Interview: Mayhem's Teloch Talks New Album, "True" Black Metal, and Overcoming the Band's Bloody Past
It’s been about seven years since Mayhem released their last album, 'Ordo ad Chao,' and the black-metal pioneers have finally returned with a new opus, the crushing and chilly 'Esoteric Warfare.' In their time away, the band split with yet another member--guitarist Rune “Blasphemer” Eriksen, who joined in ’95 and left to work on other projects a few years ago. Here, Revolver talks to Mayhem's newest member, Morten “Teloch” Iversen (pictured above, far left), formerly of Gorgoroth, to talk about 'Esoteric Warfare,' what's "trve" black metal, and how the subgenre's most notorious group can move past from its bloody past.
REVOLVER How long did you work on 'Esoteric Warfare'? What was the most challenging part of creating the album?
TELOCH I started on the music a year ago, and spent most of last summer nailing it. At the same time, Attila [Csihar, Mayhem singer] started on his end with the vocals and he explored different themes before he landed on what we used on this album. The recording/mixing process was done in small sessions between September and October last year, if I remember correctly. The last bits of mixing and mastering were done in January this year and the cover was ready in March. I would say the hardest part, at least for me, was to get this sounding the right way. I have no problem writing songs that sounds like Mayhem, but my problem with this album was to write a album that would be fitting to release after 'Ordo ad Chao.' First, I wrote almost a whole album, but it was too much back to the roots, and try to top 'Ordo' for me as a songwriter was not a option either--that would be suicide for me as songwriter for them. We even recorded most of the songs I first wrote, but I just didn’t feel it and I had to scrap the songs and start over. So with 'Esoteric Warfare,' I tried to incorporate most of what they had done before. It seemed more suiting since there was a 30-year anniversary coming up and everything. A look back at the old material but also introduce some new elements into this plus of course my usual “Teloch way of riffing.”
From what I understand, Attila says the album is about secret mind control experiments taking place during the Cold War in the U.S. and then-Soviet Union. Can you expand on that at all?
I can say it's about secret wars, darkness, that people are easy to lead. I'm not very good at lyrics, I can read lyrics for a song one time, and when I’m at the end I have no idea what I just read. Severe memory loss the doctors call it. That said, for me, lyrics could be about old types of cheese or the process of things rusting, it really doesn’t matter. What matters is the way they are performed. Not degrading Attila's work here in anyway--I know he spent a very long time on this lyrics, at one point he just walked around in circles talking to himself. I think his brain overloaded with all this information he was getting into with these themes. But back to your question, short answer: No.
Tell us about the single, “Psywar."
We picked that one because it has most of the elements the rest of the album have. Also it's very easy to recognize it as a Mayhem song. We didn’t want to scare away people with the the first song we released from the album, well, we probably did anyway. The Mayhem fans are not the most easy pleasing fans on earth. As long as Dead or Euronymous or even Varg isn’t playing on the album, they think it's shit. [Laughs] Some people need to move on soon, dammit. Those kind of albums released in the old days is impossible to do again because of many factors--I won't even begin explaining. Mayhem looks forward and has always done so. What the fuck is going on here? I’m rambling and I’m not even drunk or fucked up.
Well, even though you have been playing with Mayhem for a while, you're now officially a member following Blasphemer's departure. How did you get asked to officially join Mayhem?
I got asked right after Blasphemer said goodbye, but at the time I had some Gorgoroth tours to do, so had to turn them down. We all know how the Gorgoroth shit went down. So after a while I was there without something to do, got the offer to continue with God Seed, but luckily Mayhem came back in and asked me to join again, so I did.
You’ve worked with drummer Hellhammer for many years on other projects before Mayhem. How did the two of you first meet?
The very first time was when we where doing a warm-up gig with my band Nidingr for Mayhem here in Oslo. But it wasn’t until a couple of years later I started to hang out with Mr. Hammer. We hung at my place listening to music and drinking, so he was my way in to Mayhem. We also did some work together before I joined Mayhem in Umoral and Nidingr.
There is a lot of debate surrounding what is or is not defined as "black metal." Where do you stand on this subject?
It's pretty easy: If you think it's black metal, then it's black metal to you. Fuck what anyone else thinks. Then again, there is some rules one have to follow to call it black metal. I, for instance, think black metal died in 1995. Well, that’s when I stopped following this so-called scene anyway. To me, nobody is playing black metal anymore. Black metal was just a trend, and as all trends they die, then they come back and die again. [Laughs] Nah, fuck it.
Is it hard for you or the band to escape Mayhem's past? Do you ever get tired of people asking questions concerning the '90s?
For me, its very easy--I just don’t reply on those questions. The other guys I don’t know, but I know almost every metal musician here in Norway is fuckin' fed up with the whole thing and getting questions about it. Maybe now, 20 years later, is time to focus on the main thing going on here now--the music.