Soon to become as ubiquitous as Once Upon a Time, Mayhem’s Necrobutcher - perhaps in a move to give value for money to fans who relish the band’s reputation for notoriety - has recently ensured every black metal picaresque is now destined to begin with the same refrain. ‘When I was on my way to kill Euronymous….’ Fortunately for us Londonites, Mayhem’s latest murderous campaign of ear-splitting carnage, an epic tour laying waste to various metal enclaves across Europe, featured an especially savage chapter at Camden’s Electric Ballroom that eventually proved more than worth the investment of time, attention and the entrance fee.
A saga played out over at least three decades now, with an ever-changing rogue’s gallery of various black-hearted ne’er-do-wells and miscreants, Mayhem pioneered the original true Norwegian black metal, the sullied perversions of which continue to reverberate in every dusky, demonic corner of the alternative scene today. A mutant musical style soaked in nightmarish atmospherics and bred from pushing and distorting instrumental techniques to the most dangerously punishing extremes, the genesis and intense creativities of this bastard genre demanded the most ultimate of sacrifices. Ripping up the rule-book literally tore the souls of these individuals apart from the inside out, resulting in an essentially tragic narrative of arson, sacrilege, suicide, murder, madness, literal mayhem… and… well, you know the rest.
Fortunately, the infernal, essentially mythic spirit of Mayhem has a way of rising, phoenix-like, above the ashes left in its corporeal wake to craft fresh tales anew. The roguish protagonists of this particular incarnation of the line-up have just released their most spectacular album in decades, and it is riding on the rotting coat-tails of this renewed success that the lords of misrule set out to decimate Europe once again. However, a Mayhem set is always a bit of a gamble due to the often eclectic selections on display; and the London proceedings got off to a slightly shaky start judging by the general murmurs of dissatisfaction rumbling through the assembled fans. Unfortunately, the band have not quite found their stride with the new tracks nor mastered their latest masterpiece beyond the safe confines of the studio and the careful balance of brutality and elegance Mayhem achieved in their recent opus lost much of its refinement amidst the raging walls of noise. It was difficult to appreciate the feral, airy nuances of Invoke the Oath and the exquisitely stirring malevolence of Malum in a venue unusually packed to the rafters full of sweaty bodies for a Monday night, rebounding with the general crashing pandemonium of Mayhem’s intensely raw, live sound. Until Mayhem find a way to do these tracks justice in person, Daemon is still that rare delicacy best enjoyed on record, preferably in front of a roaring fire with a skull-goblet of full-bodied red wine.
After a slightly disappointing beginning, it’s doubtful that any of the black metal faithful was clamouring to experience the weirdly eldritch cries of To Daimonion or the coldly synthesised robotic tones of A Bloodsword and a Colder Sun, Part II, but Mayhem just had to indulge themselves with a few experimental oddities. The road to hell, or to Euronymous’ bloody corpse, is paved with good intentions, perhaps. Thankfully for everyone present, it was during the latter half of the set that Mayhem really picked up the pace with the crowd-pleasers that have cemented their place in the most ravenously sinful of music’s hall of fame. These particular tracks, taken from their infamous EP Deathcrush and magnum opus De Mysteriis Dom Sathanus have been played so often that the technical subtleties have reached highly accomplished levels of precision and every sharpened note is piercingly perfect.
As the bleak, sinister tones of Freezing Moon suffused the fetid air, with drum beats heavy as death knells, the audience knew they were back on familiar Mayhem territory and responded with rapturous, bestial approval. The mysterious chimes of Life Eternal and Pagan Fears deepened the overall nefarious mood and built on atmospherics as bone-chillingly shiver-some as Norway’s far Northern, near-arctic climes. The ever-popular Deathcrush; a torrid slice of twisted torment reflecting the internal agonies of its creators, nevertheless rumbled along with addictive fervour and soon ignited all the cathartic fury of a good old swell of collective head-banging. The wicked delights of Pure Fucking Armageddon, which revs and roars along like a motorised troupe of petrol-head hellions in a Mad Max-inspired dystopian wasteland, tearing up with spiked tire-tracks any lingering pretence of adherence to musical structures, rounded off what had, finally, become a truly explosive evening worthy of the name of Mayhem.
For this blackened story to continue, as with all transcendental and visionary forms of art, the tithe to hell must be regularly paid. And in the bowels of the Ballroom during those last few numbers, band members gave their bloody all to their performance, ripping their throats and souls and fingertips into tatters, and the crowd of worshippers responded in kind with equally bloodthirsty, blasphemous frenzy down in the pit, ensuring that the group’s latest blistering live show ended on a soul-stripping, heart-stopping high.
The fans, at least, seemed to feel they got just recompense from their deal with the devil.