February 23, 2017 Mayhem Offer De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas To Gramercy Theatre, NYC 2-19-17
While our uncertain millennium rumbles on, so much is changing so fast. The digital age has shaped the way in which music is consumed and enjoyed, even as the cyclical nature of popularity catapults one subgenre of Heavy Metal after another atop the throne of “what’s in.” For Black Metal, a steady post-2000 resurgence has quietly given birth to the genre’s most fertile period of growth (if not its most innovative). Meanwhile, the monuments of the past have become the stuff of legend. Even as their work shapes the present and informs the future, the creators of those pinnacles of sound are riding forth once again.
In the case of Mayhem, or The True Mayhem, one of the Norwegian second wave’s most unpredictable, controversial founding fathers, fans had recently been promised a most essential viewing experience; the performance of seminal 1994 album De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas in its entirety. Wrapping up their Purgatorium Americæ Septentrionalis MMXVII Tour, Sunday, February 19th, 2017 was therefore marked on a lot of calendars in the metropolitan area of New York, as the Norse horde descended upon Gramercy Theatre for a night of stygian celebration the likes of which few had ever seen, and even less had predicted possible.
Released amid all the chaos, legal trials, crimes, and darkness that so colored the specter of Black Metal, De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas is frequently referred to when fans start talking about the best Black Metal albums of all time. A show which had been sold out for months, it was bolstered by support from Inquisition, one of Black Metal’s darkest lights, and up-and-coming entity Black Anvil as well.
Even as the openers took the stage, the main hall was already jammed with the black-clad faithful. Hailing from New York City, Black Anvil play a style that borrows from Black Metal while incorporating elements of Thrash, Metalcore, Hardcore, and even some Prog. Their blast has some melody, interspersed with drawn out quieter moments and even some harmonizing sections in the mix.
The crowd was so amped for Mayhem that two guys with a kazoo would not have spoiled the mood. Black Anvil is far more than that though, and while they may not have the direct impact of the harder bands they were opening for, the crowd appreciated their efforts. Offering up songs from their latest album, As Was, released just last month on Relapse Records, their combinations of clean vocals, double bass drumming, and bold instrumental breaks certainly showed off their many talents.
Comprised of only two members, Guitarist/Vocalist Dagon and Drummer Incubus, with roots in Colombia and a long-time home in Washington state, USA, the duo have been at it so long they are most certainly applicable to the same time frame as Mayhem. There is something special when these two men take the stage. Spend any time in the crowd when they perform, and one will hear folks exclaiming their awe and wondering why they did not get into them sooner. Inquisition wastes no time making their point.
Poised between two black tapestries depicting a swirling serpentine maelstrom, Incubus simply commands his kit. His unique style of drumming is hypnotic to behold. On guitar, Dagon switches between two microphones to deliver his spiritual sermons of Satan. His flowing hair, the corpse paint, and his no-bullshit delivery leave no room for anything but pure Black Metal enjoyment. Of course, initial sound problems threatened to mess up the show, but the quick work of the sound guys ensured Dagon’s croak filled the room to the rafters, and Incubus’ drum strikes were thunder and bomb strikes rather than the plink plink plink of dripping water.
Sound issues solved within the first song, what followed was an hour of graceful malevolence. The pit churned. How could it not? Opening with “From Chaos They Came,” off of 2016’s Bloodshed Across the Empyrean Altar Beyond the Celestial Zenith, it was instant zealotry amongst the hardcore fans and pure newfound ecstasy from those uninitiated.
Mixing in cuts from across their marvelous discography, Inquisition aired out favorites like “Command of the Dark Crown” and “Astral Path To Supreme Majesties” alongside a few from 2013’ Obscure Verses For The Multiverse. The duo of Dagon and Incubus remained in perfect synchronicity throughout the pounding set. By the time Dagon raised his fist and bid the rabid crowd good night, and the last strains of new song “A Magnificent Crypt of Stars” echoed away, the table was set for the main course.
Prior to the lights going down, the drum kit of Hellhammer enthroned upon the stage was a sight to behold unto itself. It was the percussive equivalent of the cockpit of a Boeing 747, the acumen of its ‘pilot’ as well-known and celebrated in Black Metal as Neil Peart of Rush is celebrated in the world of Rock music. The promise of the night’s performance hung thick in the Gramercy air. People chatted, laughed, and drank, but there was a feeling in the air that was different than on most nights. Almost every Black Metal fan in the room fell in love with the genre in some part because of De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas.
The band took the stage robed and shrouded, a wan violet glow barely illuminating the forms of the musicians. Hellhammer’s rolling drum intro to “Funeral Fog” brought a roar from the crowd that somehow overarched the buzzsaw guitars of Teloch and Ghul. Immediately, the ripples of an exploding mosh pit rattled everyone out to the barriers. The energy of “Freezing Moon,” arguably the most vicious Black Metal song ever penned, allowed the inhuman larynx of Attila Csihar to fill up Gramercy Theatre, freezing not just the moon, but the blood of onlookers as well.
Clad like a demonic priest, Attila’s constant gesticulating as he crept about the stage made up for the flickering glances at his paint-caked face that was all the darkness would allow. The album provided ample moments of battery and grace, at times crushing in sound and at others, church-like; Attila can do anything vocally. On the title track, his hypnotic delivery against the backdrop of blast beats was truly breathtaking and darkly beautiful.
Despite the conjuration of darkness upon the stage, Attila at one point yanked back the pointed hood of Bassist Necrobutcher’s cassock, revealing the grizzled veteran’s steely face and long hair. A bit of humor, because unlike any younger Black Metal act’s out there, Mayhem has the pedigree and the history to mess around a bit. One can argue that Dead and Euronymous are what makes Mayhem who they were, but that is a fairly weak argument.
When it was all said and done, there was no encore, no added songs – just the album. As the house lights went up, fans remembered they were actually still on Earth’s plane of existence, they left happy and exhilarated at what they just saw. Mayhem performing De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas was a Black Metal treat as sublime as it was brutal. The old songs were given full respect and justice, and all went off perfectly. Even the backdrops, from the creepy undead figures to the majestic backdrop of the castle on the album cover, were a perfect counterpoint to the aural performance. Fans of extreme music who missed this one should be feeling oodles of regret.
Photo credit: Ken Buglione Photography