world, playing it front-to-back for the very first time, connoisseurs of the genre were left salivating at the prospect of being able to savour such a crucial piece of its history live at last. Black metal has rarely spoken to the masses though, and as such it should not come as a surprise that the attendance tonight falls short of Amager Bio’s maximum capacity. On the other hand, it is safe to assume that most of the people that have come out hold “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas” in special regard and are dedicated to playing their own part in plunging ‘Bio into darkness.

All photos courtesy of Peter Troest

Voodus

Charged with opening the proceedings is the unsullied Voodus from Kungälv, Sweden who, at present, have little else to their name than the four songs that comprise the “NightQueen” EP, of which only 100 copies were released — on cassette — in 2015. The Satanic black metallers’ limited repertoire is misleading however, as the four musicians plied their trade under a different moniker, Jormundgand, from 2004 to ’15 and built up the experience they so blatantly display during this 35-minute set. The band plays a raw, icily melodic variant of black metal with ample nods in the direction of their legendary countrymen, Dismember, and a selection of songs that confirm these are no unseasoned toddlers. Especially the Behemoth-esque second track, with its transmutations between a harmonised, Gothenburg-school melody, a thrashy, mid-tempo groove and salvoes of tremolo and blastbeats, leaves me nodding in approval — as does the frosty grandeur of the following piece and its dabbling in Solbrud-style atmospherics after the bridge.

In terms of Voodus’ songwriting ability, there is little to complain about, thus — even if the style itself is far from groundbreaking, sounding rather familiar if you have experience with Valkyrja and their ilk. But the quartet is also a convincing live act, one which clearly takes its art very seriously, looking at the soot-smeared skin and brutal arm-spikes of bassist Fredrik Sundgren, and the pagan necklace and bone emblems dangling from frontman Tobias Fongelius’ guitar and wristguard. Although the band is not explosive or overtly confrontational by any means, there is menace to the way they perform which suits the music well and gives the performance a chilling, demonic tincture. Indeed, while the show is certainly not jaw-on-floor material, it serves as a solid introduction to a new player on the market and earns my endorsement for a future headlining show.

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Dragged Into Sunlight

With such an unsettling name, Dragged Into Sunlight should be obliged to conjure an atmosphere of sheer terror for their concert. And at the very least, the British metallers have an unusual way of doing things live which helps them achieve that: for virtually the entire duration of the group’s set, the five musicians opt to play with their backs to the audience — a reversal of custom which, to me, feels very satanic; a symbolic embodiment of the upside down cross, if you will. To hear the snarls and growls of the vocalist without being able to see his expression, and to witness the droning, shamanic movements of the remaining musicians makes the imagination run wild, and the sense of disquiet is only heightened by the ominously lit goat skulls staring down at us from either side, the candles flickering in a tall, ornate structure in front of (or rather, behind?) the vocalist, the sheets of dry ice floating through the air, and the disturbing, often violent archive footage running on the two LCD screens flanking the stage.

Although Voodus’ music was also chilling, the slabs of blackened death and doom metal laid down by Dragged Into Sunlight resonate on an entirely other plane of scary — it sounds dense and unforgiving, deranged and murderous, albeit with plenty of scorching grooves and room for grandeur as well when the songs call for it. This is heavy, lumbering, stoning stuff though, yet like the Britons’ performance, the more uninviting it gets, the more intrigued you are by it and the further into the séance you are drawn. Indeed, seldom have I felt so completely, utterly engrossed by a band this extreme in the live setting or felt more afraid that they might succeed in summoning an Evil such as Cthulhu — or worse. Apart from conceding that Dragged Into Sunlight could be a pretty polarising act, even amongst the hardened attendance here, it is hard to identify real deficiencies in this mow-down, thus, and one hopes that a local booker made a note with an underline to bring this outfit back for their own, headlining show in the near future.

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Mayhem

One component of Mayhem’s strategy to one-up Dragged Into Sunlight seems to be to maximise the amount of fog blanketing the stage, and have it mingle with variable hues and luminosities of blue light to urge in a mysterious, haunting ambiance. This is the ideal setting in which to experience the chaos of “Funeral Fog”; to be consumed by the horrific maelstrom of noise as the three legendary musicians — bassist Jørn ‘Necrobutcher’ Stubberud, drummer Jan Axel ‘Hellhammer’ Blomberg & vocalist Attila Csihar — and their more recently added compatriots — guitarists Morten ‘Teloch’ Iversen & Charles ‘Ghul’ Hedger — gradually emerge from the mist wearing druidic, hooded robes and corpse paint. Yes, Mayhem knows how to make an entrance and by insisting that mobile devices, or at the very least flashes be kept at bay amongst the audience, the concert promises to be as aesthetically stunning as the rumours would have it.

Between the songs, the atmosphere is held in situ by eerie samples and bassy rumbling, and when the musicians are in action, it is, as always, Csihar who shoulders the brunt of Mayhem’s showmanship by totally losing himself in the music. His ritualistic gesticulation, as though conjuring or shaping something out of thin air, has been the focus of much debate — some consider it to be on the verge of comedy — but it is an important aspect to his role-playing which allows him to feel and breathe the music. And in the dark, there is nothing amusing about it; on the contrary, his slow, measured movements and white rune-splattered face give him a nightmarish look — a mixture of ancient evil, Pennywise and the tricycling puppet in the movie “Saw”. His four colleagues are somewhat less expressive though no less grim. It is hard to decipher whether the grin seen intermittently on Teloch’s face is made of enthusiasm or malice, but given his twitching demeanour one is inclined to believe the latter.

Mayhem thus succeeds in bringing to life the majesty and creepiness of their magnum opus in show terms, but on the other hand, one cannot help but feel that “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas” was never imagined as a piece of musical theatre. Rather, the frenzy, intensity and sheer extremity of tracks like “Cursed in Eternity” and “From the Dark Past” makes them better suited for a raw, stripped-down delivery and it is the absence of this that fuels my skepticism somewhat. For a band advertised as “true Norwegian black metal”, this is much too dramatic and firmly hinged to be ‘trve’, or feel dangerous. Nevertheless, as I have never been one to subscribe to such elitist notions of what can and cannot constitute ‘real’ metal of this or that style, I probably have fewer qualms about it than some of the patrons in attendance here. And the fact that there is no encore, nor any forays into other parts of Mayhem’s repertoire is a big plus, as the decision to play “De Mysteriis…” and nothing else frames the performance well and makes it feel pure.

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Setlist:

  • 01. Funeral Fog
  • 02. Freezing Moon
  • 03. Cursed in Eternity
  • 04. Pagan Fears
  • 05. Life Eternal
  • 06. From the Dark Past
  • 07. Buried by Time and Dust
  • 08. De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas

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