Mayhem Embraces Their Inner “Daemon” (Interview)
I first got into Mayhem in my early high school days thanks to one of my only fellow metalhead friends back then lending me his copy of De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas. Black metal still being a raw and fresh experience then it took some time for me to appreciate that album but eventually it’s sharp claws dug straight into my mind and soul. Years later in 2009, I finally had the opportunity to witness Mayhem live. It was the band’s first time touring the states since the before mentioned legendary album’s vocalist Attila Csihar had rejoined alongside longtime guitarist Blasphemer's then-recent exiting.
I caught them on the second date of the tour, a tour that would eventually end rather chaotically with many of the support bands dropping off by the time it got to Canada, at a middle of fucking nowhere venue called the Ground Zero in Spartanburg, South Carolina. That was as close as the tour would get to Nashville so I made the trek out. The previous day I had caught Opeth and Enslaved playing a rather regal theatre in Knoxville and the Ground Zero the vibe couldn’t have been more different. The local openers played on a clearly constructed main stage where someone brought along pigs heads adorned on either side while all the bands from the actual tour played on a makeshift wooden stage only going up to a waist height in a slightly smaller capacity side room. I have no idea to this day why that decision was made, but what it did was allow me a front row spot at a no barrier stage with the chthonic gods of black metal playing right in my face. However, one downside I soon discovered occured when I slammed my fists on the stage in elation upon hearing the opening notes of Freezing Moon which caused saw dust from the stage to jump right into my eyes. So anyone thinking they saw some kid crying tears of joy seeing Mayhem that night was right regarding the spirit but not exactly the cause.
Over the years since, I’ve seen Mayhem numerous times including three of their whole album performances of De Mysteriis dom Sathanas, the last of which I saw only a few miles away from the famous Grieghallen studio where the aforementioned album and so many other black metal classics were recorded. Like numerous visits abroad before it was a borderline spiritual experience seeing music I adored performed where it was created. A transportation of the spirit to something beyond the limits of one place in time. And while Mayhem have never walked the same path on any of their albums one thing made clear upon hearing their newest offering Daemon is the spirits of old from albums like De Mysteriis... and Deathcrush permeate it’s very core.
It’s hard to avoid the old school black metal atmosphere arisen in Daemon but it’s just as inaccurate to say it’s De Mysteriis… part two. Øystein "Euronymous" Aarseth and Per “Pelle” [Dead] Yngve Ohlin were integral parts for that legendary album’s creation and they’re both long gone from this world. Instead are three senior members of Mayhem’s history (vocalist Attila Csihar, bassist Necrobutcher, and drummer Hellhammer) combined with guitarists/songwriters Teloch and Ghul who have gone from relatively new recruits to established members at this point. Having nothing left to prove Mayhem is a band overflowing in confidence by pulling from the past and present of what they helped create in the first place.
This time the resulting album is a pursuit not of cold inhuman futures but of blood soaked demonic forces. Daemon is an album that stands tall with the work of contemporaries like Watain and Funeral Mist who have long shown black metal can still carry an overwhelming feeling of evil while not relying upon only the past. Italian artist Daniel Valeriani’s cover art perfectly embodies the current spirit of Mayhem, ancient evil given vibrant flesh in a manner not possible for the past to have conceived. Posthuman abstraction has given way to pure fucking armageddon, only now with the conviction of time and experience ruling over the blind exuberabce of youth.
Teloch called out to the West Coast while doing a press visit with some other members of the band in New York City. He warned that jet lag and lack of rest might limit his ability to give compelling answers, but I believe he pulled it off quite well. Below we discussed Daemon’s conception along with what chaos Mayhem plans to unleash upon the world in the foreseeable future.
-- Joseph Aprill
How was the album title Daemon decided upon?
Teloch: Well the process for the name actually went a long way back. There were so many different alternatives and nobody could agree on any of the suggestions we had. Eventually Daemon was the only one that everyone liked and it’s also very tied up with the graphics of the album along with some of the lyrics. So it worked out.
Your press release mentioned Daemon isn’t a retrofit of De Mysteriis dom Sathanas, but in the context of the band touring that album for the last few years, would you say that influenced the writing?
We had toured the De Mysteriis tour for two and a half years I believe, so for sure we were influenced by that to some extent but there was nothing we talked about like, “now we’re going to do an album sounding like De Mysteriis,” because I think that would be shooting yourself in the foot in a way. But we definitely went back to the old school stuff, that’s for sure.
Yeah, I can even hear a bit of Deathcrush in it. Along with that I was curious because this and last year you’ve done some shows called "Demon Anthology" where you played something from every Mayhem album. So did the Demon shows have an effect on Daemon or was that coincidence with the names?
No, pure coincidence actually. Maybe we just like Demons, I don’t know. [Laughs]
It’s been a while since a guitar solo has really stuck out for me on a Mayhem album but "Bad Blood" absolutely does for me. How did that come about in including a solo on that song?
The reason for that is we have a guitar player named Ghul who is an amazing lead guitarist. I guess Blasphemer wasn’t a solo type of guy, and I’m not a solo guy either, but Ghul is just insane on his instrument so it was about time to have some solos and show off what he can do.
This has been a relatively stable time for Mayhem in regards to the band’s line-up. Over the years there’s been many changes but between Esoteric Warfare and Daemon it’s pretty much the same. That said there have been some other changes for the band. For example Mayhem had been with Season of Mist for nearly 20 years but now you’re with Century Media. What brought about moving to a new label?
It was for us to try something new and fresh because we felt that we were just going nowhere, if you know what I mean. Just standing in the same place the whole time and nothing really happening. That of course could be our own fault but we just wanted to try something fresh and see what that could do for us in a way. But there’s no bad blood between us and Season of Mist. We’re still very good friends but we just wanted something fresh to see what [Century Media] could do for us.
In quite a few of the previous Mayhem albums a lot of production, recording and mixing work was done by band members, but this time you had some of the recording done at Necromorbus’s studio and studio owner Tore Stjerna is also cited as producer, engineer and mixer. He’s well known for working on some of the best contemporary black metal, in particular nearly every Watain record. Given how Mayhem toured with Watain quite a bit in recent years, did they have any influence on you going to Necromorbus or were there other reasons for why you did?
We used Tore Stjerna as a sound guy for all our live gigs actually and we’ve been using him for about 3 three years now. So that’s where the connection is but we first met him with Watain and we kind of stole him from them [laughs]. He definitely pushed us into making the album the way it turned out. He really wanted to go back to the old school part so we did that... for him [laughs]. I’m joking there.
Was it different working with him than with anyone else?
Yeah, in a way we kind of listened to him so we were open to trying some of his ideas. I think that is a first for Mayhem because we’re more used to just doing what we fucking want. It was very interesting to do it like this. I’m not sure how comfortable we are with it but at least we tried and now we know we’re never going to do it again [laughs]
On a personal note, the songwriting the band brought combined with Stjerna/Necromorbus’ direction I feel has created one of Mayhem’s best works to date. Ordo ad Chao and Esoteric Warfare felt to me cold and dark but in an alien or almost industrial way. In comparison, Daemon feels far more bloody, like you can feel the flesh and bone.
A little more analog and organic in a way?
Oh yeah, definitely that. Do you feel there was intent in that or did it happen more as a consequence?
No, that was one of the goals I wanted to achieve. To make it alive or as you say more blood dripping [laughs]. It was planned to make a more simple album. That was our main goal for the whole album was to simplify everything that we did. So every time we came up with something technical we just ditched it actually, trashed it. So the whole process was simplify, simplify, simplify everything. So it was a fucking cool process because it’s very hard to make something simple. A real challenge to make something simple yet interesting. Very hard. It’s so much easier for us to make something technical because we can do that with no problem. We found we don’t have much of anything to prove when it comes to technical playing because we feel we’ve done it and are over it.
In press for "Of Worms and Ruins," you mentioned it was a premiere composition for Ghul. Besides where you earlier discussed his solo in "Bad Blood," did he take part in any other songwriting for the album and how did his inclusion change your experience compared to Esoteric Warfare where you were the principal songwriter?
He wrote "Bad Blood," the whole song actually, and he also wrote two more songs on the album but we didn’t work together in that sense. He was writing his stuff and I was writing my stuff but you can see on the album it benefits from having two different writers. It gets a bit more dynamic and has interesting things going on instead of just having one guy doing everything. So it’s definitely a cool experience to have more people bringing things to the table. We also had Necrobutcher write the lyrics to "Bad Blood." Hellhammer wrote some lyrics and I wrote several myself. Everyone contributed to this album and that made it a cool experience.
Later this year you’re going on tour in Europe with ”Gaahl’s Wyrd" and ”GosT". You previously played live with Gaahl in Gorgoroth and God Seed. Did your own history with him have any bearing on picking them to open for the tour?
Not really. I think I suggested them at one point but I didn’t push it through. I think since the release of their latest album [GastiR - Ghosts Invited], which is fucking amazing, I thought it was cool to bring them on tour and the other guys were into the idea as well. It just kind of happened. It’s going to be a cool tour I think and with opener GosT I think it’s going to be interesting to see all three bands in one night. It’s going to be great I think.
GosT is definitely an interesting choice. I think a lot of metalheads like that kind of music, dark synthwave, but they’re definitely not a traditional metal band by any definition, so that’s a very interesting choice.
We tried to get other types of bands to join us but the timing hasn’t been great. For the De Mysteriis tour we couldn’t bring any bands like that to support us because that would ruin the whole night. Now it's more about experimenting and getting people to open their eyes a bit for other things that are going on.
For one of the special editions of Daemon being released you recorded three covers; Death’s “Evil Dead,” Death Strike’s “The Truth,” and Morbid’s “Disgusting Semla." I can’t recall Mayhem recording many covers before besides a couple Venom songs in the very old days, so what brought this about?
The story behind that is we had almost three days extra in the studio when we recorded the drums so we had to make use of the extra time we had. So came up with about ten covers and did those ten.
Was there any significance in doing Morbid especially considering that was Dead’s original band?
Yeah, that was a song we all wanted to do very much. To pay our respects to Pelle. It was cool that we did it and it’s not a very normal thing for Mayhem to do but great to have all this extra material to release at a later point. Like I said I think we recorded ten covers so we still have seven more to release.
Cool, I’d actually love to hear a Mayhem cover album.
[Laughs] Yeah, that would be fucking great, actually. We’ll see what happens. Until now, we only have the guitars and drums on that, so they’re not finished. I’m not sure what we’re going to do with them but we have them so that’s cool.
While some of the other members of Mayhem have mentioned their thoughts on Jonas Akerlund’s movie "Lords of Chaos," have you seen it and have any thoughts of your own on it?
No, I haven’t seen it and I’m not sure if I’m interested in seeing it either because I’ve been hearing the story for so many years. So yeah I’d rather focus on the music rather than that bullshit [laughs].
This morning I saw it was announced you’ll participate in next year’s Philadelphia edition of the Decibel Metal and Beer Festival. Along with that are there any plans yet for hitting North America on tour next year?
Is that official now? It’s out?
Yep, Decibel put it out this morning.
Oh ok, good. Yeah, we’re still working on that tour but it’s nothing confirmed yet. So we’re trying to get over and do something at the same time of course. But yea I can’t say much because nothing else is confirmed yet.
Finally I want to ask a two part question. First, how different do you feel your life would be right now if you weren’t in Mayhem? Second, do you ever reflect on your legacy as a musician?
I think my life would be much easier if I didn’t play in Mayhem [laughs], but I don’t know. I’d still be doing music but I’d probably make demos and give them to my friends. Then that would be the end of it, which I was very happy about doing actually. I didn’t have any time to play in big bands at all. I just wanted to stay alone at home and make music. That would be it basically, but I’m happy I changed my mind now. As for legacy I don’t think about that at all.
That’s probably healthy [laughs].
Teloch: [laughs] Yea, I just like making music and that’s it you know. I don’t overthink it.
Mayhem's latest album Daemon is releasing digitally on October 25th and November 8th for all physical formats via Century Media Records.