MAKING A MURDERER
BEFORE THE BLACKNESS OF MAYHEM ’S DEBUT ALBUM CAME A STORY SO DARK THAT ITS CLOUD HANGS HEAVY OVER METAL TO THIS VERY DAY, PAUL TRAVERS RECOUNTS…
For many fans of extremity, Mayhem’s De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas was, is and always will be the essence of pure black metal. Vicious, misanthropic and bleakly atmospheric, it traced a bloody blueprint for an entire scene using blistering tremolo riffs, thunderous blastbeats and unearthly shrieks, all wrapped up in the murkiest of lo-fi productions.
It would have been remarkable enough if that was all there was to it, but the music itself was eclipsed by the tumultuous events surrounding the album.
Before Mayhem could even get round to recording an album, vocalist Per Yngve Ohlin, more commonly known as Dead, had committed suicide. In between the recording of the debut and its belated release, guitarist and founding member Euronymous was murdered by bassist Varg Vikernes, AKA Count Grishnackh. Varg was sentenced to 21 years in prison for the murder and a number of church burnings. Guitarist Snorre ‘Blackthorn’ Ruch was also sentenced to eight years for complicity in the killing.
As well as founding Mayhem alongside original bassist Necrobutcher, Euronymous (real name Øystein Aarseth) owned the extreme metal record label Deathlike Silence Productions and the record shop Helvete – Norwegian for ‘Hell’. As such, he was the hub around which the early Norwegian black metal scene revolved. The scene has been described as having a cultlike core called the Black Circle, although Varg later wrote, “The so-called Black Circle was something Euronymous made up… it was nonsense and never existed.”
This was certainly a select and incestuous scene, however, and Deathlike Silence released, among other things, the fi rst album by Varg’s solo black metal project, Burzum.
Attila Csih ar , who w as brought in t o provide the vocals on De Mysteriis…, recalled, “Mayhem contacted me in ’91 pretty soon after Dead committed suicide, but it took a couple of years of writing and phone calls before I went over from Hungary to Norway to record the album. From his voice I expected Euronymous to be a big, tall Scandinavian. Physically he was a lot smaller, but he was very impressive and intelligent. He had his strange visions and extreme antireligious and dark occult philosophies. Varg was very smart, too, and they were both very straight-edge. No drugs, no alcohol, nothing.”
Lee Barrett, founder of extreme metal label Candlelight, told Kerrang!, “I think the catalyst for the whole scene was Mayhem, and particularly Euronymous as a personality. Even at 25 he was a bit older than most of the people around him and very infl uential. Euronymous’ idea was to take the darkness that bands had been singing about more literally. He wanted to walk the walk rather than just talking the talk.”
That wasn’t the way Varg Vikernes saw it. “In 1991, most of the metal musicians in Norway believed Euronymous was a so-called cool guy, but in mid or late-1992, most of us realised that he was not,” he said.
At the start of 1993, Varg gave an anonymous interview to Norwegian newspaper Bergens Tidende, in which he claimed to have burned churches and killed a man in Lillehammer. He later claimed to have been pulling the reporter’s leg, but was arrested. Euronymous, meanwhile, closed Helvete as a result of the
publicity generated by the story, which ran on the front page accompanied by a now-notorious picture of Varg, his face largely obscured by his hair and holding two vicious knives.
Varg wrote of Euronymous’ reaction, “Pretty pathetic, alright, but by doing so, he also made all my efforts more or less pointless. I spent six weeks in custody because of that, and all he did was to close down the shop!”
Tensions were simmering, and in March ’93, Kerrang! ran a cover feature depicting a scene that was already descending into chaos. There had already been a spate of well-publicised church burnings and, while it had not come to light at the time, Emperor drummer Bård ‘Faust’ Eithun had stabbed a gay man to death in a forest.
The most notorious act was still to come, however, when Varg and Snorre drove from Bergen to Oslo on the night of August 10. Snorre stayed downstairs while Varg went up to Euronymous’ apartment.
Varg has claimed that Euronymous had been threatening to kill him, saying, “According to his ‘friends’, the plan was to… knock me out with a stun-gun… drive into the countryside, tie me to a tree and torture me to death while videotaping everything.” Varg further claimed that he drove to Oslo that night to break contact with his one-time bandmate, and that he acted in self-defence when Euronymous attacked him (“I killed him when I knew he had plans to torture me to death,” Varg wrote). Whatever the truth, the confrontation ended with Euronymous’ death from stab wounds. His body was found on the steps outside his apartment with 23 separate cuts.
“It’s almost a Frankenstein story where he’s killed by his creation – I still believe that, without Euronymous, there would have been no Burzum,” said Lee Barrett.
The details of that night and the motivations behind the killing might be shrouded by claim and counter-claim, but what is certain is that it was the central act in the most shocking period of metal’s history.
“I KILLED HIM WHEN I KNEW HE HAD PLANS TO TORTURE ME TO DEATH”