Mayhem – De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas (1994) Album Review

Mayhem is indeed one of those bands that, back when they formed and even nowadays strikes fear. It is a band that is covered in mystery, like many early black metal pioneers. De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas (roughly translated as (Satan’s Secret Rites) is their first full length album released in 1994.

People that do not know this have no idea why they are called legends. Mayhem is considered the band that managed to define black metal and separate it from other genre influences such as trash, heavy and speed metal. Even though the band was born in the first wave, it manifested its climax during the second stage in the early 90s.

Mayhem at that time had a different line-up, gathering some of the most notorious and exceptional black metal artists at that time. Their core member Euronymous (credited for creating the typical black metal riff that we hear today), Varg Vikernes (Count Grishnack, Euronymous’ murder, and also the main figure behind the black metal band Burzum), Hellhammer (nowadays considered the best black metal drummer) and Attila Csihar (Tormentor’s vocalist) gathered after Dead‘s (Per Yngve Ohlin) suicide and Necrobutcher‘s departure to put the final wrap-up for this album.

It was once again delayed because of Euronymous’s death in 1993, murdered by Varg Vikernes which later he will be sentenced to prison. The album was released in 1994, delayed again by requests from Euronymous’s parents that wanted the bass lines from Varg Vikernes to be replaced, however the only member remaining Hellhammer had no bass knowledge so Varg’s bass lines remained on the album even today.

Why is this album so popular and so well received? Mainly because the icons of the black metal industry at that time contributed in making it. Euronymous at guitar, Varg at bass, Hellhammer at drums, Dead writing the lyrics and Attila doing the voice.

This album features low recording quality though slightly better than Deathcrush, not because at that time the recording process was not that good but because the black metal bands at that time considered that high quality sound is for mainstream bands and not for self proclaimed underground bands. Truth to be told, black metal was and it still is part of the underground metal, except for some select countries like the Scandinavian ones.

This is an album that does not have a beginning nor an end. Even though you can sense a variety in terms of structure in this album, it is pretty much monotone induced especially by Attila’s voice. This is probably one of the very few and rare black metal albums where the vocalist does not scream, shrieks, snarls or grunt. The voice gives you a feeling of grief, you have the impression that the vocalist somehow struggles in order to perform his task, it’s as if, the album sends you a death message. Every time there is a change of rhythm, the voice will disappear leaving space for the absolutely stunning instrumental.

This album is indeed a surprise. At that time, black metal bands such as Marduk, Dark Funeral or Satyricon focused on extremism and violence which manifested in their playing style and as well as in their lyrical content, however Mayhem’s awaited album appeared with a very unusual calm. Now don’t get me wrong, the sound and instrumentals fit in the black metal genre (sound mostly created by Mayhem itself) but it does not give you the impression of a rough, tough or raw kind of sound, you do not feel violence or aggression from it like we were used to hear in Deathcrush (1987) but rather resignation, the feeling covered in sorrow and death.

The sound of this album gives you the impression that the silence of death caused by Dead’s suicide and the murder of Euronymous managed to put some peace on their music. That is how death should be portrayed, complete silence, which sort of reminds me the name of the record house that released this album, Euronymous’s own label, Deathlike Silence Production.

The album begins with the song Funeral Fog portraying an image of a funeral, of death, covered by silence, covered by fog. The second track is in my opinion, the best track from this album, heck, probably the best track this band ever made which is covered by a huge majority of the later black metal bands, a symbol for every black metal musician. Entitled Freezing Moon this song is actually, in my opinion, the core of this album, representing this time the man that tries to remember the place where he died “by following the Freezing Moon“. It features hypnotic riffs, random and powerful blast drum beats, rhythmic bass lines and the all too unusual voice of Attila.

Cursed in Eternity and Pagan Fears follow the same pattern Funeral Fog showed until we reach another special track, the 5th track entitled Life Eternal where we again witness an explosion of blast drum beats and distorted and unconventional guitar riffs. From the Dark Past, the 6th track from this album is like Life Eternal a delight for any black metal fan. Explosive drum beats combined with unconventional bass and guitar lines accompanied by Attila’s vocals which this time features a little bit more aggression compared with the other songs.

Finally, Buried By Time and Dust and De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas end this exceptional album the same way it began, with the same specific Mayhem musical traits and with the same voice Attila used from the beginning (though in Buried by Time and Dust I admit that he struggled to put a little bit more energy and effort in his vocal lines) until the end.

A splendid work. Though some songs from this album have been released with Dead as vocal, I do consider this album better with Attila doing vocals since not all the songs feature Dead as vocal unfortunately. The plus for this album gets the song Freezing Moon, which is one of the most known black metal songs and the song that has been covered the most by the other black metal bands. (Behemoth, Vader, Gorgoroth, Enslaved, etc.) De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas reigns as the most outshining black metal jewel, recognized by most black metal musicians as the most inspiring and amazing black metal record ever made. Though Mayhem will never be the same without Dead and Euronymous, their music still lives somewhere in the darkness of our hearts and souls.

Overall Impression: 96/100

About Izegrim
Anime fan, metal fanatic and art lover.

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