Norwegian black metal… there is hardly another genre with a worse reputation in the eyes of the music crowd. Black metal bands have been accused of all kinds of sins, like the totally ridiculous urban myths that they are all Satanists who drink blood on a weekly basis, right after another sacrifice. However some of the notorious deeds have been proved to be factual, such as church arson and openly white supremacist ideologies.
The Mayhem guys have left behind an infamous trail of press scandals, drunken debaucheries, broken photo cams, church arson and… a few corpses.
Musicalypse managed to get a hold of the band for an interview with Mayhem singer Attila Csihar during the band’s Scandinavian tour. Attila Csihar joined Mayhem back in 1992 to record vocals for De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas after the suicide of then-vocalist, Dead. It has been over 15 years since the band’s mayhem: rumors about the existence of a vicious “Black Metal Inner Circle,” Dead’s suicide, guitar player Euronymus’ murder by bass player Varg Vikernes. So we were very curious to figure out how many of the rumors were true.
Entering the club backstage I saw nearly pastoral scene: legendary drummer Helhammer was busy with his drum kit, bass player Necrobutcher was holding a glass of French champagne in a truly aristocratic manner while having a philosophical conversation with a friend, and Attila himself seemed to be deep down in reading some thick book with Egyptian pyramids on the cover. Well, at least, a few myths about Mayhem were dispelled before the interview had even started!
You have just come from Holland where the whole band got arrested for reportedly trashing the hotel. Do you have any comments on the incident?
There were a lot of problems on this tour, with organization and promoters for example. The thing that happened – it’s not the first time this year actually. We were contacted by a promoter and we agreed to do this tour and there were a lot of negotiations about that. And then, 2 or 3 days before our scheduled flight, there was still no flight confirmation and the “promoter” guy was impossible to reach. The only feedback he gave us was that he was having family problems, then he told us he had a flight confirmation but it was on his other computer or that his phone was blocked and he couldn’t send messages. And in the end he just disappeared. We didn’t know what to do and normally the tour should have been canceled. But we also had a lot of other agreements and many clubs were freaking out. We try not to cancel our gigs and even in this kind of a situation we decided to fuck it all and still go and make the tour. We booked our flights ourselves, which took me a day of work, around 20 hours, between other things I had to do; book flights, organize the transportation, rent backline – to make everything happen. So we organized our tour ourselves on the very last day.
Of course the tour was kind of fucked up. We played very small venues. The promoters were very nice, but you know, the overall enthusiasm was very low. And then on the last night we were very exhausted and the guys set out for a party. The hotel was really bad and cheap. I am not sure what was happening because I was sleeping at that moment because next day I was supposed to go to London to play with my other band. I woke up from the noise and went to the room, which was already messed up. It looked like everybody was having fun or they were just releasing their stress. It was not a big deal. But of course it was this small room that was pretty much destroyed. It was anger and fun at the same time. So luckily I left very early in the morning, so I didn’t get arrested. That would be a disaster for me – we had a show with Grave Temple.
Of course hotel people called the police, so the band guys had to go to the police station and spend some time there. And of course we had to pay the damage. But on the internet, this was blown through the roof. There, this accident was presented as another Armageddon or something like that. But it’s typical – the people dig in the shit, especially when it comes to Mayhem. If another band did that, probably no one would care, but in our case it gets blown up. I wouldn’t comment much on this and wouldn’t say it was a big deal.
A year ago Mayhem long-time guitarist, Blasphemer, parted ways with the band. He said that, among other things, he wasn’t satisfied with his role in the band. What do you think made him feel like this?
It is a very complicated story that developed over a long period of time. He was always compared to other guitarists, and to Euronymus in particular. He has had a lot of that shit over the years actually, from the press and from the fans. However, he had 100% respect for the band and in fact, he had the main role in the band – he was the composer of many albums. He is a very good and talented guitarist. But some people didn’t treat him as a full-fledged Mayhem member, so of course it went to his nerves after a while. He was in the band for nearly ten years. You know, people change. He has different interests now. His girlfriend is from Portugal and he has his own things to do and of course we were scheduled pretty tightly with Mayhem. So Blasphemer didn’t want to be in a band any more. His decision to leave was his choice, not ours.
What about the current lineup that you picked for the tour: Morpheus and Silmaeth with two guitars? Is it the lineup that you’ll take to the studio sessions as well?
We’ll see how it goes when we’re composing new songs. With the current lineup, it’s much easier play live. It sounds good with two guitarists. Due to that we can play older songs. But the future will tell us and it’s up to that. We’ll see what is happening and what is the final lineup we will have.
Have you worked on the new material at all at this point?
We have tried a few things of course. We are not in a rush. And Mayhem is not the kind of band that comes up with many albums. During the last 10 years we made just four full-length albums, so I think a new album will take some time. We won’t release it until we are all 100% satisfied by it. We have tried out one new song already. So yeah, there is some stuff going on.
Now that Varg Vikernes is out of prison on parole, are you in any kind of contact with him?
No, not after he got into prison. I just heard some time ago the rumors that he was out of the prison, and now that you say so, it is obviously a fact that he did. I was in good relations with him back then in the 90’s. But of course I was very irritated by his actions and I disagree with what he did. But on the other hand, I think that he has done his sentence now. He deserved his freedom and should go on living his life. I heard that he was going to make a new album – that is very interesting! I think he is a very talented guy, a very intelligent guy. Those are my memories about him. He is very polite and kind too.
You were Varg’s friend. If you take a look back at the church arson, what can you say about it?
Well, he was 16 years younger back then. That was different scene, a different era. And then he was crazy enough to burn a church or two. On one hand, it’s a very good way to show your resistance, but on the other hand, maybe it’s not so smart to destroy old buildings that are the part of country’s culture. I am a little bit confused about this. But then again, I am not regretting or denying this thing.
All of the church arson, the anti-Christianity, the provocative lyrics, using Nazi symbols, what is it all about? Are you trying to elicit a certain reaction from people using them?
I think the only place you can see Nazi symbols in Mayhem is the band merchandise, which indeed is a part of the provocation. This doesn’t have any political meaning. For a while we thought it was cool, those uniforms and some aspects of World War II stuff. If you dig into history there is a lot of interesting stuff. I am against Nazi shit and I have nothing to do with politics myself. Mayhem has never mentioned anything political on our records. But I have read a great deal of spiritual and esoteric stuff that was used in Nazi symbolism and propaganda.
There are still a lot of questions to be answered about World War II. For instance, who were behind the scenes? Who supported the Nazis financially? But you never hear about that. People just focus on one superficial aspect and that’s it. And Germany is suffering forever from this kind of evil country karma. However, they were not the only ones in history who executed whole fucking nations.
To come back to your question, in our merch we have some kind of German symbols, but actually, take for instance a cross. You can go to prehistoric times looking for the meaning of this symbol and find out that it was an esoteric symbol of the sun. Even the swastika symbol was taken from Oriental cultures. The core idea of Arians is an Indian mythological idea. So the Nazis or someone who was behind the scenes massively installed all these symbols, but it wasn’t something really new, just some ideologies stolen from somewhere. Those are all a bit provocative and they suit Mayhem well, which is all about dealing with chaos and the negative aspects of universe.
Gaal has mentioned that his bands are all about the message his music renders and not that much about the music itself. Is that a valid statement for Mayhem too? Is Mayhem all about the music or all about the message you want to deliver?
It is both. It’s about the music first and certainly there is a message there. The message is always around the same base, just seen from different aspects. In our latest album, there is a strong concept of the information that lies behind the lines. One of our fans, who became my good friend now, he got so deep into the lyrics that he suddenly found all the connections in the lines and between the songs. In all the lyrics there is nature, religion, science, psychology, lots and lots of other things. Like, the first part presents the world outside, the second part presents the world inside the human. It’s also about the old civilizations and about the end of civilization. I was studying these things for a long time and working on the lyrics for 2 years just to get them into shape.
It seems like you are pretty interested in mythology and history of civilization?
[shows a plastic bag full of heavy books] Look, I have got all those as a present and I really love them. [The titles included The History of the World, some historical works on Sumerian inscriptions, prehistoric civilizations, and astronomy]. I think that official science will sooner or later have to face the fact that, although they were trying to hide this from public knowledge, it is not possible any more. Now those books are out and more and more people get into this. Just look at all those ancient structures! They were all built with some connection to the constellations. And the knowledge all around the world – it’s really amazing. And also the high technology – even today we don’t have technologies that would allow us to recreate those ancient structures and carvings. Actually, all of those ideas are also reflected in Mayhem’s latest album. I like reading such books to get some inspiration. It’s not just about the music, because for me, music is the main priority and my main activity in life, but it’s really connected to my life view. I need to understand who I am, where we all came here from, what is the origin of the mankind, what is this existence at all? And why do all those these fake ideologies like religion have such a mighty effect on humankind? So there are lots of questions; from the official history books we know that a monkey came to live in a cave and then this creature builds pyramids, and we today still don’t know how to make the same thing.
Coming back to Mayhem and traditional Norwegian black metal stage image – why do you refuse to use it at this point?
I don’t see the point in using corpse paint. When I first used corpse paint, I was inspired by the makeup of totally non-metal bands, but that was 25 years ago. Corpse paint is nothing new and I always think that wearing a mask has a spiritual meaning, like in case of shamans and the tribal musicians. They do this kind of makeup but it has a totally different meaning. Actually, when I started playing with Tormentor in the 80’s, I already had this kind of look, but we were not copying anything. During one tour we might have a new look and a new costume for me every night to show a different approach; to show that there are a million of ways to do it. But it required a lot of effort, so now I am much more changing the religion and going back to the roots. I don’t get how people can do all that standard corpse paint makeup when they don’t bring along any meaning with it. The image has to render a message. I don’t think that the bands that just blindly copy black metal cliches will go far with that, they need to have a genuine idea for themselves. For me, it’s a crucial meaning of playing music in general – you challenge yourself all the time, you bring something new.
Can you name any black metal bands of younger generation that would appeal to you?
I am not following the scene that closely. At this point, most of the bands to me already belong to a younger generation. I like when they have their own unique concepts, like for example Carpathian Forest – they went to an absolutely sick direction and I totally like it. Some periods of Shining were interesting. I like some industrial metal bands. But in any case, music has to have meaning, present a challenge, both for the listener and for the musician.
Have you ever been pissed off by the music magazine reviews of your albums?
I don’t really care about them. There were, of course, totally erroneous views of our music. Somehow many people see that it’s just about burning, destruction, and aggression and that it’s totally wrong. I think our music is a piece of art and it should be analyzed on many levels. They should go deeper into the lyrics and try to see beyond the details and then maybe they will finally get all that concept behind it.
Text: Victoria Maksimovich | Ed: Amy Wiseman