"Things in this band are still quite crazy and very spicy at times but it’s certainly calmed down in extremity in some aspects." - Attila Csihar.
One of the most influential metal records of all time is Mayhem’s 1994 LP, ‘De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas’ (In Latin, that loosely means “About the mystery of the Lord Satan”). To argue what black metal and extreme music would be like without this record is like asking what punk rock would be without The Clash's ‘London Calling’, The Stooges' 'funhouse', or The Sex Pistols' ‘Nevermind The Bollocks’. And this classic black metal record - one that's infamously surrounded by death and mystery - is being toured in full by Mayhem themselves later this month around Australia.
Mayhem’s frontman, the surprisingly warm and talkative Attila Csihar (AKA Void) – who also doubles as the vocalist for Sun O))) - is getting ready to cast himself back into the extreme, gloomy void of his band's debut when this looming Aussie tour kicks off in mere weeks. In this interview, the Hungarian-located Csihar talks to me about the importance of their debut record, the tumultuous time and events around its creation, the hype and expectations of their national headline tour here, as well as the upcoming Lords Of Chaos film (a movie about the 90's Norweigan Black Metal scene). Also, the opera-trained vocalist even pulls back the curtain for me about his various personal interests outside of music. Have a read:
So Attila, excusing all of your interviews, what else have you been up to today?
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Well, I actually had a rehearsal with my old band, Tormentor, my first band from the ‘80s before I joined Mayhem. We’re going to play a few select shows in Europe next year so it was fun to play today.
Cool! I suppose in some ways Tormentor is a very different beast from Mayhem?
Hm, kinda! It is actually similar in a lot of ways, and you know, I was originally invited to join Mayhem because of me being in Tormentor.
Oh, of course. And with Mayhem, I feel that there’s a lot of hype and interest for this 2018 Australian tour because some people don't know what to expect from the band in a headline capacity. Like, just in terms of the theatrics and having on-stage props and such when compared with your Soundwave appearance a few years ago.
This tour will be different from the Soundwave one, as this tour is very special with us only playing our first album, ‘De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas’, which has never been toured in full due to… what happened with our band at the time of its release. And it was never the right time and the right lineup to do it until now. That’s the big thing with this Australian tour and I think it’ll be very special. As this record is so important for the whole scene, not just Mayhem. Of course, it’s us, so there’ll be a lot of theatrical stuff too. It’s a different era and atmosphere than our other records; it’s more obscure, evil and Satanist than our other albums. It’s got this gloom to it than our other more military releases; this is more spiritual but also still very strong.
Either way, the fans are going to go utterly nuts at these shows, I can tell. In terms of you guys playing live, back in 2014, you did an interview with Noisey where you said that “When we play live I forget about all the techniques and the technical aspects, and it becomes just an action to manifest the spirit. I fall into a trance.” Now, is that still the same experience for you now three years on and do you think that’ll ever change for you when playing live?
Actually, yes, it is very similar still. And you know what? This year, Mayhem played around 100 shows. It was so interesting, as I could still feel that when I would enter the stage, even with all of the routine and how I build myself up before the show with the makeup, the warm-ups and my vocals. The whole day around that moment is what I focus on, there’s a beauty in that energy and I think that the audience can feel it too.
Rad. And I think that goes double for the album you’re playing on this tour. Also, with ‘De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas’, does the sheer weight of this album's creation and history and also how it’s come to be revered by fans and critics since its release affect how you view it now? Or do you maybe not care for such external opinions?
Of course, it all does. Also, what happened around this album, that all happened to us, you know? It’s a big part of our lives and it affected us all deeply. It’s amazing that we’re still here after so long. Even without Mayhem, I’ve been in other bands and done other music, so in my case, it’s an amazing thing to maintain after all these years. It’s a real honour to play with Mayhem every night.
Hellhammer [Jan Axel Blomberg] is such a strong artist and an amazing drummer, he is one of my best friends. More so than that, he’s my brother. Same with the other members of Mayhem. It’s just such a cool fucking vibe [Laughs]. What’s so great about us is that – even with how fucked up we are, all of the stories you hear about us, how crazy we are, and what people think of us – once we’re on-stage, we all just want to do our best. Of course, we’ve had some really crazy shows and we’ve played shows where things have gone wrong but that’s never ever our intention. And something I can rely on is that the guys support my reasons why and there is just a really good unity with this band. Things in this band are still quite crazy and very spicy at times but it’s certainly calmed down in extremity in some aspects. Overall, it’s a good vibe and the fans love it so much too. This record they also love so much.
Glad to hear that. And yes, this is *the* fan-fave for Mayhem's career, hands down.
Now, you’ve done so many other projects and worked with some great bands over the years, like your guest spots on Anaal Nathrakh, Emperor, and Ulver songs, among others, as well as your position in Sun O))) as their vocalist. Even with all of this work, I get the feeling that so many people still see you as this dark, mysterious, controversial figure rather than simply just an artist making music; which I feel has always been your intent. Do you think that that’s an accurate analysis?
Yes. I think that… so many people have a wide range of opinions on this band. So much has happened to us over the year and yes, we are all controversial personalities [laughs]. All of us are kinda crazy, in an artistic way. We’re not as dangerous for the public anymore. I would say that we are challenging anything and everything around us. At the same time, it’s never forced to be made, it just comes naturally. And maybe that’s why so many people have so many different opinions.
It’s been so many years and this band never really stopped either. With all of that awful stuff happened in 1993, the band had to stop until they could play again in ’95. They had to replace members because people sadly died and some ended up in prison – I’m sure you know the story well, man. In a nutshell, those things burned down the band to ashes. The ones who remained at the time were mentally and spiritually fucked, I must say. Still, the band didn’t stop and still, the spirit remained. It’s become our lives and affected us greatly.
It’s a very complex thing and with us not having a manager or a boss, sometimes crazy shit happens. We don’t have any control over it but it’s still so artistically free. I’m not saying that this is an ideal position, as it can be good if you have a governor, but we manage. I see other bands who are like that and I’ve played in a lot of other bands, but Mayhem is just so special. There’s no one thing about it, it’s just the whole story and events around this band. Of course, we love it, it’s like a drug: you love it, you hate it, you can’t stop but you never truly hate it. To be able to deal with it all and make peace with it, you must embrace it fully.
I’m not sure if that answers your original question, though…
Wow. And no, well said, man. Seriously, that’s a lot to take in there. Also, please excuse the jarring jump and the rather typical interview question, but with hints that a new Mayhem album is on the way, what’s the progress of it going in terms of having been written or even being recorded yet?
[Laughs] it’s still the same. It takes us some time. We still have a few songs, some ideas and some things we’ve put aside. There are so many options and so many paths we could go for a new album. With so many bands and with so much music these days, we don’t really care, but on the other hand, there are so many factors that effect. From choosing a path to go down for it to us playing ‘De Mysteriis…’ which is affecting us, so we’re still not sure if it’s the right thing to do. I would like us to step forward musically but I do think that playing our first album will affect the direction. We’re not rushing just yet and the thing is still taking shape. But you can expect a new album at some point. It’s hard to tell with this band sometimes…
Oh, I can imagine.
[caption id="attachment_1100458" align="alignnone" width="760"] Attila Csihar live, 2017.[/caption]
So, Attila, outside of black metal and music in general, I would be really keen to know what are your other key interests in your life? It's a weird question, I know.
Well, yeah, music is my main interest. Of course, my family is very important to me and my kids are all grown up now: my son is going into filmmaking and my daughter is going into biology. As you can tell from my music, I love to read esoteric stuff, as I am always into some topic or form of research. Recently. I am really loving to ride my Harley through the city. Actually, one thing that has peaked my interest lately is a thing called Bitcoin, have you heard about it?
[Laughs] I have!
It’s really interesting! Another thing that has really taken my interest over the years is visiting ancient ruins around the world and studying ancient civilizations. I’ve been to Lebanon, Egypt and all these other Indiana Jones places in my time. Thank you to the music, I can do so many things in my life and the contacts we have via the music helps me when we’re overseas and we don’t have to worry about tourist crap. I love that. When we’re in South America, I love to visit the ancient ruins in Mexico but I have yet to do Peru and Bolivia. Also, in Turkey, there’s a really cool place there that’s 15,000 years old; which is nearly thrice old from other modern civilizations such as Babylon, which is like 7,000 years old. Scientists did all of the carbon dating on this place and it’s so old. I think its amazing. Sadly, really cool stuff like that about history and culture is never headline news. It’s fucked up. But anyway! Those are just some of my other interests outside of music. Music is what really connects it all.
Thanks for sharing that with me, Attila, I appreciate it mate. I think a lot of people just won’t know about what you guys are into – like the ruin exploring. Finally, and in what is probably a terrible transition to this other topic, another interesting thing is that Lords Of Chaos movie about the 1990’s Norwegian black metal scene. With the movie focusing heavily on Mayhem as well, what are your current thoughts on it? Have you heard anything about it behind-the-scenes or have they had any further contact with you?
I know that the movie is still coming out, that it’s still definitely happening. Which is a real surprise to us. We’ve heard about this film for years and when we first heard it we thought ‘fuck off’. But actually, the director of the film, Jonas Åkerlund, is a cool dude and I now have hope. Obviously, he was a member of Bathory and after meeting him, I think he’s cool. He also made a movie called Spun, a fucked up movie about a bunch of speed freaks that I thought was pretty funny. So now I do think that this could be good. Of course, we’re still sceptical about it, but there could be some good things about it.
The book was more about the whole scene whereas the movie is focusing more on Mayhem, so it’ll be really interesting to us up on the screen [laughs]. It was not in our interest at all for us to do this movie as all big movies can distort what happened. I haven’t seen it yet so I can’t really tell just yet.
Yeah, it’s going to be an interesting movie, one way or another. It could be an accurate portrayal of that tumultuous time for your band or it could be some distorted, sensationalized bullshit. Though, I think I’ll watch it just out of morbid curiosity.
Yeah, me too, we’ll see. I can’t say too much about it I suppose. I don’t know if I should say this but because my son is an actor, they did ask if my son could play my role and I was fine for that to happen. It’d be good for the kid [laughs]. We’ll see what happens, though.
Oh wow, that could be cool if it goes through. Anyway, Attila, seriously, thank you for letting me talk to you today - it was good! I wish you all the best for Mayhem’s Australian tour as well, cheers.
No worries! If you come out to a show, come and find me. Thank you for the call, man.
Jan 16th - Perth, Capitol*
Jan 17th - Melbourne, Max Watts
Jan 18th - Sydney, Max Watts
Jan 19th - Brisbane, The Triffid
Jan 21st - Hobart, Mona Foma**
Score your tickets here.