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Mayhem live at Boston, MA’s Royale

Mayhem at Royale
Mayhem at Royale

Mayhem are on a tour that should not be. The sordid and well-documented tale of murder, arson and suicide that comprises the band’s early days is among the most astonishing in music history, and it comes as no surprise that its conclusion left the band dissolved well before De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas would see its release. Yet, 23 years later, a functional Mayhem lineup that’s about as true to the band’s early legacy as the circumstances of life and death dictate is bringing it on the road. “That’s the only album we released without touring on,” bassist Necrobutcher recently told Rolling Stone, of all places. Decades later, Mayhem are finally doing just that.

An unseasonably warm February evening saw a mass of the grim and corpse-painted faithful gathering at Boston’s Royale for one of the final dates of the band’s North American tour. Anticipation was palpable, though not initially for openers Black Anvil. The New York-based quartet’s progressive and melodic take on blackened thrash earned some audible scorn from a few vocal members of the crowd, but the band paid no mind and proceeded to deliver a tight, enthusiastic and fun first set of the night. Traditionalists they are not, but their adventurous sound and passionate presentation impressed.

Plus, anyone who felt slighted by a less traditional first opener had Inquisition on the bill next to make up for it. The long-running Seattle-based duo, no strangers to controversy of other sorts, played their black metal straight. Their set was a stone-faced, no-frills affair that conjured an impressive racket for a simple drums and guitar lineup. Inquisition do what they do well enough, but the set couldn’t help but feel a bit lacking in variety by its conclusion.

As the night’s main event finally drew near, the vibrantly-illuminated ambiance that the stage had maintained all night shifted toward something more sinister. Waves of thematically-appropriate fog billowed around a small altar bearing a skull and a pair of candles. Eventually, minimalistic backlights cast the hooded figures of band members as ghoulish silhouettes while the opening pummel of “Funeral Fog” rang out. This was genuine, immersive atmosphere, and it was effective.

For the next hour, Mayhem brought De Mysteriis back to life before our eyes, in all its glory. Though the original record is hardly as lo-fi as some contemporaneous black metal landmarks, the songs doubtless sounded more thunderous and dynamic with a five-piece lineup barreling through them in a club setting. The band’s current membership – featuring the longtime rhythm section of Hellhammer and Necrobutcher, De Mysteriis and 2004-onward vocalist Attila Csihar and a pair of relative newcomers on guitars – captured the full scope of the record. These renditions preserved the engrossing chaos of the songs and followed through on the payoff of moments like the climactic guitar solo on “Freezing Moon.” Csihar played ringleader to the whole production. His incomparably unhinged vocals and playfully demonic command of the stage were key elements of its success.

Hearing these songs presented this way reinforced how timeless and singular they still sound. De Mysteriis has remained a genre touchstone with good reason, and the band bringing the whole thing to the stage – and to a hugely receptive audience – after all these years sees them doing right by it.

Black Anvil

Inquisition

Mayhem

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