Interview with Hellhammer taken from Unrestrained! #12

Thanks to Adam Wasylyk at Unrestrained!

Mayhem have finally released one of the most anticipated albums of recent history. The highly touted Grand Declaration Of War, which will undoubtedly take many traditional Mayhem fans by surprise. The infamous Norweigans have taken the sound of old and brought it into the new millenium by experimenting and adding different elements into their black metal formula. It's an album that may not grab you immediately, but after repeated spins the new Mayhem vision will take hold and never leave you.Maniac leads the pack with a great vocal performance, ranging from his usualy shrieks to spoken word to war-like chants...even some heavily drenched in distortion. Fans should take comfort that no drastic changes were made, this is still Mayhem in all it's glory. It's the Mayhem of 2000 - war has been declared, so all bets are off.

Talking for close to an hour with drummer Hellhammer early one morning, I could easily sense his excitement as he spoke highly of the changes in sound and what he's currently up to with the band. We delved into what the new album revolves around, along with a short detour through Mayhem's legendary past along with the numerous projects he has involved himself in.

Unrestrained!: Please begin by talking about Grand Declaration Of War and where the concept for this album came from.

Hellhammer: It is of course a concept album on the topic of war, and we're 100% satisfied with it. It was recorded at the same studio I had gone to with Arcturus. We're very pleased with the sound and production on this album because it's clear and it doesn't lose it's brutality on the harder tracks. The pieces of music are sometimes very different from each other on the album. We're kind of curious to see how people will respond to that, but we feel it is Mayhem's form of black metal for today.Maniac is the one who came up with the concept for this album.He came up with all sorts of ideas for lyrics and such. Grand Declaration Of War is war against the demoralization of Western society.

U!: I think alot of people will be a little surprised to hear how varied the music is on the new album, especially after the last EP Wolf's Lair Abyss which was straight-ahead brutal and aggressive. Would you say this album represents a more experimental side of Mayhem?

HH: We really wanted to follow the concept that [Maniac] had written very closely. We could have easily written ten brutal songs and that's it, but each song follows it's lyrical aspect. We had to write very different sounding songs - from very hard brutal songs to very different sounding ones.

U!: What was the collaboration process like between the band when writing for this album?

HH: It was mostly Blasphemer, the guitarist, who comes up with the skeleton of the songs. Then we all work to create the meat on that skeleton, to work on a song and make it fit. It's mostly Blasphemer's ideas as far as writing songs go.

U!: What's the initial reaction you've heard for the new album?

HH: It's varied, from extremely good to extremely poor (laughs). I would say like 90% of the reviews have been overwhelming, really. This is a record that you must explore; it's not like a pop album in which you can just play it and get into it straight away. It's like you must discover it; it takes some of the listener to get into thios kind of record. If the listener is willing to do that, then they'll enjoy the album. Since the music is so different from other black metal stuff, we feel that we're dealing with a bit more open minded people to really appreciate it.

U!: Does it frustrate you that some of your fanbase has no interest in hearing you guys mature or explore different ideas?

HH: Absolutely not, because this is like day and night really. In the year 2000 this is contemporary, present-day Mayhem. We don't want to repeat ourselves. This is how we feel black metal is today, and in our old days when we released De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, that was our kind of black metal back then. Since Mayhem hasn't released alot of records, the term black metal the music has taken different directions. different influences. So we want to express what we feel is our form of black metal.

U!: Please comment on your drumming performance on the new album...

HH: When I'm in the studio my drumming has always been very spontaneous. If I have a given plan I do it, but mostly I'm quite open because in the studio my drumming really takes shape, and that's how it should be. That's the end result for me. I was supposed to have a couple new techniques as far as drumming goes on the new album, but I didn't have time to buy the equipment needed to do so. It's hard to explain, but on one part of this album I wanted to play something that sounded like two drummers playing, one playing 4/4 and the other playing 3/4. I didn't have time to buy the equpipment, so I'll use that on the next album. Anyhow the drumming is very diverse because I don't want to play blast beats all of the time because I think that's boring actually. It's varied to a certain degree maybe interesting for other drummers to listen to the album. My style is inspired from fusion, jazz drumming and also new hip hop stuff too - of which the music is horrible, but the drumming is quite interesting. Jungle stuff too - even though I don't like the music, the drumming or the computers can give me a lot of inspiration.

U!: What I noticed on the album was not only the diversity in the music but also in the vocals as well. Was that something Maniac worked on between the last EP and this album?

HH: Yeah he pretty much had to fit them into the concept of this album. We didn't want to have these kind of harsh brutal voices on each song anyway. I think his singing and lyrics are one of the things that we're most satisfied with on the new album.

U!: How was the transition between record labels, going from Misanthropy to Seasons Of Mist? Are you happy with their work thus far?

HH: We are happy with their work absolutely. In the beginning, especially with a new label, there were some communication problems, but those are sorted out now. We have new people there working for us, and ever since things are going quite nicely, actually.

U!: I wanted to switch gears for a moment and head back to the past for a moment. You've been involved in the scene for a long time. Tell me how you remember the good old days.

HH: Well, pretty much everything (laughs). I'd say in like 1988, the feeling was much more dark. I would say at that point in time I was more into the occult, Satanism. Not so much today now. A band can never run away from its history, and Mayhem has a very dark, bloody history. But history is history and when people want to bring up the killing of Euronymous, Dead's suicide, Varg's imprisonement and stuff like that, it's's not so interesting for me, actually (laughs).

U!: Do you still get asked a lot aboutthose events, which have been exhaustively documented over the years?

HH: Yeah, especially magazine from South America and East European mags, and I always say, "I'm not too comfortable to talk about it because it's all been said and I'm sick of repeating myself" (laughs).

U!: How would a record like Grand Declaration Of War have been recieved back then?

HH: Well back then when we released De Mysteriis... I think that was a record ahead of it's time as there weren't too many people who actually liked it. But in a way it really set a standard for this Norweigan contemporary black metal wave, actually. I feel this album will also hopefully set some standards in a way production-wise, and I think it's over with this Norweigan black metal sound that's horribly produced and poorly played, as that was like the early recordings. Band had limited budgets and entered poor studios and maybe hadn't played their instruments for that many years. Most of the songwriting, which takes an incredibly long  time in Mayhem, we can rehearse and play a finished song for six moths and find out it sucks and discard it and take fragments of it and create a better one. I feel that with some of these black metal bands that you can get into immediately and understand everything is like reading a comic book. You read it, okay, and put it aside and hardly pick it up again.This new Mayhem album is like a book - hard to read, but it gives you so much more.

U!: I would like to hear your views on some of the older Mayhem recordings, how you look back at them today. Is that cool?

HH: Sure

U!: Okay we'll start out with Deathcrush...

HH: It was recorded in '86 and released in '87, just before I joined the band. When that record came out I remember Kerrang! gave it one K (laughs) because this kind of music wasn't accepted and people didn't understand it. Even today we play in our set list some songs from Deathcrush, like Deathcrush of course Chainsaw Gutsfuck, even though the lyrics aren't too brilliant (laughs) and Necrolust. I still think today the album is cool to have, and even though I don't listen to it, I occasionally put it on and I remember the good old days.

U!: Live In Leipzig...

HH: This record was put out only because it was the only recording we have with Dead. We've held that we wanted to have at least something with him because he gave the band so much. So that's the reason. The recording was done in East Germany not too long after the Berlin wall fell down. The equipment was the worst I've ever played on, and it was recorded on a cassette player. I'm glad we did that live CD because it represents an era of the band we didn't want to lose.

U!: De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas...

HH: Well, it took an incredibly long time to make because of various events in the band. It was our breakthrough because the music was becoming more accepted [compared to earlier releases], and even though it was ahead of it's time it became a cult album. Even today it still stands up for the way it was at that time. It was okay produced, and the feeling on that alum is unparalleled. I've never heard such darkness and atmosphere in any other old releases.

U!: You had a live album on Avantgarde [I'm referring to Mediolanum Capta Est] which I wont even try to pronounce...

HH: I just call it Live In Milano (laughs). We did this live show and Roberto from Avantgarde had taped it on a DAT and he was very eager to do a live album and we listened to it and said, "Well, why not?". We gave him the rights to do it, and out it came. It's way way better sounding than Live In Leipzig anyway. Actually we have started to see these parallels come up. Since I feel Wolf's Lair Abyss has a parallel to Deathcrush, Live In Milano is like a parallel to Live In Leipzig and Grand Declaration Of War is like the direct follow up to De Mysteriis. These parallels formed a pattern that we didn't even know...

U!: You also recorded a live video (Live In Bischofswerda), which I bought and was really let down by it's lack of quality...

HH: Yeah, it had horrible sound. It was an extremnely stupid idea. The sound is so bad on that video, I'm really ashamed of it. Don't buy it, don't waste your money on it! When we heard it we were like "No no no! What the hell is this? We cannot release it". But Misanthropy were like "Yes. yes, yes, we have to, contracts, blah blah blah". But we'll really make up for that because by the end of this year we'll release another Mayhem video which will have really good sound and incorporate new songs and so much more. It'll be more in the vein of the Emperor live video which has really good sound and camera angles. If people get the impression we're so bad live from this video then I'm very, very ashamed.

U!: A learning experience could you say?

HH: (laughs) Absolutely!

U!: Theres an upcoming Mayhem tribute album to be released. Have you heard any of the songs on it? Impressions?

HH: It'll be put out by Avantgarde. I've heard the Emperor track Funeral Fog, which they got Attila on vocals for. It sounds very good, but the atmosphere of the original recording is gone. [The compilation] incorporates alot of different bands - Sadistic Intent from the States, Cradle Of Filth from England to name a couple. It really should be out now; the band is eager to hear it. The only tribute Mayhem has been on was the tribute for Celtic Frost.

U!: Were you happy with how the cover you chose [Visual Aggression] came out?

HH: We don't like it. When we entered the studio to do it, it was more like rehearsing really. We just went in, set up and played it. The sound guy didn't have a clue what was happening. He was of no help, so we had to try to create the sound ourselves, so we decided to just tape it and get the hell out of there. It's very different from the original, so I don't think alot of people should like it.

U!: Do you have any touring plans for this album as far as North America goes?

HH: Absolutely. Ihave a very tight schedule for me right now. I'll be going to the states with Kovenant on the 28th of April for about one month. Then I'll do some festivals with both Kovenant and Mayhem. At the end of July we'll be going to the states with Mayhem. The first gig will be the Milwaukee Metal Fest festival.

U!: And you've involved yourself in a number of side projects. Please give us an update on your work outside of Mayhem.

HH: Well, soon I'll be working on the new Arcturus album, which will be more Aspera Hiems Symfonia-based. It'll be darker and a little more black metal but still very Arcturus. I just recently did the drums for the new Troll album, which was cool. I'll play drums on the upcoming Throns album, which you may know contains the guy who got together and conspired to kill Euronymous. He was actually a guitarist in Mayhem at that time. Thorns also contains Satyr from Satyricon as well; it should be a good album. I play in a project called [sounds like Winds] which is classical-inspired metal in the Arcturus vein, but more on the classical style. I played for a band called Fluerety, a track thats a hybrid of jazz and metal stuff. And more I'm sure in the future.

U!: Do you or the band have any ideas for the follow-up to Grand Declaration Of War, musically or conceptually?

HH: We do, actually. The things that we have created thus far are very fresh, brutal. I will also use the drum techniques we talked about earlier. It won't be a concept album; for example we'll have ten independant songs. We have a goal to release the album in the next three years. We'll need that time for touring and such. We'll be very busy for sure.