Mayhem interview from Qvadrivivm #5 (2008)

Smokescreens & R-complexes

Interview: Kuronen

blasphemer’s days in Mayhem are over. You probably know about his nascent complexes concerning the imposing figure of Euronymous. You probably know the constant bickering about what went wrong with Chimera. You probably also know about the issue of Blasphemer, Hellhammer and drum triggers. You probably know about the levels of alcohol and narcotic consumption in the band. You probably know that, somehow, all the negativity and hate was not only chatter. You probably know about Blasphemer’s thrive for reputation and recognition in the genre of black metal, which he deems is stale to its deepest undercurrents. You probably know about Ava Inferi (or maybe not). So, what’s there to be surprised about in this departure? Nothing, as you probably know.

Ordo ad Chao is not without its high points, the massive “Illuminate Eluminate” being one, the impressively ambiguous structuring another. Let’s give its creator a chance for a quick prologue.

“I put the goals very high,” Blasphemer declares. “It was for me in a way a new situation. This time I wanted to focus on making the grimmest black metal album ever released, hehe. I wanted to go where no one had gone. I wanted to almost cross the barrier of life and death in the music. I wanted it to be black magic in tones. I wanted it to be totally depressive and very bleak but still very powerful. And I wanted to knock down De Mysteriis off the shelf once and for all because in my opinion that album is overrated. Listen to this, listen to me, what the fuck! There’s no doubt this album is the darkest we’ve ever recorded.”

Then, let him who is in the wild bunch no more introduce the main character of this interview, the most important Mayhem member at present.

“Attila carries his state of mind [into the songs]. He’s some kind of portal, if you know what I mean. He’s opening his throat and the lungs represent the sound of negativity and darkness. Maybe not negativity especially, but at least something very deep. It’s profound stuff, like something from the other side. His mouth is opening up, it’s like a demonic, shamanistic thing. I think his depth and vocal variety is defining the album. The point is that he’s a very eager character. He puts one hundred percent of himself into it. That was very pleasant for me to find out because usually it was only me who put one hundred percent into it. As I said, Necro is the businessman, he doesn’t really do anything. Hellhammer only plays the drums. Come on, he plays in twenty bands—you know what I mean. Attila is more like me. I reckon a part of me is in him and that’s why we fitted ourselves so well on the album. He’s burning for this thing. He knows that when there’s no way back, there’s no way back. You have to go all the way through it. I think that’s also in a way representing this album. It’s a lot of hours of talking, discussing different elements we should approach with this song or how the album should stand by itself. That was something very new to me. Maniac never did that because he’s more introverted. I guess I was too at the time when I did Chimera, Grand Declaration of War and even Wolf’s Lair Abyss but I’m not that introverted anymore. Sometimes talking to Maniac was like saying keywords to each other. This time the discussion was a lot more open, a bit more focused and conscious,” Blasphemer sizzles.

Open is certainly a word that describes Attila’s speaking tactics to the point. Throw the man a subject to converse and he will tear it open, spill out the intestines and be careful enough to wrap it up with a conclusion. This obviously ends in hours’ worth of material, only some of which can be presented here. Attila doesn’t make much of Rune’s ill feelings on his fellow band members. According to him, these kind of vehement sentiments are no speciality feats of Blasphemer’s.

“Hahahahahaha!” comes the unconcealed fit of laughter from the singer. “Oh yeah, he’s a very negative person. Actually, I like that. To me it’s great fun to talk to him—usually! The point is that this band is more than 20 years old. Even Blasphemer’s been there for more than a decade. I was in the band only then and now for two years, so I see these tendencies. But you know what? It’s four completely different and extremely crazy artists. It would be a great surprise if there would be no arguments. We are famous of that: we don’t care, we argue each other. Look at what happened in 1993. People were not arguing but killing each other. We are on the edge! We are fucking pushing the limits out there. It’s bringing us effects. Like I’ve been trying to explain, we’re almost bleeding when we come out of the studio. I think it’s much better to stand up and fight or shout at each other every day—we don’t do that but let’s put it in an extreme way—it’s still better to speak out the problems into the eye of the other than to hold it in and one day go and stab someone in the back. If you’re playing this kind of music on this level, you will see that it’s not a joke anymore. We are really playing on the edge of some kind of madness. We are trying to control ourselves. It’s healthy that we have these arguments. Then the band can still keep on and go ahead. If you put things into corners, Necro is more involved with the business than Rune or me. I don’t enjoy my time when I have to deal with people about business. I enjoy it when I have to compose. It’s impossible that everybody would be composing. All in all, people have great respect for each other. And also: if you don’t care, you don’t argue. It’s because you have something to do with that person. That’s why you care. You want to prove your truth. Otherwise you would just say ‘fuck off!’. So far we haven’t done physical fights. Maybe the guys did before, I heard some things… I’m doing my best also do balance this thing, sometimes sitting in the middle of the bullshit the guys created for themselves. I can actually understand everybody’s point sometimes. Everybody’s got something right there and something that is also a mistake. It has to be spoken out, that’s for sure.

“We are a black metal band so it’s not a surprise that some people get drunk or fucked up sometimes. Since I have been back in the band I have recognised this myself. In any band I’ve been before I’ve been one of the worst persons from this point of view. When I entered Mayhem, I suddenly turned into a good boy. That was kind of funny, but actually I think that it’s definitely a part of this that we are sometimes fucked up and a really heavily partying band. On the other hand, I think we’ve got really focused in the last year. When we were in the studio last summer there was this extreme marathon rehearsal. We rehearsed two weeks every day. In the end when we entered the studio we said that it was not an easy thing we’re heading for and it’s going to be a great job. When we started to play the songs, the music started to effect us. All this negativity. Sometimes there was complete silence in the car when we went back from the rehearsals. We wanted to express this very negative, ugly and decaying aspect of our music. When we entered the studio we decided it was the best thing that we don’t drink at all and focus on the album. We kept it pretty much sober. It was the only way. The recording of the album took like two weeks, at least the instrument part. Then there was the mixing and everything. We kept an extreme focus. We were almost bleeding when we came back from the studio. It’s kind of heavy but I think it also has to be. When you go into the studio you have to show up in front of yourself something that you have not shown before and show that you are stronger than before. Just to make a weak of replica of something made before, that makes no sense to me.”

“i was asked to join Mayhem in 1991, or that was the first time that I heard from Euronymous. He reached me somehow in Hungary,” begins Csihar. No matter which way you look at it, it it nigh on impossible to avert from comparing the two Mayhems the former Tormentor vocalist has participated in. As things tend to go, with the evaluation of the bands come notions concerning differences in milieu and time. First, let’s look back into the year the Gulf War started, Helmut Kohl became the first Chancellor of Germany, and one Hungarian joined a pack of ravenous Norwegians.

“It was pretty much like a miracle. I just got a letter from Euronymous one day. It took me two years before I was standing in front of the microphone. They had already composed some songs back then. That time the scene was a small underground one even in Norway. Obviously things were growing and happening, actually going into a big fucking chaos. It was not like today when whenever you tour in Europe and there are people showing up at your shows. It was not even possible to tour back then. Everone was poor and could not survive well from the music. It’s definitely better than in those years.

“Spiritually, I remember the expectations were high about the Mysteriis album. It was almost like this time: everybody was waiting for the album and there were all these surroundings. When we did the rehearsals I did it almost like Pelle did. I had a more naturally black metal sound, like a scream. When we entered the studio I thought that I’d show the guys I can sing like this too. I had this vision. Euronymous and all the others were so happy [with it] that in the end I sang almost the whole album with this dark voice, heh. That was pretty much what was challenging in those years. I was also surprised that these guys liked to do that. They liked challenges and new things. I was thinking, ‘Let’s see what people will think about this later’. In the beginning a lot of people were confused a bit about the vocals. It was such a new aspect. Later they got used to it, it was almost like belonging to that album. We challenged things and I think that the Mysteriis album was kind of ahead of its time. It was really like a cool composition and a cool thing. When I heard the demo tapes of the first songs from that album I was pretty excited. I thought it was a bran new thing, a new aspect of playing extreme metal, with these open chords and everything.

“The recording was almost like now. It took me—we recorded only vocals at the time—like two and a half days. This time it was almost the same: two and a half, maybe three days for the vocals. This time we were a bit more free in the studio. We were in the middle of nowhere, isolated completely from the world. In 1993 we were in Bergen, in a city. But still, I made some atmosphere, like a dark room, for me to do the vocals. Now it was not necessary because we were so isolated. It was always in this atmosphere and milieu.

“We were definitely younger and less experienced persons. So we had naturally more of this expression of extremity. You are young, you have to show this riot and express yourself. We don’t need to express it that much anymore. If I look at the persons, firstly Euronymous was a great guitarist who had great ideas and philosophies. People consider him an evil person. I see him evil from an artistic point of view, like all of us have these strange ideas. But he was great, at least to me. But I know Blasphemer much better by now. With Rune, I think he is such a great guitarist and composer. I love his riffs and unique way of playing. I can definitely compare him to Euronymous from this point. I think he is at least as great a composer as Euronymous was. You cannot really mix up Blasphemer’s riffs with other guitarists. Euronymous was a bit more philosophical. He was more into the expression of words and organising. He liked to keep contact with people. From this point of view Blasphemer is a great opposition. He’s more into himself. He’s not the guy who will write you a letter in the evening. He has other things to do. But if you look into this guy’s eyes, that must be enough. I hope you will not write this, but I think he is probably the craziest guitarist I’ve ever met. He is fucking insane and fucking talented. He focuses extremely much on riffs, pickings and rhythms. At the same time he is very high on some natural adrenaline. He’s always on the top. This is maybe how I can compare the two guitarists. I think Blasphemer wants to put everything into the music instead of writing letters and stuff like that. He’s more into his own words. I think everybody should respect him. He’s now been the guitarist of Mayhem for longer than Euronymous was. When you have to replace a guitarist with a name like Euronymous and you are 5-6 years younger, it definitely requires people to hear 3-4 times more stuff from the new guy to think maybe he is as good as the guy before, haha. You can’t imagine how big a pressure it was on his shoulders. He was maybe 19-20 when he joined Mayhem. I think it was also good for him because when you look at how he can play the guitar now, it’s very beautiful.

“If I should compare Necro and Varg, it’s again huge differences. There are also some similarities. I had good relations with Varg. He was supposed to release something from me. In my eyes he was maybe one of the most intelligent musicians I met. He had this great intelligence and IQ level. He was like 19 and he was talking like someone from the literature department of a university. He was a really cool guy. He was with Mayhem, but I think he had his own world with Burzum. It seemed like a cool idea to join the Mayhem forces. He could still keep Burzum on. I think Necro IS Mayhem. He formed the band with Euronymous. He has nothing else to really do in the music. He put me into Mayhem. His soul and body are 100 percent Mayhem compared to Varg, who put his effort for sure into it but I don’t think he was 100 percent into the band, especially not when he started to have disagreements with Euronymous. He started to keep things back. Necro is the one who is always trying to push things ahead. He feels that he is Mayhem and obviously he is the guy who started the band more than 20 years ago. Both are good players on their instruments. Necro likes to take care of the business thing and all these organisations that no one in the band likes to take care of. It’s great that they can take out his share.

“Everyone has a job in the band in a way. Rune and me have to do the arty-farty side, hehe! We create the album and lyrics and final things. Hellhammer is just like a ground for everything. He is fixing the rehearsals, setting up the instruments and of course making a basement with his playing of excellent drumming. Necro is taking care of the business but he’s not composing. Even Hellhammer doesn’t compose. They may have some ideas when we’re putting together the songs. In this way they get involved. But basically it’s Blasphemer who writes all the music in the band.

“When I met the guys I just jumped out of the train in Oslo and I saw Euronymous. He was a bit hilariously small! I thought this would be a big guy. There was also Varg who had this chain mail shirt to protect from stabbing. I said, ‘Wow!’ Then we entered the car of Varg. He had this old red Volkswagen Golf. He put on some music when we were driving. Guess what, he put on some techno music. I was like ‘Wow, I like it!’ Heheh! Because I came from Plasma Pool. But it was a bit more commercial thing. Later I understood that he did it only to piss off Euronymous. He knew that he hates it. I thought it was a bit funny. I have to add that Euronymous was a big fan of electronic music as well but he hated techno. He liked this old Tangerine Dream thing and side projects of all those members like Klaus Schultze.

“It was funny too when I arrived to the place where Euronymous had these great red curtains and it looked like a gothic room. Very bizarre. Back then they had lots of magazines already talking about the church burnings and other fucked up things. I saw pictures of people with exploded skulls and burned down churches. I saw people who had committed suicide or murdered homosexuals. The first night I was thinking, ‘Holy shit, where the fuck am I?’ Something a bit more rough or rude than I expected! Okay, we played some shit with Tormentor, the first years it was really like running blood on our gigs because lack of security and stuff like that. It was still a surprise to me that these guys had something really fucked up going on. At the same time, in two or three days, I was almost in the focus and people came to me talking bullshit about each other behind their backs. I was saying to myself, ‘Wow, that is interesting, too’.

“I went to the Helvete shop that was already fucked by some Christians, something like ‘Jesus leads’ was written there but it sounded like ‘Jesus leader’. Shit, they fucked up even that thing. It was less funny maybe when we took the car from Bergen to Oslo. Euronymous was driving and he used his father’s car, or he lent us his father’s car. We went to the Grieghallen studio in Bergen and there was this parking place in front of the studio. We left the car there and when we came out at the end of the day the car was not there. The car was stolen. It was not so funny but it was pretty fucked up. The police found it later. I don’t know what happened but it was really fucking bizarre too.”

the consciously minded black metal inquisitors of the 1990s and 2000s habitually have one primary line of questioning in their heads when scheming metaphorical job interviews or auditions for a black metal figure or band. That query is worth all the glamour and glitz of Mephistopheles and it is spelt out as follows: Do You/Does Your Band Believe in Satan? What Does Satan Represent to You? Fail to answer this in a correct manner and you are in for some serious fisting, particularly if new to the genre. Satan is an unquestionably interesting figure, and to put this question to an old-time character as eclectic as Attila Csihar makes some sense.

The singer retorts with a comment that has corollary concerns with Gorgoroth’s worry over the meaning of the word Satan being lost under so many reinterpretations.

“If someone asks me about Satan, I have to answer with a question: What do you mean? It means so many things. For sure, I don’t think I’m a Satanist. I can’t follow any fucking stupid religion or leader, even if it is Satan himself. For me it’s a fucking smokescreen. If you ask a Pope or a priest, definitely they will say I am a Satanist because I’m completely denying that I’m a Christian and completely denying Jesus Christ and all the teachings of Christianity. From this point I’m a Satanist. But I don’t sacrifice my kids on the altar of Satan. I don’t know what people think being a Satanist is. If we are philosophising about Satan as Antichrist, that’s healthy. When you think it’s a cool idea to fuck your mother’s head, kill and sacrifice her and put her on this altar of Satan, I think you’re a fucking idiot.”

Yet one has to remember that for most people, even for Anton LaVey, Satan wasn’t a concrete being but more of an idea or a symbol from which to start building some ideology. Originally, Shaitan meant to oppose, not some hideous creature flying over New York.

“Heheheh. That’s the fairytale part, of course. But if I look at this CD case, in my eyes it’s red but maybe in your words it is green. It’s a simple thing. But to talk about the point of God and Satan, it’s almost impossible. They mean such different things to everybody. Since religions were so kind to invent nice creatures like Satan and God and all this bullshit, they now almost exist in this collective form of knowledge. There is a certain force behind them. If people are stupid enough to believe in them of course they can be affected by it. If I look at nature, it is very hard to find any evil out there.”

That’s because there are no morals in nature.

“Exactly! What is evil? If Christians say a wolf is evil because it will eat a lamb… Look at the wolf; it chose the weakest lamb. It will avoid the sick population coming out. I think human is evil. If there is an evil, malevolent thing, it is coming from humans. If you look at the kindergarten, it’s very difficult to find one evil person there. Somehow it’s coming up later. Almost like a manipulation we’ve been taught. It might even be coming from our created information. LaVey was just LaVey, he designed this shit for himself. As soon as he put it on others, it was not right. He created the Church of Satan; he can fuck off with his church.

“Everything out there is pretty chaotic. I think we, the public, are living in such ignorance and under false information that it’s fucking difficult to step forward after a certain level. We can’t have this higher spirit or knowledge, which is probably out there in nature. We have locked ourselves from it. Then it’s just reducing into religions. All this higher knowledge is used by other people just for manipulation. I don’t know if you understand exactly, but that is my fucking point. English is a bit of a limitation.

“Okay, you also asked about who is a Satanist and who is not. If you’re a real Satanist… Pure evil doesn’t exist because if you’re pure evil, you will kill your friends and everyone. The most evil will kill the friends first. That’s evil, that’s pure. It doesn’t exist of course in this form. When you look at the fans, I think they’re just pissed off under religions. It’s a fucking healthy feeling to be released from that. When you listen to black metal and some so called Satanic music and read some Satanic verses, it’s cool because you oppose Christianity and suddenly will recognise that nothing wrong really happened. More than that, you start to feel healthier. You’ve been released by some bullshit that has been invented as a pressure over your head. Even me, I felt I was a Satanist because I was completely pissed off. What the fuck was I told and who are these priests telling me about it? Thousands of years of torturing humans and fucking up the knowledge. They burned you alive. And look at the women and how they’ve been ignored for thousands of years all around the world. I’m pissed off about them being treated like non-humans until the last one hundred years. It’s a fucking shame, this homosexual religion.

“When you realise this, you will turn into a black metal head. But when you start to do rituals or sacrifice animals and do stupid things, then it’s not like that. When you really start to deal with these malevolent kind of energies, it can turn its back on you and fuck you up too. So after a while you have to be a little bit more careful. Spirituality to me means a finer form of energy. We don’t know or at least we haven’t been told much about it. It’s easy to get mad. You can have an experiment that you can’t really return from. You can’t think the same anymore. A definition like Satanist doesn’t exist because it’s too big. You have to say at least from which point of view you mean it.”

in this day and age, most of the radical actions Norwegian black metal conjures seem to happen in Poland. I’m not merely talking about the classic battle lore of dreaded Darken having baths with Aryan maids. 80 litres of sheep’s blood, some nude tarts and “Satanic symbols” did it for Gorgoroth on John Paul II’s hallowed hometurf, whilst Carpathian Forest had their share of controversy with 2004’s extravagant live performance in the same country. A Mayhem gig was cancelled in Poland in the summer of 2006 by the Polish government, supposedly because of the oncoming election in the country. The band answered with a statement in which they dubbed the Polish government “fascist-religious”. It certainly seems no mighty leap Poland has taken from its days as a communist state.

Yet shouldn’t Mayhem in some weird way feel honoured instead of taking the action as an invasion into their freedom of speech as artists? After all, it has always been only the most powerful artistic expression that’s been censored by the state. It is something to ponder, the reasons why so many people think politics is an inapplicable platform in music when music is an excellent means of communication to spread one’s message in the midst of popular culture addicts. The Polish government seem to have been one of the few to notice this.

“It’s because the politicians hate the music for that reason,” Attila deems. “I think it was first in the 1960s when they recognised that there is a big problem here. They saw that hundreds of thousands of people went out to festivals, to Woodstock and I don’t know where. They said, ‘Okay, we refuse to go to work tomorrow. Why the fuck should we? The sun is coming up tomorrow morning too. I don’t care. I can eat a couple of slices of bread, smoke weed, sit here and talk to my friends instead of being a stupid slave.’ Obviously it was not good for the power. Who should pay the taxes? They faced this before the Second World War when they used electric amplification for political propaganda and it worked extremely well. Just look at the shitty Nazis who amassed hundreds of thousands of people just because of the voice. They had never heard it before. No one thought it would come back with music. When the first rock stars were on stage, talking to hundreds of thousands of people, the politicians and the power were freaked out. They started to feel like they were losing power. And politics is about power, that’s so easy. They understood that rock is a very dangerous weapon. They had to fuck it up.

“If you look at today’s commercial music, it’s the most obvious. If you look at the way commercial music changed throughout the years, that’s something. In the beginning it really had a message and then it turned into something that’s almost like an industry. This hip hop talking is just a smokescreen for nothing! It’s just about how you fucked my wife or girlfriend and how can I get more drugs. They talk bullshit—you see words that have no meaning. It’s very strange because in the 60s if you could find some LP and look at the lyrics, the musicians still said something there. Even in the most commercial ones. You can see the effect of the politicians. They try to do everything to keep things back but of course since they came up with this idea of democracy they can’t do everything, so they just try to stop us. When there’s a musician who is suddenly dangerous, they all try to buy it. What you cannot buy you have to take away. Try to fuck it up. I think that’s what happened with us in Poland in a smaller way. But look at this, maybe we’re not so small anymore, heheh! We’ve affected the election of a 20-30 million people European country. But of course it’s brighter than the sun that we never had to do with any politics in Poland.”

Another controversial piece concerning live performances and Attila was the relatively recent Shining extravaganza in Halmstad, Sweden where both Csihar and Maniac, with the aid of king jester Nattefrost, appeared on stage in a show that eye-witnesses said was very confusing and aggressive, involving cloaked men, razors, swastika-carved foreheads, thrashed equipment—and the theme song from Twin Peaks. Let’s hear it from the man himself—how much of it was real and how much was just shocking for shocking’s sake?

“I knew Niclas Kvarforth from Shining for a while and he’s definitely an interesting guy. He’s got some great artistic aspects and we had a certain kind of support towards Shining. He had the same with us. Hellhammer played with Shining and we were always in a kind of contact. We promoted Shining’s gig here in Hungary with my promotion team. So I knew he was a completely weird and strange guy. Not like because he wants to act that way but because it’s somehow coming in a natural way. I kind of respect it. I know how fucked up he is.

“He moved to Norway for a while and there was this news spread that he was dead. I’m not sure exactly what happened at that point. But he’s always been doing this weird stuff around his band. He was working in a bar so I had a lot of chances to see him and change some words. He came up with this idea of doing a kind of lost or very crucial Shining gig. He asked me if I could be Ghoul, who was supposed to be the new vocalist after his death. It was more or less that I should represent a part of his ego, almost like a schizo thing, like the evil part of him who’s taking over. He not only told me that he respects me but that I was the only one that came to his mind as the only open extreme metal vocalist who can be part of this kind of acting thing. He was right because I’m the guy who’s interested in any kind of weird or strange experiments. I thought it could be cool to do this acting.

“He had grandiose plans about pyros and a couple of other things. The whole thing looked like a very grandiose gig. I saw that he was really putting an effort there so I said to him, ‘Okay, if you get all this shit together, I don’t want to be the one holding it back. We would just have to find the right time.’ First, he is a very chaotic guy and second, they already had some trouble with the authorities, so he could not have any permission for pyros or any of the shit he was planning to do, like lighting himself up. It’s not a big surprise but that’s what happened anyway. I had promised it already and would not turn back my words. I knew in advance that it would be something very weird. Then I heard that Maniac might take part. I was first on tour with these two guys from SunnO))) and just came there saying that I won’t step back now. Shining had a great line-up and good musicians this time. Half of the thing still went into chaos. Hellhammer’s drums were not arriving and all these fucked up things in the organisation started to turn out. The whole gig was very fucking chaotic. Very few people had come to Halmstad. There were maybe 200 people but 180 of them were from Norway who came there because they had some respect for Niclas, Shining and the guests.

“Niclas could realise only some parts of what he wanted to do but it was still a cool gig. In the beginning I myself was pretty confused; ‘It’s too fucked up, should I do this?’ Then I said myself yes, I have to do this. What is interesting is that whereas you always get the feedback from a show in a few days, this time I felt good a few days after the show although I was at first exhausted. Something great happened there too. Being onstage together with Maniac and Roger was special already and we had a very cool and crazy party after the show. All in all it was great to see a lot of people. I don’t mind and am kind of confident and happy that we did this thing. I haven’t heard from Niclas since then but it’s not a big surprise. I don’t know what happened with Shining after that or whether Niclas is still alive. I hope he is.”

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