This show was pure and utter… mayhem.
Amidst a growing day line outside of Max Watt’s of black band shirts, battle jacket patches, the odd brave dude sporting some corpse paint, and one cape-wearing guy dressed up as an elf – as if he’d just walked out of a fucking Tolkien book – were also small pockets of hardcore kids and smart-casual dressed punters lining up for a real night of metal.
The first band up to appease the polite appreciation of the slowly, half-filling room was Tasmania’s Départe, one of the best Australian post-metal bands of recent memory, as a matter of fact. Watching them with a mate from atop the venue’s balcony section (which I’ve actually been to before despite having attended shows at this venue for over eight years now), the Hobart band’s sound was an imposing metal experience live. Bathed in blue lights, their dark, brooding and atmospheric post-metal sound a la Cascades, Sundr and Adrift For Days came alive as the four-piece tore through material from 2016’s sensational but sorely under-appreciated ‘Failure, Subside‘ LP. Speical mention goes out to guitarist/vocalist Sam “Disho von Beer” Dishington who sounded epic live on both accounts as well as drummer Michael Rankine who played solidly throughout (and on one of the bigger house kits I’ve seen in a long while no less). I’m also now going to use this part about these Hobart metallers as a friendly reminder that ‘Failure, Subside‘ is a great record and you all should hear it. Oh, look, what’s that? Why, it’s a link to said terrific album right here, of course. Do yourself a favour and check it out because it’s just as good live as it is on-record.
From a dense and layered post-metal sound to that of a more straightforward, riff-centric, “black-thrash” sound (as a friend described to me afterwards), we have another band hailing from the depths of Tassie, Ruins. Starting out their set with their vocalist Alex Pope skulling down a beer, to the heroic cheers of various on-lookers and one bloke who just would not stop fucking whistling throughout every band’s set, Ruins raced through a fast-paced half-hour set of head-banging grooves, quick guitar runs, and plenty of blasts. Obviously, these guys are a different kind of beast from their peers in Départe and with that comes a different kind of stage presence, with their frontman moving around a lot, and often playing air guitar and air-drumming along to the songs when he wasn’t offering these throaty roars, high shrieks and Peste Noire-like grunts. While having a very samey-sounding set throughout, Ruins showing was a decent one at that, and one that bode over well with the now-packed crowd.
Coming all the way from Zürich, Switzerland, were the heretical vocals and ten-string guitar riffage of KzR and the bludgeoning “Skin Decimation” (read: drumming) of HzR – BÖLZER. With tight, thunderous drumming, rough growls and coarse vocal roars, heavy-as-balls guitars, and the odd falsetto vocal section, this impressive two-piece offered an incredibly loud old-school death/black metal presence for just a two-piece. Then again, any single guitarist running their guitar into a multi-split set up can sound massive and “more” than just one player (see: Josh Scogin of ’68), and it also helps that he had a ten-string as well. With some lengthy but not overly varied metal compositions and atmospheric backing track interludes throughout to break up their set, BÖLZER had a solid run all up. Well, up until a certain point, that is. See, just after the half-hour point, it all began to feel so terribly self-indulgent (like I can bloody talk) and by the time that the pair’s 45-minute set came to an end, many around me looked worn out from it all. After all, everyone – and I do mean everyone – were here for Mayhem.
Speaking of, with a pre-recorded message over the PA from the band’s management asking punters to be respectful with their use of phones and flashes (didn’t stop me from taking the odd note or two though), Mayhem’s five members took the stage wearing this record’s customary black ceremonial robes. Due to the gloomy and horrible events that surrounded the creation and release of 1994’s highly influential ‘De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas‘, it never got the touring limelight it needed. And so this Australian tour was all about celebrating and honouring the band’s classic debut record. So, only that part of Mayhem’s career would be performed tonight, but it’s not like anyone was complaining about the lack of ‘Grand Declaration of War‘ or ‘Ordo Ad Chao‘ material here. Because as soon as ‘Funeral Fog‘ kicked off, the near-sold-out crowd was utterly ecstatic.
As the much-loved and notorious black metal band surged through their first records contents with ‘Freezing Moon‘ and ‘Cursed In Eternity‘, the light show stunned and dazzled in time with the bands music, just as the stage’s smoke machine would so often billow out, most times threatening to swallow the entire stage in smoke. Couple these factors with the obscure and occultist imagery of their eerie stage banners as well as band’s intimidating presence and stellar performance, and you have one very surreal live experience. In fact, as pretentious of me as it will sound, it was more of a ritual than just a gig; more of a theatrical display than just some band playing live.
It was about the time that ‘Life Eternal‘ hit that I suddenly thought of something probably already most obvious to those around me: Mayhem, as people and as a collective, are not young. Not to be ageist, but these dudes are old. Yet their endurance levels and incredibly tight musical performances best most extreme metal bands half their age.
Bassist Jørn”Necrobutcher” Stubberud and hooded guitarists Charles “Ghul” Hedger (also from Cradle of Filth) and the always-corpse-paint wearing guitarist Teloch rarely missed any notes among the set’s heavy, blackened fray. However, it was drummer Jan Axel “Hellhammer” Blomberg and the revered, captivating frontman Attila “Void” Csihar who were the two most notable impressors up on-stage. Behind the band’s looming beast of a drumkit, one could barely see Hellhammer but you damn well heard the guy through every single lighting fast blast beat, pounding double kick and tectonic drum fill that he expertly landed. As for Csihar, the guy is an absolute monster live; like some sort of demonic angel. Not just from the way he can contort and project his screams in such a staggering way and how his occasional operatic clean vocals soared but also how he stalked the stage and moved his arms and body aline in this unhinged puppet-like manner. It was all very creepy right there in the moment but it worked so well for a show such as this.
Also around this mid-point in the set, during a break between songs, a few guys started to chanting “HAIL SATAN!” over and over. Which is par for the course at this kind of show, really. I mean, if there was even one band to bring out the Satanists, it’d be fucking Mayhem.
For the last half of the set, a religious altar was brought out into the middle of the stage, in which Csihar would reside behind for most of the remaining set; moving his hands around the two lit candles and a human skull like he was trying to summon forth ghostly spirits. Of course, we’re never going to see the self-harming and potentially crowd endangering shows of Mayhem’s past (at least, definitely not here in Australia) but I’ll damn well take a vivid show like this any day of the week. Ending with the record’s titular track, both Csihar and Nercobutcher violently thrash around out front as the song propels through Hellhammer’s monstrous blast beasts and the fast riffs, the lights flash a million miles a minute and smoke spews forth across the stage for what was a crazed finale of this unholy worship. And in a sense of atmospheric and moody consistency, throughout this blackened ceremony, not a single “hello” or “thank you” was uttered to the crowd from the band. But see, there was no real need for it. This band know that they don’t have to say anything to the fans and the fans don’t expect emotional speeches or acknowledgements. Some would see that as being rude or disingenuous, but those in attendance tonight would just say “well, that’s just Mayhem for ya”.
I would say like most people, I much prefer ‘De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas‘ live – a sentiment echoed by a handful of people that I spoke to about it post-set. Mainly because of the insane level of tension and atmosphere this band can create live, how loud and tight they are despite their age, and for the simple fact that that initial album sounds like it was recorded on a fucking potato. So hearing it re-created live in 2018 gives it a whole new energy and power that it originally lacks due to the production, technological and budgetary constraints of the time.
Now, look, I am not the biggest Mayhem fan but by god, this set was just insane. And I’m so very glad I got to see this record in full and in the flesh.