THIS MONTH IN METAL No.1: Mayhem’s “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas”

The Legacy

On May 23, 1994 a dark entity was shot into the ears of the metal community.  Mayhem’s controversial buildup to their quintessential release already killed off two members at tragically young ages.  Dead, the band’s former gut-puking vocalist who penned most of the album’s lyrics, committed suicide before the recording process began.  Guitarist Euronymous was stabbed 23 times by bassist Varg Vikernes after recording but before it hit the shelves.  And of course, a briefing of black metal and specifically Mayhem cannot go without the infamous string of church burnings in 1990s Norway.

Original 1994 cover. Photo: Metal Injection

The purpose of this artistic tribute is not to glorify criminal action, radical politics or mental illness but rather its artistic advancement in the metal genre.  This May marks the 25th anniversary of Mayhem’s De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, perhaps the most quintessential album of the black metal genre.  Both lyrically and in the spirit of its raw sound, De Mysteriis is a desecration of all things decent and pure.  Encompassing spiritual, suicidal, blasphemous and sheer misanthropic themes, it doesn’t get much blacker.  Take two icicles, shove them into your ears and break them off.  That’s about as close to the sound of De Mysteriis as you can get.  Hellhammer’s thunderstorm of percussion and Attila’s nauseating vocals supplement Euronymous’ haunting riffs to be nothing short of destructive.

Inner packaging. Photo: Metal Injection

I decided that, as simple as the original cover is, there had to be some sort of tribute to the Gothic vibes of Nidaros Cathedral.  As fun as it would have been to draw, I couldn’t just set the thing on fire.  While the spirit is there, I separate the actions of the artists from the art.  So I did the next best thing, levitate the church, turn it to glass and shatter it by the dark power of Satan.  De Mysteriis echoes the sound of something evil and depraved boiling beneath the surface, so I wanted to unleash that force and let it run free to capture its essence. 

The Eternity Opens

25th anniversary tribute artwork

The Eternity Opens

Let’s break down this beast.  Funeral Fog wastes no time to smack your ears with a cold blow, also lyrically setting the tone for a dark, fog-infested cemetery.  Freezing Moon, perhaps Mayhem’s most infamous track, reinforces the glowing, dream-like cemetery and the obvious ice cold moon.  Dark powers are released from below the surface with rippling wings and the hands of an adverse god, described by the dreadful tune of Cursed in Eternity.  Pagan Fears references the senseless slaying of Pagans by Christians, taking a more somber tone and heavily influential to the cool color scheme.  The hanged man’s self-sacrifice stands in homage to the depressive Life Eternal, the last lyrics written by Dead found with his body.  From the Dark Past takes a similar cold tone of death, yet somewhat more torturous and thus inspiring nauseating motion.  The cemetery becomes a significant motif again in reference to Buried by Time and Dust, a taunting memento mori to loom above you represented by the assailing architectural monolith.  Finally, the title track De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas alludes to the grand and glorious dark power unleashed upon the earth.  The adversary breaks free and shatters the church, damning the holy for all eternity.  

See more heavy hitters in the MONTHLY METAL GALLERY

The shadow will never cease to darken, and will continue a legacy of Pure Fucking Armageddon!

–NCM

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