Any diehard black metal fan worthy of their corpse paint must undertake at least one major diabolical pilgrimage to worship at a particularly frostbitten altar in their lifetimes. Fortunately for those of the devil’s party inhabiting this green and pleasant land, Camden, London’s subcultural Jerusalem, was about to offer just such an auspicious opportunity. For getting ready to unleash chaos at Incineration were none other than the legendary Mayhem, the most blasphemously sinful of anti-prophets in the annals of music history.
Credited with initiating the black metal movement, hailing not just a terrifying new brand of music but a rabid, crepuscular cult inciting ever more despicable acts of madness and chaos, the controversial origins of these dissolute princes of Pandemonium are infamous within metal circles. Birthed literally in hellfire as images of the blackened ruins of various Norwegian churches testify, that wicked spark which first ignited those devilish creative energies is still burning bright, and having worked hard to exorcise their demons, Mayhem continue to perform for packed audiences around the world. Although it’s impossible to fully capture their blood-soaked glory days, the fans who still flock to see the nefarious ne’er do wells in action are usually in for a fiendishly tasty nostalgic treat - and their headline set at Incineration was no exception.
Focusing on tracks from their ground-breaking 1994 album De Mysteriis Dom Sathanus, saturated as it is in occult mystery and old-school black metal gloom, and the raging tumult of short but sweet EP Deathcrush, Mayhem soon had the teeming denizens of Camden’s stately Electric Ballroom held firmly in their glacial grasp. Setting the scene with the relentless, demented tremolo of Ancient Skin and the doom-infused cathedral knells of Dark Night of the Soul, by the time the echoing drums and creeping riffs of Freezing Moon suffused the smoky air the crowd were fully transported to the band’s shadowy nether-realms. A suffocating homage to the coldest and most uncaring mistress of the night, Freezing Moon was penned with the expressed intention of inducing suicide. Perhaps the most evocative of their native Norway’s bleak and unforgiving natural beauty, with guitar work as jagged as pine forests thrusting up against barren skies and vocals as bracing as the most biting of Winter winds, this most admired track’s anguish-laden soundscapes invite nothing less than contemplation of the comfortless emptiness of eternity. And as this evening proved, Freezing Moon, when performed live, is still as haunting and bleak and utterly mesmerising as it ever was.
Continuing to hold up a frost-cracked mirror to the most sequestered fears of our psyche, Mayhem followed up their murky masterpiece with the weighty philosophical chimes of Life Eternal and De Mysteriis Dom Sathanus, adding yet more layers of sinister atmospherics. The sludgy, anarchic Deathcrush and brutal Chainsaw Gutsfuck dragged their listeners further into the Mayhem mire, with a cacophony of hostile desperate shrieks and nihilistic diving riffs echoing the archfiend’s despairing tumble into the fiery pit, before the band rounded off their set with rabble-rousing classics Carnage and Pure Fucking Armageddon. Despite the indulgence of a couple of weird, dragging instrumental interludes, for the most part Mayhem steered clear of their more experimental material and focused on giving the fans what they wanted - including some of their notorious stage antics as they tossed a decapitated pig’s head directly into the eager outstretched arms of delighted audience members crushed up against the security barriers. As a result, their Incineration set was a rousing success, proving these anti-heroes of all that is unholy can still inspire much devotion.