Waiting nearly 22 years to play a groundbreaking album front-to-back in concert is a strange move for any group. But when the record in question is as steeped in inter-band violence as Mayhem's 1994 tour de force De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, it makes a little more sense.
Any extreme-metal fan is familiar with the album's backstory: Shortly after writing and recording it, Mayhem bandleader Euronymous (A.K.A. Øystein Aarseth) was stabbed to death by Burzum's Varg Vikernes, who played bass on De Mysteriis — though he is not credited on the original album. The story made international headlines, and Vikernes received a 21-year prison sentence; he was released in 2009 after serving 16 years.
Mayhem didn't release another studio recording until the 1997 EP Wolf's Lair Abyss, and the vocalist on De Mysteriis, Hungarian singer Attila Csihar, only rejoined the band in 2004, prior to its fourth studio full-length, 2006's Ordo ad Chao. (Current Skitliv vocalist Maniac filled the vocal slot from 1994 to 2004).
Csihar's return led to the natural question of revisiting De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, an album that has proven its spot in black-metal history based on its musical merits, not just because of the grisly events surrounding it. On December 18th, 2015, Mayhem played De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas at the Black Christmas Festival in Sweden. The show was the first time the group had played the record in full and it yielded the live LP De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas Alive, which came out a year later. The band spent much of 2016 and 2017 touring the album internationally and have more dates scheduled for the U.S., kicking off in early November.
Before a show at the Rock on Rock Festival in Ta' Qali, Malta, Csihar spoke about his pre-Mayhem history in Hungarian band Tormentor, the chaos that surrounded the recording of the original De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, his memories of working with Euronymous and Varg Vikernes and his excitement about performing the classic album live.
WHEN DID YOU FIRST COME IN CONTACT WITH EURONYMOUS?
ATTILA CSIHAR It was 1991. I received a letter from Euronymous and that letter changed my entire life. I was in Hungary in the band Tormenter at the time. [Mayhem] singer Dead had killed himself, but Dead was a big fan of Tormenter and really liked my singing. So that's why they contacted me when they needed a new vocalist. I was happy to join them and in 1993 we recorded De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas. I know this sounds crazy or weird, but I really believe that it was a magical recording.
WHAT DO YOU MEAN?
The magic and spiritual stuff, those things are real, for sure. We were all young guys. And some of them were doing these illegal things. I was not really part of that. But even I, myself, was pretty crazy about what we were doing. I believe that any extreme form of music starts out in a crazier way than it eventually turns into. The people that were involved were at an early age and they were a bit more extreme in nature. At the time, the music didn't have any real perspective for the future. It was more of a hardcore rebellion thing — especially with Tormentor. Nobody imagined that one day we could survive from the music. In the beginning, it was the more extreme people that were involved so it was naturally the more crazy people and later it got more commercial a bit. But some of these crazy people did crazy things, of course.
WERE YOU AN EXTREME PERSON AT THE TIME?
I was never into the violence or [burning down] the churches. For me, it was all about music and my more psychedelic experiments. I was already into Shamanism and achieving trance-like states. But I was also into the occult. It was kind of part of our life — this aesthetic, spiritual aspect of things. I guess it still is. I think music is very mystical in itself. And that's a very mystical album, for sure. It's very magical thing. But of course, it affects people and it's like it opens up a portal to another dimension. And what happened in Norway was something that got out of control and we weren't able to handle. People were a bit too young to be able to deal with what they were doing and saying. You're very impulsive when you're young. You don't always think things through.
DID YOU EVER COMMUNICATE WITH DEAD BEFORE HE KILLED HIMSELF?
No, we never met or talked. But he was a big fan of Tormentor. It's strange to me because we were on the same path. He made corpse paint and we did corpse paint also in Tormentor at the same time. We didn't call it corpse paint. It was just makeup and made us look totally undead and fucked up. Back in the day, there were no makeup stores in Hungary. I figured out how to do it with my friend, the drummer of Tormentor. We went to the pharmacy store and picked up this special cream you put on your face to make your skin dry. Then we had the graphite, what you use for drawings. We broke that up to dust and we used that as paint. It was all about improvising to express more ourselves musically.
WHAT WERE YOUR FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF THE SONGS ON DE MYSTERIIS DOM SATHANAS?
When I first heard them, I was surprised. I liked it, of course, but it was so different than what anyone had done. The drumming was so fast — faster than anything I had ever heard before. [Mayhem drummer] Hellhammer still plays everything extremely fast. It sounded so extreme and new, but it felt like something I could relate to right away. Like I said, it was magical. And to do the vocals for that record was just natural and magical.
BEFORE EURONYMOUS WAS MURDERED, VARG PLAYED BASS ON DE MYSTERIIS. WHAT WERE THOSE PRACTICE AND RECORDING SESSIONS LIKE?
He played bass at that time in Mayhem. He could play good and he was talented. We did a few rehearsals together and he was in the studio when I did the recording. There was no great drama.
WAS THERE TENSION BETWEEN VARG AND EURONYMOUS?
Well, a little bit, maybe, I guess. But I didn't think it was that bad, actually. They were in a good mood — at least I was in a good relation with everybody, and both of those guys. I even stayed at their places. Neither of them ever seemed violent around me.
WHAT WAS EURONYMOUS LIKE?
That's hard to answer. To me, he was a great artist. He came up with some amazing ideas, musically. Also, he was friendly and polite to me, always. He never had a loud word for me. He had a great record collection and I was recording a lot of music from his stuff. He had some great visions and some crazy ideas of course, as well. But he seemed pretty normal. But then again, what is normal for him wasn't normal for other people. There were certain extremes there, of course. But I miss him sometimes. He was cool to me.
WERE YOU IN NORWAY WHEN EURONYMOUS WAS MURDERED?
No, I was back home in Hungary. We talked on the phone every couple weeks and we discussed possibly touring together. Then I stopped hearing from them. I thought maybe they went out of town or were busy so I didn't think anything about it. I was just waiting for the record we did to come out.
HOW DID YOU FIND OUT WHAT HAPPENED?
I heard it from some of my friends. We didn't have cell phones or the Internet. Someone said, "Hey, didn't you know that band Mayhem? Their guitarist was murdered." I told them they had the story wrong and that it was their old singer Dead who had died. But they insisted. I went to the grocery store to pick up a magazine and I saw a news story that Varg killed Euronymous. It was so crazy. It didn't seem real.
IS IT STRANGE TO BE PLAYING DE MYSTERIIS DOM SATHANAS NOW, SO MANY YEARS AFTER ITS RELEASE?
Yeah, it is, but why not do it? I think at some point we should play this record so it's happening now. It's a magical record and, of course, there is lots of history behind it with all the things that happened. But the music still stands out as the greatest thing. And I'm still very proud of that.