NECROBUTCHER ON THE MAK­ING OF METAL’S MOST IN­FA­MOUS BAND

necrobutcher may­hem

Kerrang! (UK) - - Welcome - WORDS: NICK RUSKELL

The story of May­hem is a gen­uinely un­be­liev­able one the first time you hear it. While they have the distinc­tion of be­ing the first Nor­we­gian black metal band, form­ing in 1984, their his­tory is also one of the most shock­ing and vi­o­lent in the his­tory of mu­sic.

There’s the death of vo­cal­ist Per ‘Dead’ Oh­lin, who died by sui­cide in 1991, aged just 22. There’s also the mur­der of gui­tarist and leader Øys­tein ‘Eurony­mous’ Årseth, who was fa­tally stabbed in Au­gust 1993 by Burzum’s Varg Vik­ernes. Not to men­tion the con­nec­tion to church ar­son – in­ci­dents which make their name as syn­ony­mous with in­famy as it is with ex­treme mu­sic.

Hav­ing co-founded the group with Eurony­mous, bassist Jørn ‘Necrobutcher’ Stub­berud found him­self in the eye of the storm as all of this un­folded. Mu­si­cally, no band on Earth was as ex­treme as what he and his friends had put to­gether, and when ac­tiv­ity out­side of the mu­sic be­gan to im­pact, he was one of the peo­ple that it had real-world ef­fects on. Even dur­ing the pe­riod after Dead’s pass­ing, when he’d quit the band, a long shadow re­mained, and he was one of the ma­jor fac­tors in it con­tin­u­ing after Eurony­mous’ fu­neral. It’s a band which he con­tin­ues to this day, plumb­ing ever­darker re­cesses of mu­sic in in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult ways. “We chal­lenge the fuck out of our fans!” he laughs. As one of the few peo­ple to have gen­uine, first-hand doc­u­ments of the time, Necrobutcher has put to­gether a book, The Death Ar­chives: May­hem 1984-94 (first pub­lished in 2016, but now re­ceiv­ing a full press­ing through Ec­static Peace Li­brary). Con­tain­ing hun­dreds of un­seen pho­tos, and telling un­heard sto­ries of the time, it shines a rev­e­la­tory light on a unique, fas­ci­nat­ing

I’VE AL­WAYS BEEN DRAWN TO ex­treme things…

mo­ment in time, of­ten the sub­ject of much spec­u­la­tion, and of­ten com­pletely mis­un­der­stood. It show­cases not just the grim­ness of the band’s evil im­agery, but also a group of lads in their late teens sim­ply hav­ing a laugh to­gether. Just as the book takes a deep dive into a heady world of nos­tal­gia, here, Necrobutcher takes us back to a time be­fore any­one could have guessed what was go­ing to hap­pen in the North… May­hem are a band who have been sur­rounded by a lot of mys­tique. Did that make you think twice about po­ten­tially ex­pos­ing too much of the truth with this book? “No, not re­ally. The mys­tique is still there – that’s what we’re all about. There are a cou­ple of happy faces in the book, but re­mem­ber, back then, when you took pho­tos that was it. On a film of 24 pho­tos, 10 might be out of fo­cus, so how you look in the ones that came out okay didn’t mat­ter. Now, you can take 1,000 pic­tures un­til you get the one you want. As for mys­tique, if you think about the dark­ness, the can­dles, the corpse paint, and run­ning around in the for­est in the mid­dle of the night, that’s all there, be­cause we were crazy peo­ple, but it also cap­tures chilled-out mo­ments where we’re all sat down hav­ing a beer.” Let’s go back to the be­gin­ning. What in­spired you to form a band who, at the time, were one of the most ex­treme-sound­ing on Earth? “I don’t know – I’ve al­ways been drawn to ex­treme things in life. I like ex­treme movies like splat­ter and hor­ror movies, and ex­treme art. With mu­sic, the rawer, the faster, the harder, the bet­ter. So I liked the harder shit that The Rolling Stones did, es­pe­cially when Keith Richards was singing, be­cause he al­ready had a fucked-up voice in the ‘70s. Then, I heard Lemmy, with the dis­torted bass and the whiskey voice – at the time, it was ’81, I think. I read some books about the Hole-in-the-wall Gang and Kid Curry, and all the fa­mous out­laws in the Amer­i­can West around the time Ace Of Spades came out, and that song proved to be the sound­track to ev­ery­thing I was read­ing. Im­me­di­ately, I went out to get a dis­tor­tion pedal. After that I was still look­ing for more ex­treme stuff, and then Venom and death metal and all the dif­fer­ent vari­a­tions came out.” How did you come to strike up a re­la­tion­ship with Eurony­mous? “We were liv­ing in the same area, but about five kilo­me­tres apart, so we went to dif­fer­ent high schools and didn’t know each other. But we were do­ing the same things in­de­pen­dently of each other, play­ing mu­sic with our friends at school. His friends had a re­hearsal space and wanted me to try out for this glam-rock band they had. I knew im­me­di­ately that I was not go­ing to play with them, but I felt like it was a cool thing that they wanted me to jam with them. The guy from the band said, ‘I’m send­ing some­one down to the sta­tion to pick you up,’ and that was Øys­tein. We were both sur­prised to meet a fel­low per­son with such sim­i­lar mu­si­cal in­ter­ests. No­body I knew liked Venom – every­body thought their mu­sic was too noisy and ex­treme – but here, I’d found a guy that liked that kind of stuff. I told him I had a band and we jammed Venom songs, and he knew all the tunes. The day after, he brought his gui­tar and this amp that was com­pletely worth­less and gave off feed­back, and we started to jam. Quickly, we re­alised, ‘Okay, this is it.’ After that, we were hang­ing out ev­ery day for years.” The book por­trays a band for which you had a lot of am­bi­tion from pretty early on – there seems to have been a con­fi­dence about what you could do. Did you truly be­lieve that you could do some­thing great like Venom? “Yeah, ab­so­lutely. We thought we were gonna be huge as fuck, no doubt about it. We were faster than most other bands, and we were rawer. When we saw pic­tures of Sepul­tura in Hawai­ian shirts, we were think­ing, ‘Fuck – this isn’t death metal!’ That’s when we started bring­ing cow and pig heads into it, all that stuff. This was gonna be death, only death, and pure fuck­ing evil shit; no love songs, quite the op­po­site – ev­ery­thing was about hate. We were against ev­ery­thing. That was our motto.” Why did you choose the name Necrobutcher? “It’s so fuck­ing per­fect. We needed to have some cool fuck­ing nick­names. We also liked the idea of anonymity – it dis­guised us in a way that crim­i­nals would do. In all our pho­to­shoots we’d have our hair down over our faces or be cov­ered by corpse paint. When I came up with the name Necrobutcher, I was talk­ing to some­one – I don’t re­mem­ber who – but I fell out with them be­cause they said that the gram­mar was in­cor­rect and I couldn’t put the two words to­gether. Ap­par­ently, it needed to be some­thing like ‘Ne­cro­man­ticbutcher’, be­cause my way isn’t cor­rect English. But I de­cided that was why I needed to use Necrobutcher, be­cause you’d have to be crazy to write your own name wrong! Ev­ery­thing is so fuck­ing wrong with it.” Nor­way wasn’t known for metal be­fore May­hem and black metal. What was it like back then? “Nor­way was a peace­ful coun­try when I was grow­ing up. After school, you went out, you got home in the late evening, and that was nor­mal. But to­day, I don’t think par­ents would let their kids out after dark with­out a cell phone, or know­ing where they are, or pick­ing them up or driv­ing them to prac­tice. It’s un­think­able these days, but back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, it was in­no­cent as fuck. They were com­pletely dif­fer­ent times.” So where did your sense of re­bel­lion and mis­chief come from? “You have to rebel against that, of course. What the fuck?! (crazy laugh­ter) It was too

nice! Chris­tian­ity is bad stuff – those guys are lobotomised. Churches had all the power here back then, and we paid a lot of tax to the state church. They were mak­ing rules, and we had to pay for it. I was al­ready re­belling against the idea of Chris­tian­ity and I thought it was a lot of bol­locks – any­one with any sense would know it’s just a stupid fairy­tale and that re­li­gion is a tool for con­trol, noth­ing else. Peo­ple are so pa­thetic that they still be­lieve this shit down to the lit­eral word – the walk­ing on wa­ter, all that kind of stuff. That was a nat­u­ral thing to rebel against, be­cause we saw some­thing wrong in so­ci­ety – wake up, this is stupid! Ev­ery­one was get­ting worked up about it, and we were think­ing, ‘This is awe­some!’ From there, the scene grew and it spi­ralled com­pletely out of con­trol – 50 churches burned up here.” When Dead came from Swe­den to live with you guys, he didn’t speak Nor­we­gian and none of you spoke Swedish, mean­ing you had to com­mu­ni­cate in English. That shows the ded­i­ca­tion you had, that peo­ple were mov­ing to come and be part of the band. What was it like when he first came to live in Nor­way? “We thought it was the right thing to do, but at the time, we were still liv­ing with our par­ents, so we had to find some­where for him to live. First, we put him up in our re­hearsal space, which worked for a while, but he got kicked out. Then, we found a house in the for­est that was aban­doned, but that was with­out power and wa­ter, so it was okay for just the sum­mer. But then the farmer who owned the cabin came in with a shot­gun one day and asked us what the fuck we were do­ing. After that, we put Dead in Did you want to piss peo­ple off, as well as be­come rock stars? “Yeah, we wanted to be rock stars and anger peo­ple at the same time. That was nat­u­ral for us, be­cause we liked to wear dark clothes – we didn’t fit in with what was go­ing on at the time. It was nat­u­ral to go that way, and that’s the same in all kinds of so­ci­eties: some peo­ple don’t fit in with the crowd, so they start sub­cul­tures, and that’s what we did. We made our own map for ev­ery­thing, and we were to­tally de­ter­mined from the be­gin­ning. We knew there was no mar­ket here in Nor­way, so we were al­ways think­ing in­ter­na­tion­ally. We started our own record la­bel and dis­tri­bu­tion, and later on our own shop, be­cause we had to – no­body would give us a deal, any­way. So we said, ‘Fuck you – we’ll do it our­selves. How hard can it be?’”

a mo­tel for a cou­ple of months, and then we hired an apart­ment, which ev­ery­one moved into. We were look­ing for a house that we could also re­hearse in, and I found that in the end, too. We just went with it – we were young, dumb and full of cum. We took ob­sta­cles as they came. That’s what you have to do when you’re pioneer­ing shit – you’re build­ing your own world.” May­hem were of­ten por­trayed as hu­mour­less elit­ists, but as seen in the book you were also just teenagers do­ing nor­mal ado­les­cent things. In ret­ro­spect, did that get for­got­ten by peo­ple on the out­side look­ing in? “We were to­gether all the time and did a lot of nor­mal things to­gether: eat­ing, drink­ing tea, read­ing mag­a­zines, order­ing pizza, so that stuff is in the book, of course. Oth­er­wise, it’d be strange to tell a story and not say what’s go­ing on. This is what this book is also about – try­ing to cap­ture the mo­ment. Shit like what we were eat­ing, just to com­pletely put you in a time cap­sule and spice it up with all the other stuff that was go­ing on at the time. And that’s the same with the pic­tures of the clothes. We’ve al­ways been of the same style: black, full of studs, leather jack­ets. And some of the pho­tos are in pub­lic places, so you can see how the dif­fer­ent styles come and go. It’s a funny thing – I’m in style ev­ery 10 years! (laughs)” The early days were marked by tragedy, with Dead’s sui­cide and Eurony­mous’ mur­der. Did it ever feel like things had gone too far to you? “The only time I felt like that was when stuff was hap­pen­ing that was out of my con­trol, like when Øys­tein took pic­tures of the body when he found Per [Dead] after he shot him­self. That was over the top and out of line. Also, when some teenage girls burned up churches around where I lived, the po­lice would call around to my par­ents to tell them I was a sus­pect in that shit. I got pissed off, and when you know that you’re be­ing done wrong, your in­ner mo­ti­va­tion to prove you’re right be­comes stronger. You feel an­gry, and the more that comes up against you, you feel scared, then you feel like do­ing some­thing about it. Since we play neg­a­tive, ag­gres­sive mu­sic, that seemed the right way to chan­nel all that stuff.” Were you wor­ried for your own safety, in light of all the neg­a­tive at­ten­tion? “Yes, we were wor­ried. When Eurony­mous was killed, we didn’t know who did it in the be­gin­ning. I didn’t know what was go­ing on, and then I read in the pa­per that it was some Swedes that did it, so I was think­ing, ‘Fuck, maybe they’re com­ing for me, too.’ I bor­rowed a sawn-off shot­gun from a friend and had that in my bed­room just in case. I wasn’t afraid, but I didn’t want to be sat there and slain in my un­der­wear. After that, I had so much rage in me, be­cause I knew I was right. It’s mu­sic, it’s im­age – we’re not ene­mies of the state. We were ene­mies of the sys­tem, but not how they por­trayed us to be.” How dif­fi­cult was it putting the band back to­gether after Eurony­mous died? “We were at ground zero after all that shit went down in ’93. We were pub­lic ene­mies of the state, of the press and of the peo­ple in Nor­way. Black metal be­came an even smaller thing after that – ev­ery­thing was fucked up and no-one would have any­thing to do with us. We didn’t have any gigs, and if any­one ever wrote any­thing about us it was al­ways neg­a­tive. We were banned from fes­ti­vals and most of our friends and busi­ness as­so­ci­ates turned their backs on us. They talked shit about us be­cause they didn’t want to be as­so­ci­ated with us. There were not only the mu­si­cal as­pects where you have a band, make mu­sic and tour, and maybe you have a flat tyre, or your gui­tars break, or you have writer’s block. We had all that shit hap­pen­ing as well as ev­ery­one work­ing against us. That made it dou­ble shit. But with us be­ing an ag­gres­sive type of band, that kicked us in the ass, so from ’94 when we got our shit back to­gether with a new gui­tarist in place, we were in a re­hearsal space for three years, all the fuck­ing time. We needed high qual­ity shit when we came out again, so there’d be no doubt about any­thing and we’d blow every­body away. And that’s what hap­pened. Some­times, bad needs to hap­pen for good to come out of it; you need to know about shit to come out on top of it after­wards.” The band’s le­gacy now is one of to­tal re­spect in metal cir­cles. Does it feel like you won in the end? “Yes. It’s the dark chap­ter first, pulling you up through all the bull­shit and hav­ing the press against you. But, as al­ways, they shoot them­selves in the foot. And in the end, after they talk so much shit about us, sud­denly peo­ple from abroad, like am­bas­sadors in Nicaragua or wher­ever, you ask them, ‘What do you know about Nor­way? And they’re like, ‘May­hem, ice spears…’ After­wards, we started to get GRAMMY nom­i­na­tions too, which we should’ve had 10 or 15 years prior, be­cause of the qual­ity of the mu­sic. But we never even sent in any records to the com­mit­tee, so we wouldn’t be eval­u­ated any­way. When we first got nom­i­nated, it was be­cause a dis­tri­bu­tion com­pany in Nor­way sent in nine copies to the nom­i­na­tion com­mit­tee with­out telling us, so I read about it in the pa­per one day. After that, it be­came more like au­topi­lot: you re­lease an al­bum and it gets sent to the awards com­mit­tees and ra­dio, which to be hon­est we didn’t give a fuck about, be­cause they didn’t give a fuck about us. They shot them­selves in the foot and then came limp­ing back.” Does be­ing in May­hem still feel like a con­stant fight? “Yes, but I’m not ready to quit yet.” K! THE DEATH AR­CHIVES, MAY­HEM 1984 – 1994 BY JØRN ‘NECROBUTCHER’ STUB­BERUD IS AVAIL­ABLE NOW THROUGH EC­STATIC PEACE LI­BRARY/OM­NIBUS PRESS

“EV­ERY­THING WAS ABOUT HATE. THAT WAS OUR MOTTO” NECROBUTCHER

RSI: the scourge of all black metal

May­hem 2004: Still giv­ing it the big ’un Black metal mar­tyrs: Dead and Eurony­mous

May­hem started wait­ing for this bus two years ago…

May­hem 2007: K!’s joke about not hav­ing done a whites wash went down well…

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