de mysteriis… was 1993 really the year of misery?

þórir svartidauði
photo: tomek deron – http://www.tomder.pl

Back in 1993 a lot of great things happened. I discovered Black Metal when I picked up this issue of Kerrang! magazine. For a kid about to turn 16 a magazine with a guy on the cover holding a couple of knives right next to three more guys grim as fvkk and Dave Mustaine looked like the best thing in the world! Before summer’s end the guy on the cover had become a murderer and Black Metal’s most infamous band was ruins.

A year later we got De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas. There are many naysayers when it comes to this album that say that DMDS is just over-hyped shit that would have gone unnoticed if it wasn’t for the myth surrounding it. They can think what they think, that doesn’t change the fact that DMDS is a great record that no one has rivaled.

So, I asked Þórir from Svartidauði, amongst others, to say a few words about the album. Þórir has been a part of the Icelandic Black Metal scene for more than a decade now in bands like Svartidauði, Grief and Chao. His knowledge of music of all kinds is frightening and being a musician, his words differ a lot from mine, a mere listener. So, let’s not drag things out any further and let the man himself speak!

Countless words have been written about De Mysteriis dom Sathanas. So many, in fact, that at this point any discussion about it feels almost exactly like flogging a dead horse. The murder and arson soap opera has been played to death, but without fail it still rears its head every couple of years marketed as the shocker of the century. What tends to be missing from the discourse about this most notorious of records, however, is the actual music.

It’s easy to label DMDS-era Mayhem as a supergroup, but well, sometimes the lazy conclusions also happen to be right. And what a group it was. From founder Euronymous all the way down to last minute hire Attila Csihar, every member had been carefully handpicked through a series of elimination in a line-up history more fleeting and tumultous than the manager histories of modern football clubs. This lineup combined some of the most brilliant innovators of Black Metal at the time (or any other time), and in Euronymous and Attila could trace it’s roots down to the first generation of Black Metal. Every member seemed to be equally hellbent to make sure that DMDS would be the deadliest, most monumental metal recording to date, to the point that it seems like each of them was trying to out-do the other. From Hellhammer’s virtuoso drum performance and opera house acoustics, to the perfect balance of distortion and brightness in Vikernes’s spot on bass lines, the pioneering guitar work of Euronymous and Snorre Ruch and the iconic and bonechilling vocal performance of Attila, you can focus your listening anywhere and get completely awed by the brilliance on show.

Serial listenings of the album also let you appreciate all the minor details and touches beyond the trance-inducing songwriting and lyrics. Details such as that amazing little glitch in the tremolo guitar break in the middle of Life Eternal, Hellhammer’s sheer audacity to do fills while still playing the ride cymbal in Funeral Fog (not to mention those delicious roto tom fills in Freezing Moon), the harmonised guitar lick one minute into Buried by Time and Dust, and the downright insane way Attila vocalizes “may God bless us all” and his spine-chilling interpretation of the lines “the demon flies in the blackened starless sky, AND CRAWLS… IN THE BOTTOMLESS… black depths of Hell. Condemned to wander, UNTIL IT COMES, to, the, cruellest, snake, that, crawls.”

DMDS is the definitive statement of an extremely prolific scene in one of the most innovative periods in metal history, although sadly also it’s swansong. It’s pioneering brilliance tends to be masked by the fact that Mayhem spent a great many years working on the album, along the way influencing all of their contemporaries who happened to release their respective albums earlier. DMDS perfectly captures an entire era, and should serve as a beacon for all future bands claiming to play Black Metal. You see, Black Metal has progressed in such a way as to redefine itself every ten years, each step of its life cycle being encapsulated in a singular record or two. It started in 1984 with the Bathory S/T record and Don’t Break the Oath, continued in 1994 with DMDS and In the Nightside Eclipse, and the progress was marked further by the self-defined orthodox bands who released a trifecta of influential albums in 2003 and 2004. As the apt readers among you will have realized, it’s already been a decade since then, so now it’s just a matter of who will continue the cycle.

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