Relapse put it best when they wrote that De Mysteriis is black metal in its purest, most horrifying form. It is pure because it was an honest attempt to make a quality black metal album when, at the time, black metal was still very much a shapeless experiment, a fledgling movement that hadn’t yet exploded into the seething concretion of manure that it remains today. It is pure because it is made from the very fiber of black metal itself. Evil, you say? No. Evil is an arbitrary and essentially meaningless term reserved for kids mystified by corpsepaint, bullet belts, and shitty lyrics. De Mysteriis is comprised of something far more disturbing than evil; it is the musical incarnation of cold, hard indifference– unremitting, unforgiving, and ultimately expressionless, and it is precisely that which makes it horrifying. Instead of inspiring emotions, it distills them, leaving only a numb, trance like emptiness in its wake.
Still, one could mistake “horrifying” as pertaining to Attila’s performance on the album, which remains one of the most appalling, yet humorous vocal deliveries in black metal history. Quite frankly, it sounds as if he’s laboring through a crippling, cramp-racked, 46 minute bowel obstruction the likes of which no other human being has endured. I imagine Attila doubled over, leather pants around his ankles, clutching the urine-stained porcelain of his toilet in sweaty agony as he strains the lyrics to Funeral Fog, clenching his sphincter accordingly. At first I often wondered how much better the album would’ve been had Varg wailed the vocals, but I’ve since grown accustom to Attila’s wild and uncouth patterns. While his performance certainly leaves much to be desired, it by no means ruins the album, nor diminishes its enduring impact. In fact, the repressed subtlety of it seemed to work as the first era of Mayhem came to a close.
It’s remarkable to ponder the post-Mysteriis lives of its legendary creators. Hellhammer of course went on to drum for virtually every metal band in existence, and who can blame him?
Attila gracefully moved on to improve his vocal repertoire and apply it elsewhere, most notably in Aborym. Euronymous, as we all know, is a pile of bones that still rattles in the black metal community to this day. Deserving or not, his bloody demise cannoned him into martyrdom, sparked the black metal frenzy, and solidified Mayhem as the quintessential black metal band. Varg, on the other hand, remains as delusional and out of touch with the real world as he has always been. Stuck irrevocably in the past, he writes mainly about Paganism, Aryanism, and his own Burzum story. Understanding that he spent the first half of his life skulking around in true black metal fashion, and the latter half in jail, is crucial to understanding his writings.
Mayhem reformed years later, wrenching pre-Mysteriis members from their drunken, fallow slump in an effort to resurrect the band’s cult status and keep Mayhem alive, and probably make some much-needed money along the way. The reformation predictably caused an old/new school split in black metal circles, prompting inconsequential debate about whether a Euronymousless Mayhem was still “true.” Only in the world of black metal could something so trivial and absurd be of such importance. Nevertheless, the trueness argument still rages, whether it concerns Mayhem or every other band in the scene, from Darkthrone to Ulver, and down the list. In the end, none of this changes the fact that De Mysteriis is as solid and pure a black metal album as they get, worthy of all the praise, notoriety, and speculation that surrounds it.