Welcome back to Tales from the Turntable! Halloween is just days away, and I’ve saved the scariest story for last. Last week, we focused on one of the darkest albums in history. This week, we’ll be looking at the darkest band in history: Mayhem. The story of this band contains a lot of violence, including suicide and murder. Those who are sensitive to those topics should not continue reading.
Nominative determinism is a hypothesis put forward by the magazine New Scientist in the mid 1990s, stating that one will gravitate towards a life that suits their name. For the Norwegian black metal band Mayhem, this hypothesis hit the nail on the head. Despite the band’s brief existence and lack of any commercial success, Mayhem cemented itself as a musical boogie man in the early 1990s.
Mayhem was founded in 1984 by three Norwegian teenagers: Øystein Aarseth, Jørn Stubberud and Kjetil Manheim. Aarseth and Stubberud would adopt the stage names, “Euronymous” and “Necrobutcher,” respectively. Inspired by heavy metal acts like Venom and Death, Mayhem aimed to make their sound as evil as possible, incorporating satanic and occult imagery into their music and stage presence.
After several years of navigating the Norwegian metal scene, Mayhem cemented their original lineup with vocalist Pelle Yngve Ohlin, nicknamed “Dead,” and drummer Jan Axel Blomberg, nicknamed “Hellhammer.” Ohlin’s stage presence quickly garnered a notorious reputation for being extreme. Violence became part of Mayhem’s stage routine, with audience members often leaving their shows covered in Ohlin’s or a farm animals’ blood.
Only three years after joining the band, Ohlin was found dead by Aarseth in April of 1991; the singer died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. While the rest of Mayhem were stricken with grief by the sudden loss of their bandmate and friend, Aarseth exploited the death of his friend to further the band’s popularity. He used Ohlin’s suicide as a way to “legitimize” the band as true evil, much to the shock and dismay of his bandmates.
Rumors surrounding Ohlin’s death spread like wildfire across the metal community. Some claimed Aarseth had cannibalized parts of Ohlin, while others claimed Aarseth had made necklaces with fragments of the singer’s skull. Almost 20 years later, the latter claim turned out to be true, as confirmed by Stubberud. An actual image of Ohlin’s corpse was used for one of the band’s live albums, which many —including several members of Mayhem— found incredibly disrespectful to their friend.
During this tumultuous time, the band experienced heavy changes. Stubberud left the band due to Ohlin’s passing and Aarseth’s callous treatment of the situation. Aarseth quickly recruited new members, Snorre Ruch on rhythm guitar, Attila Csihar on vocals and Varg Vickernes on bass. Vickernes had developed a notorious reputation for being an outspoken white nationalist involved with several church burnings. Though only three are officially tied to him, it is believed that he was involved with several more acts of arson around Norway. The band would complete their first and only studio album with Aarseth, “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas,” before falling apart as a unit.
Conflict between Aarseth and Vickernes was quick to arise, with Vickernes claiming Aarseth had intentions of murdering him. On Aug. 10, 1993, Vickernes traveled over 300 miles to Aarseth’s apartment in Oslo, where the two men engaged in a heated argument. The dispute ended in Vickernes fatally stabbing Aarseth, before fleeing the scene. He was caught within days of the murder, and was sentenced to 21 years in prison for the murder of his former bandmate and the burning of three churches around Norway.
“De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas” was released in May of 1994, dedicated to Aarseth. The record achieved critical acclaim, and is regarded as one of the most influential albums in heavy metal. Mayhem would reform a year later, continuing to tour and release new music to this day.