22 March 2008

Album of the Week: Mayhem - De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas (1994)

Today is the 40th anniversary of the birth of Øystein Aarseth (more widely known as Euronymous). To celebrate, this week's featured album is the final album on which Euronymous worked before his rather unpleasant murder.

De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas may be the most infamous Black Metal album ever recorded. By the time of the album's release, Mayhem had become quite notorious--vocalist Dead had already committed a gruesome suicide in 1991, and Varg Vikernes (who had played bass on the album) had murdered Euronymous shortly after the band had finished recording the album. Furthermore, De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas has also been the source of much debate among connoisseurs of Metal--some consider the album to be the quintessential Black Metal album, while on the other hand iconoclasts (of whom there are many among Black Metallers) consider it highly overrated and thus think less of it. Still others argue that the album is not a product of the "true" Mayhem, as Dead and Necrobutcher (two members of the so-called Classic lineup) were not involved in recording the album. Personally, I count myself among this album's proponents.

The production values of De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas are top-notch (at least by Black Metal standars), with rawness and clarity balancing one another out quite well. To put it another way, the instruments are distorted (as is to be expected), but each one is clearly audible in the mix. Where musicianship is concerned, the band is at the top of their game.

The atmosphere of De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas is also impeccable, which are quite befitting of the lyrics (which were, by the way, composed by Dead prior to his death). The music here achieves a sense of darkness and menace that is nigh on unrivaled. Some songs are certainly better than others, but all are worth listening to. Not surprisingly, "Funeral Fog" and "Freezing Moon" are easily the best of the lot.

This isn't to say that that De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas is by any means a perfect album; it does have it's fair share of drawbacks. Some listeners are likely to find Hellhammer's habitual blastbeats a bit grating, and Atila Csihar's vocals take some getting used to--he sounds a bit like Bela Lugosi, and to be honest I really didn't like the vocals at all the first few times I listened to the album. They have since grown on me, needless to say.

De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas has an impressive reputation, but for the most part it lives up to the hype. It's influence on Black Metal is so profound as to qualify the album as a classic that is definitive of Black Metal as a genre. It is a necessary purchase for anyone who is interested in Black Metal music. Quite an achievement, considering it was the band's first full-length album.

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