Interview with Necro Butcher and Hellhammer taken from Terrorizer magazine #45
Thanks to Nick Terry
Mayhem are a legend. The band that kick-started Black Metal in the Nineties; the band who lost two members to knife and shotgun. But unlike Dead and Euronymous, the Mayhem legend is very much alive and well. Gregory Whalen travelled to East Germany to witness the Norwegians' comeback performance, and found out from Hellhammer and Necro Butcher how this band's future is no longer in their past.
The East Club Hangar is situated roughly five miles outside of Bischofswerda, right on the Polish border. It is really nothing more than a converted warehouse barn stuck smack-bang in the middle of nowhere. A dirt track leads off to it from a narrow, winding farm road. As we approach the venue, it starts to rain. Great.
Once inside the small enclosure that boasts a beer tent and several merchandise stalls set up by German underground distros, we are welcomed by the Misanthropy Records crew and ushered into the building. Several hours of soundchecks and schmoozing later, the doors are opened and an army of German Black Metal fans troops in. Quite a sight: an ocean of bulletbelts, spikes, chains and, rather worryingly, also knives. There is a distinct murmur of expectancy in the air; nervous excitement almost to the point of disbelief. F***ing hell, we're going to see Mayhem!
This is the first gig the band have played since their now-legendary tour of East Germany in 1991, during which the 'Live In Leipzig' album was recorded. Since then, a lot of water has flowed under the bridge. Shortly after thetour was completed, vocalist Dead lived up to his name when he blew his brains out. This, coupled with the departure of Necro Butcher in 1992, meant that what is considered to be the classic Mayhem line-up (Dead, Euronymous, Necro Butcher, Hellhammer) never succeeded in recording the 'De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas' album as planned. But tonight's performance is solid proof
that Mayhem are deadly as ever. Necro Butcher and Maniac, who both appeared on the 1987 mini-album 'Deathcrush', are back on bass and vocals respectively, and new guitarist Blasphemer, despite having an enormous pair of shoes to fill, has fitted in quite comfortably. Meanwhile, Hellhammer remains anchor-like behind the drumkit. Speaking to the band after the show, it is fairly obvious that despite the poor organisation, the concert was a success.
"I didn't know what to expect," says Necro Butcher. "But most people there were in their mid-20s, and that's a good crowd. Obviously, the tickets cost 50 Deutsche Marks [about 20 quid], so we got only the hardcore Mayhem fans.
Which was great. But we didn't get the pig heads that we were promised. We told the guy a million times, we need pig heads, that's our trademark, and instead we get a pile of cow skulls. But that's okay. They looked pretty cool. Pretty grotesque, you know?"
"We had also ordered barbed wire," Hellhammer continues. "And 50 scalpels which were to be thrown into the audience while Maniac was cutting himself, but we didn't get any of that. Besides that, the sound on stage was a f***ing joke!"
But you did it. You played the show. And that's the most important thing, right?
"Yeah, we did it. It's been a long time since we last played live, so this was our first step."
Mayhem have a lot to live up to, far more than Emperor did when they made their return earlier this year. 'De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas' speaks foritself, as does the band's considerable reputation and influence. But undoubtedly the greatest shadow over the reunion is cast by the legacy of Euronymous.
This month marks the fourth anniversary of his death. Everyone has at least heard of him and his murder, yet there are undoubtedly many who do not know the full story. Indeed, it would be almost impossible to present a 100% accurate account of the events surrounding his violent demise, but here - for the benefit of those who weren't around at the time - is a basic outline of the whos, the whats and the wherefores.
Euronymous ran a label called Deathlike Silence Productions. In the early days, releases were few and far between. The first DSP product was Merciless' debut album 'The Awakening'. Other releases included a revised edition of Mayhem's 1987 mini-album 'Deathcrush' and two Burzum records, the self-titled debut album and 'Aske' mini-LP. Euronymous was full of praise for the strange, talented youngster known as Count Grishnackh (Varg Vikernes), so much so that he asked him to joined Mayhem when Necro Butcher left. (Vikernes laid down the bass tracks on the 'De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas' album, but quit the band in early '93.) Parallel to the label, Euronymous owned a record store in Oslo named Helvete (Norwegian for Hell). The shop had long been the focal point for the Norwegian Black Metal scene, and it was here that the Inner Circle was born.
The Inner Circle was a small, clandestine group of "Satanists" led by Euronymous. It comprised of an elite core of individuals, most of whomplayed in Black Metal bands, and a number of drone-like hangers-on. TheBlack Council's aim, said members at the time, was to make Norway as close to Hell as possible. Churches were burned and graveyards desecrated, and that was just the beginning according to Euronymous. Far more sinister plans were hatched, yet none of these were ultimately carried out. Vikernes soon became a prominent member of the group. He was one of the first suspects arrested following arson attacks on several churches around southern Norway, but was freed when police evidence proved inconclusive. However, relations between him and Euronymous became increasingly strained in the months following his release. It was clear that a bitter - yet largely unspoken - rivalry was developing. Vikernes especially enjoyed the media attention that his arrest had attracted, and it seems likely that he wanted to be seen as the figurehead for the Inner Circle. He also desired more support from within the organisation itself than he was at that point getting; clearly, Euronymous was
still the boss. He was in the way, and something had to be done about it.
On the night of August 10th 1993, Vikernes and Snorre Ruch (better known as Blackthorne) from the band Thorns, who had also played in Mayhem, drove from their native Bergen to Oslo. They went to Euronymous' block of flats, and Blackthorne waited behind while Vikernes buzzed Euronymous' apartment. Euronymous answered the door in his underwear. Naturally, he was surprised to see Varg at that time of night and was probably also somewhat suspicious. Vikernes claimed that he had come to discuss Burzum's record contract, and Euronymous eventually let him in. Once inside, an argument ensued, and as
Euronymous turned to walk back into his flat Vikernes stabbed him several times in the back and the neck. Euronymous screamed and ran out into the landing, where he was stabbed again and fell to the floor. Vikernes and Blackthorne then returned to Bergen, stopping off along the way to dispose of the murder weapon. But Vikernes had f***ed up. Big time. He had forgotten to wear gloves. Not only that, but he had left the contract in Euronymous' flat, signed and dated and covered in his own bloody fingerprints. It did not take the police long to piece the evidence together, and the rest, as they say, is history: Vikernes was charged and convicted of the murder, as well as found guilty on several counts of arson, and sentenced to 21 years in prison (the maximum sentence in Norway).
Vikernes has justified the murder by claiming that it was in self-defence. This could well be true: shortly before he was killed, Euronymous learned from a psychic that Varg was to be jailed for murder. Putting two and two together, Euronymous assumed that he was going to be the victim and thus decided to kill Vikernes before the prophecy could be fulfilled. But obviously (and some say tragically), Varg got to him first. According to Hellhammer, it was only a matter of time until the situation came to a head:
"The thing that I think pissed Count Grishnackh off was Euronymous' egoistic thinking. I was kind of in the middle of it. I heard things from Varg saying 'Ah, this sucker...' and I heard things from Euronymous saying 'I really need to kill this idiot' and stuff like that. So I just thought, if they want to fight, let them fight. Because I knew it was coming to that. As for what really happened, most of the things that were in the papers are true. I talked to Blackthorne afterwards and he confirmed a lot of it. The plan was to have him show them something on the computer and then smash a big axe into the back of his head, get him from behind. But that would have been too obvious. What I think happened was that they just panicked. Blackthorne was shit-scared. I called him the day after. I knew that Euronymous had been killed, but I didn't know who had done it. This Blackthorne guy started to cry, and I said 'Hey! What the f*** is this?' I asked if Count Grishnackh was home and he said no. It was hopeless talking to him, so I just hung up. The next day, I was talking to Grishnackh and he told me that Blackthorne was lying on the couch and that he couldn't eat, he couldn't talk or anything. He was in a very traumatic state of mind. Naturally, I started to ask myself why. But at that time there was a battle between bands from Norway, Sweden and Finland, so I and a lot of other people thought that it must have been some of those guys. It really came as a surprise to me when I heard that both Grishnackh and Blackthorne were involved."
At this point Hellhammer drops an absolute bombshell.
"Frankly, I didn't care too much about it."
In the years after his death, Euronymous has been promoted from ringleader to demigod in the Black Metal scene. Tributes have been made left, right and centre, Vikernes cast as the villain while Euronymous is glorified as a heroic mentor brutally slain out of greed and jealousy by one of his own pupils. And so to hear a statement like that from someone as close to him as Hellhammer undoubtedly was naturally something of a revelation.
Was it not, I ask, a tragic waste?
"Not the way Euro was heading. He was concentrating more and more on his record label, and I was starting to rehearse more and more with other bands,because I need to practise a lot. He didn't care too much about Mayhem anymore. He was burned out. He wasn't into the band thing anymore, he was just into making money with DSP. We were even considering kicking him out of the band."
This comes as a surprise, because if ever Mayhem had a figurehead, it was Euronymous.
"That started to piss me off," says Hellhammer. "He was a very egocentric person. He wasn't like that at first, but he turned that way. I didn't care too much about it to begin with, but when I saw how he was carrying on, sending out pictures of only himself or pictures that only he looked good in, that started to bug me a little."
Necro Butcher paints a similar picture, although he clearly does not begrudge Euronymous anything. In actual fact, it was he who encouraged himto act as Mayhem's mouthpiece.
"He was the guy who was always sitting at home writing letters," he explains."He loved that. He wanted to do the correspondence thing. He was our personal manager, but actually keeping the band together wasn't his thing at all. He used all his money on stamps instead of fixing up his amplifier, so I had to fix up the amps and drive around looking for Hellhammer, who was constantly into things that can't be mentioned in magazines. But no, I'm not pissed off at Euronymous at all."
It is common knowledge, however, that he held and expressed certain personal views which had little to do with Mayhem. Wasn't that a sore point? Again, Necro Butcher is dismissive:
"The same thing is happening now. Obviously, individual personalities often slip out and magazines might pick up on them and write them up as if they were a group thing. But I think people are well aware of that, so I'm not too concerned about it. You could say that he took off a little too much, though..."
Hellhammer: "He tried to force his concepts onto the rest of the band. A lot was good, a lot wasn't so good. A lot of things just fell apart when he died, but musically we are still doing the same thing. Euronymous loved to claim that he wrote all of Mayhem's music, but that just wasn't true. A lot of the ideas were his, but the music wasn't entirely his own. It was also mine and Necrobutcher's. Plus Blackthorne wrote some riffs for 'De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas' as well. He was a very egoistic person, I guess, but then whoisn't?"
The picture that is emerging here is of Euronymous as a talented yet highly impractical leader. And, by the sound of it, a leader with megalomaniacal tendencies. There is no denying that he was the face of Mayhem, but one has to wonder if he was altogether worthy of his legendary reputation. One thing is for sure, however: Mayhem lives on without him. Ultimately, the band name is stronger than the individuals involved.
"The feeling is certainly stronger," Hellhammer agrees. "And there definitelyis a Mayhem feeling. It's a feeling I've had since I joined the band almostten years ago."
He's right. To listen to 'De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas' is to smell the scent of damp earth and rotten leaves; you can almost feel the funereal breath of ages ruffle your hair as 'Freezing Moon' slithers its way off the turntable, all but see the thick, sulphurous fog pour from the speakers as 'From The Dark Past' envelops you. An album of unparalleled majesty and intensity, it has yet to be bettered. Attila's gruesome operatic snarls send a shiver down the spine, while Euronymous' creeping, crawling riffing, backed up by Hellhammer's percussive battery (there simply is no other word for it), is deeply, darkly evocative. To listen to 'De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas' is to hear the sound of death.
Replacing Euronymous was never going to be easy. Despite what has been said about him as a person, there is no denying that he had a certain dark gift.
"When Euro was killed I first tried to get Blackthorne, who at that time was our second guitarist, back in the band," Hellhammer explains. "But he got alonger sentence than expected because he was framed. I was thinking 'What the hell now?' Then I got in touch with this guy Blasphemer, who I'd playedwith before in other bands. We started to rehearse a little bit, andeverything was there. He's an integral part of the band now. We gave himfree reign over the new material. He wasn't tied to anything, he was allowed to go his own way. We corrected him if he came up with something that was way out of line, but he really worked his butt off to get his stuff. Technically I would say he's a better guitarist than Euronymous."
He certainly seems to have the Mayhem feeling.
"Yeah, he does, and I see a lot of similarities between him and Euronymous."
Maniac, too, has slotted in quite comfortably, and his vocal performance on the 'Ancient Skin' single is truly astonishing. Not to mention frightening.
"He is constantly surprising me," glows Necro Butcher. "We didn't practise with him much before we went into the studio. We were really tight, but when he came and laid down the vocal tracks, I'd never heard anything like it before. It was totally out of this world! You know what it reminds me of? 'The Exorcist'. Like, when Linda Blair's head spins round and she starts going 'GRRRLAAAAABRRRLLLAAAAAWUUURRRGH! He's a great frontman. And he has a lot of character. He's very thin and very pale, and he's got scars everywhere. Only one in 10,000 people can carve themselves up like that, and we've had two vocalists who both could. It's pretty incredible when you think about it."
Musically, the new material is Mayhem's strongest to date. Although it is not a direct continuation of 'De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas', it sounds similarly savage. And of course, very, very dark. Blasphemer attempts to describe it:
"To my ears, some of the music is in the same vein as 'De Mysteriis', but it's more like my own interpretation of the Mayhem concept. Mayhem has never sounded like any other Norwegian Black Metal band, and so I tried to hold onto that. What does the new material sound like? I don't know... MAYHEM!"
Hellhammer: "Musically, no band today sounds like Mayhem. Nowhere near. Bands have tried to copy 'De Mysteriis'. Lots of bands I know have gone to the studio with that album and said 'I want THIS sound'. A lot of bands have gone to Grieghallen to capture the same feeling, but they have all failed. And a lot of drummers - I'm not trying to flatter myself here or anything - have tried to play the same licks that I have played, but what can I say? I can take it as a compliment or be an asshole and laugh about it. I take it as a compliment. But musically they have never captured the same feeling."
By now, I am almost certain that there a couple of raised hands at the back of the room. "Please, sir, what is 'the Mayhem feeling'?" It's a valid point: not everyone has all the bootlegs in their collection. In fact, I'm sure that some of our readers have yet to even hear the band.
"Okay, I'll explain it as if you're a total dumb-ass," Hellhammer chuckles."Well, for a start, we're going to put razor blades in our first 300 records. And you know what to use them for, don't you? Okay, okay, Mayhem is a band, it's about music. It's about making not good but GREAT music. We all try to be the best musicians possible. And I think that even if we didn't show it at this f***ing gig, Mayhem is a very tight band. We create dark music that creates darkness in people's minds. I think people should decide for themselves what it's all about. I encourage people who like and enjoy the band to see Mayhem not only as a band but as a concept which they can devote time to."
Necro Butcher earlier pointed out that the average age of a Mayhem fan is roughly 20 years old, and he was probably right. After all, 'De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas' did come out over three years ago. Certain people are saying that you have left it too late to come back, that newer bands like Cradle Of Filth and Dimmu Borgir have stolen a lot of potential Mayhem fans. Do youeven think in those terms?
"Absolutely not. Those kind of bands have their crowd anyway. They haven't stolen any fans from us. When we bring out the new record, it will show the people that appreciate us that we are back. I mean, the same thing was said before the 'De Mysteriis' album came out... 'Deathcrush' was released in 1987, and in the meantime people were saying that it had been too long, that time had passed us by. Then when 'De Mysteriis' came out, it was like 'Oh.'"
A lot has changed since 1994...
"Lots of things have changed in the scene, yeah, but so has our music. Our newsongs are very complex. There aren't any catchy riffs in there that teenagerscan dig the first time they hear it. But I don't believe we can do any different. We're not going to try to win over any fans by playing catchy riffs. We do what we want to, and that isn't going mainstream."
Finally, do you have any doubts that the next Mayhem album will outclass 'De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas'?
And there you have it: Mayhem are back in black. Whether you're a sceptical fan or an unconverted youngster, there is no denying it. And, if all goes to plan, you will be able to witness the band for yourselves when they play London in October. Details are sketchy at the time of writing, but one thing is certain: it will be an event.