Try as they might, Norwegian black-metal pioneers Mayhem will never escape the shadow of their notorious past. The group's early history is littered with death and criminality that made international headlines and even punctuated a high-profile biopic, Lords of Chaos, starring Maccaulay Culkin's brother Rory and Val Kilmer's son Jack. Band members were connected with church burnings in their homeland. Original singer Dead died by suicide and then bandleader Euronymous took photos of his corpse and used his death to deepen the mystique around the incipient group. Euronymous' life would come to an end not long after as he was murdered in 1993 by Burzum's Varg Vikernes, who was playing bass in Mayhem at the time.
All the misery and horror surrounding the band only made fans more fascinated, and that fascination contines to this day, as does Mayhem themselves. Twenty-plus years since those events, they've moved on, dramatically changed the band's lineup and are now set to release their sixth full-length, Daemon. Straight up, the album fucking rips and features their most inspired songwriting in over two decades, leading many to draw comparisons to their seminal 1994 debut full-length, De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas. Songs like "Aeon Daemonium" ooze with atmosphere and darkness, slowing black metal's signature high speed to build a mood before firing back into total crush. There are riffs aplenty: "Of Worms and Ruins" delivers chaos that'll get stuck in your brain. In all, the LP feels like a reinvention for the band, and proof that guitarists and songwriters Teloch and Ghul have their finger on the pulse of what makes Mayhem who they are.
"[With Daemon] I picture myself in front of the mirror, because I'm still 13 years old in my head," says Mayhem's founding bassist Necrobutcher, who left the band in 1991 after Dead's suicide then reformed the group in 1995 following Euronymous' murder. "I'm still rocking out in my underwear in front of the mirror… Well, maybe not in front of the mirror. But I'm jumping around in my house rocking out before I eat my breakfast!"
Yet, as bright as their present may be, Mayhem's past refuses to stay in the background. Earlier this week, in an interview with Heavy Consequence, Necrobutcher revealed that he was plotting to murder Euronymous himself before he heard that Vikernes had done the deed. The legends live and continue to shift and turn. We spoke to Necrobutcher, Ghul and Teloch about this new revelation, making Daemon, getting turned into diamonds after death, and more.
I WOULD FEEL REMISS NOT TO BRING UP YOUR COMMENTS ABOUT WANTING TO MURDER EURONYMOUS FROM EARLIER THIS WEEK. HOW CLOSE WERE YOU TO ACTUALLY DOING IT? WHY BRING IT UP NOW?
NECROBUTCHER Yeah, when I did that interview I was thinking, "What kind of moron fucking question is this?" They didn't have one fucking question about the new album, which we are out here to do, so I was like ... what's this line of questioning? Aren't you over that now? But then I felt obligated to try to answer this question. So it'd be cool if you had some questions talking about the new album.
OF COURSE. IT'S JUST ...
NECROBUTCHER But yeah, OK, I'll tell you straight up, I wanted to kill that fucker in the end. He ... Imagine that somebody you think is your friend coming home and finding your other friend killed themselves and took pictures of their dead body. Who the fuck in their right mind would do anything like that? Everybody should have the little bit of intelligence to know that, that's gotta be somebody completely stripped from empathy and normal emotions. And really a bad fucking person. But now he's a fucking hero! And it's like, OK, I've always talked good about him, never wanted to talk bad about the dead, but this has gone too far now. I mean, if the guy wasn't killed, he would've gone to jail for many years for lighting up a church in Oslo. He'd be gone. He'd have been sued just like Varg Vikernes for 50 million NOK, so when he would be released from jail, he would never have a job, never own a car, own a flat, own a TV. He would be fucked with a capital F. He's the big hero? No, he's the big fucking asshole, that's who he is. The betrayal — he betrayed his friends and the bad karma in the end came and took him. I never cried a tear for that guy. I was mad as fuck when he died, and what I told that journalist is when I read it in the morning paper, I headed straight home and cleaned my house for all the illegals. I was sure the cops were going to come home to my place next and that I was going to be a suspect. I didn't know that they already knew who did it.
And I'll tell you since we're into this. Norway is a very small country. Varg Vikernes lit up a church, went to jail, they couldn't get evidence, so they had to let him out. Big disappointment for the cops, a loss of prestige. So, they bugged his phone, bugged his apartment, everything. And he was plotting to kill Euronymous on the phone and everything, making an alibi on the phone. But of course, they knew everything! So, I was a little pissed at the cops later on because I'm thinking ... they knew what was going on and they didn't even stop it. This is very fucking bad, you know what I mean? The government was in on killing him. So, I never talked about it before, but now I'm thinking, since the government isn't linked up to my ass now, it's starting to get down to earth again. And that's not the smart thing for me to do, to make enemies again now that I've cooled again, but it's in me. I can't help it. Anything that wronged me has to be right.
IT'S INTERESTING, EVEN BEFORE I SAW THIS STORY BREAK AND WAS THINKING ABOUT DOING THIS INTERVIEW, ALL I COULD THINK WAS, HOW 30 YEARS IN, IT MUST BE A HUGE PAIN IN THE ASS TO KEEP HAVING TO REHASH THIS ANCIENT LORE. I REALLY DIG THE NEW RECORD, AND I IMAGINE YOU'RE ALL REALLY PROUD OF IT, SO IT MUST BE STRANGE TO KEEP TALKING ABOUT THE PAST.
NECROBUTCHER I mean, think about it, no other band has this thing. Every band has critics, but we have countries after us. We're enemies of the state — it's a little more than what normal bands must struggle with, to put it mildly. But despite that, it's one of the things that's kept us up over the years. When shit like this happens, then I'm even more determined. But I've been through hell. Fucking hell. All these members of the band who came and went made my life hell, for so many years. It's not like someone's annoying you at your workplace — you have people making your life a fucking hell, stealing your money. People in the band have stolen my money, claimed they wrote my lyrics and stuff like that, it's still going on. Some shit's going on still. It's never-ending, bunch of fucking assholes, most of them are dead now. It's been a fucking hell of a journey. People say, "Why are you so mad?" I'm insane probably. But people drag me to my limit here.
I'VE READ THE BOOKS AND SEEN THE MOVIES AND SHIT, BUT I NEVER FEEL LIKE THOSE THINGS EVER STRIKE AT THE ACTUAL EMOTIONS OF JUST STRAIGHT-UP, WHAT THE FUCK HAPPENS WHEN YOUR FRIEND KILLS HIMSELF. MY BEST FRIEND WAS KILLED AND IT DRASTICALLY CHANGED MY LIFE. I CAN'T IMAGINE ANOTHER FRIEND TAKING ADVANTAGE AND SPARKING A MEDIA FRENZY ON TOP OF THAT.
NECROBUTCHER Yeah. When you get pictures of the thing, there's no time for grief. Euronymous fucked with my grief by taking those photos. It can never be set right. It's still all over the net and stuff. Still. He died, but he kind of made sure to fuck my life good. But we're still here, and the new album is great like you said, and we're still here.
I THINK WHAT STRUCK ME MOST ABOUT THE ALBUM, AND I DON'T KNOW IF THIS IS MY PROJECTION, BUT IT SEEMS LIKE THERE'S A LOT MORE USE OF THE SPACE OF THESE SONGS.
GHUL Necro's been pushing [drummer] Hellhammer to slow down and simplify for a long time, and on this album he really did that. The trick was keeping the feeling of each song. They were as fast as they needed to be. There was a lot more space and groove in every song. Hellhammer's playing, it feels live. It was something that we talked about, but really it kind of materialized in the recording.
WITH THIS GENRE OF MUSIC SPECIFICALLY, I GET THE SENSE THAT A LOT OF MUSICIANS OVERCOMPLICATE THE PRODUCTION AND RECORDING AND IT GETS IN THE WAY OF THE SONGS REALLY WORKING.
NECROBUTCHER Yep. There's two ways to do it: the hard way and the easy way. We're a very dysfunctional band. We're not best friends or anything. Me and Hellhammer go back 31 years now. We never hang out. We have nothing in common. Nothing, with big capital letters, except this band.
I FEEL LIKE THAT DYNAMIC WORKS A LOT MORE THAN PEOPLE REALIZE. LIKE, YOU CAN WORK WITH SOMEONE TOWARDS A GOAL, CREATIVELY, WITHOUT BEING FRIENDS BEYOND THAT. IF YOU'RE TOO CLOSE WITH SOMEONE OUTSIDE THE ENDEAVOR, IT'S EASY TO SOMETIMES HAVE ANOTHER LAYER OF PROBLEMS.
TELOCH I think it's important to have that kind of dynamic, this nerve, there is some shit in the band that creates the art in a way. There's tension, and it can definitely get tiring sometimes. [Laughs] But I think it's important for the art. If we were all really good friends, it might become something different, but not "black metal" at all.
DO YOU FEEL CONNECTED AT ALL TO BLACK METAL AS A GENRE OR IDEA? DOES IT MEAN ANYTHING TO MAYHEM?
TELOCH It means nothing at all in this band. Mayhem's never been black metal in my mind.
NECROBUTCHER We've got this one record, De Mysteriis ... It's considered black metal, and that's, like, the model of the "true Norwegian black metal" thing. Everyone copied it: Emperor, Gorgoroth, Darkthrone, I could mention all of them. All of the Swedish bands, all of the English bands, Cradle of Filth, all of that stuff. That was the thing that defined the genre. And I told a journalist, no, it's a band from Newcastle that came up with this called Venom. But he seemed to be like, "No, it's you." Well, OK then, fuck it, let's say it's us then.
THE BOX-SET EDITION OF DAEMON COMES WITH A BONUS LP FEATURING COVERS OF DEATH, DEATH STRIKE AND MORBID. HOW'D THE COVERS HAPPEN?
The producer didn't want any dead time. He sent a message out to all the guys: Everyone choose two songs and we can figure out what we can do for a cover. [We ended up with] "The Truth" from Death Strike, "Evil Dead" from Death, and "Disgusting Selma" from Morbid, Dead's old band. That's, in my opinion, their best track. The Death Strike thing was because we used to play that in the rehearsal space, fucked around with it with Euronymous back in the day. And of course, these days, I'm a huge Death fan. What I'm rocking in the morning? [Pulls out phone, shows most recently played on Tidal is all Death and Depeche Mode]
I WOULD NOT EXPECT YOU TO USE TIDAL OF ALL THE STREAMING PLATFORMS. [LAUGHS]
Ah, story behind that is the guitarist in Turbonegro called me and said he's working for Tidal, called all his celebrity friends probably. Said, "You want a free year of downloading?" I said, "Sure! Why the fuck not?" And now I ended up paying for it. [Laughs] But fuck it, I mean it's not like you can go to the record store anymore. So, this is where you find the record, unfortunately — nothing goes to the artist, it all goes to Jay-Z. I think I saw he defrauded the plays on Tidal to make mechanical royalties. He defrauded his own company. It's incredible. [Laughs]
IT'S HARD TO KNOW HOW TO SUPPORT A BAND MONETARILY NOWADAYS BEYOND GOING TO SHOWS. SPEAKING OF WHICH, MY FRIEND TOOK ME TO A VINTAGE CLOTHING FAIR RECENTLY AND THERE WAS THIS VENDOR SELLING TONS OF OLD MAYHEM SHIRTS FOR, LIKE, $300 EACH. HAVE YOU SEEN THAT?
Yeah! Nergal from Behemoth was selling his old T-shirts. 'Cause we're friends on Facebook, so I saw one of his posts where every week he's putting up shirts for sale, and some old Behemoth shirts wrapped in plastic and stuff and then old shirts he bought on tour, King Diamond and stuff like that. I think to myself, "Fuck! I have hundreds of shirts! I should do this myself!" I just told my daughter, "If I die, don't throw anything away. Sell everything on eBay." I've decided my final destination: There's this company in Poland called LifeGem and they press your ashes into a diamond. These days, you can pay to have your ashes in a pot and then planted as a tree and stuff like that, which is also a beautiful thought. For me, when I came up with this idea, everything seemed to be OK in my life. Now I'm OK. That's the goal, I want to stay here as long as possible before that. There's a bunch of different levels of diamond quality. I figure, hey, sell a few band shirts and you're at the highest quality. My daughter, to that she says, "Oh god dad, what if I lose you?" You can take me out on my birthday from the bank vault, take pictures and put me on the Vine saying, "Hey! I'm still here, looking better than ever."