Mayhem’s History Is Painted Black

If it's true, as Billy Joel once famously said, that dying is the best career move a musician can make, then the same apparently rings doubly true for musicians who play black metal. Case in point: Norway's infamous Mayhem, which still attracts just as much (if not more) attention for the gruesome deaths of two former members as it does for its music. Certainly, Mayhem still gets press coverage largely based on the notoriety it gained from the well-documented suicide of former singer Per Yngve "Dead" Ohlin, the fact that his bandmates claimed later to have kept fragments of his shattered skull to wear on necklaces, and the subsequent murder of founding guitarist Øystein "Euronymous" Aarseth by then-bassist Varg "Count Grishnackh" Vikernes. (Vikernes stabbed Aarseth almost two dozen times, and the surrounding details implicated the pair in a rash of church burnings.) Factor in homophobic and racially charged fascist sentiments and, well . . . Mayhem takes the cake for taking rebellion to a new extreme.

Which, of course, accounts for much of the band's enduring appeal, despite considerable efforts of latter-day members Rune "Blasphemer" Eriksen and Attila Csihar to foster Mayhem's musical evolution. Both Csihar and Eriksen — who left Mayhem in 2008 after serving 14 years as its main creative force — have at various times lamented the focus on the band's past. Both have also maintained a staunchly experimental streak that often flies in the face of black-metal tradition. Before quitting, Eriksen spoke of how "difficult" it was to convert new fans wary of Mayhem's blood-tarnished reputation, on the one hand, while also alienating black metal purists on the other. Csihar has referred to the band's extracurricular violence as "crap" and even goes as far as to refer to Satanism as "bullshit," preferring instead a more "naturalistic" brand of occult: anti-authoritarian mysticism.

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Sat., May 30, 6:30 p.m., 2009
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Saby Reyes-Kulkarni