De Anniversariis Dom Sathanas

MAYHEM: De Mysteriin Dom Sathanas – 25th Anniversary box set

Release year: 2020/2022
Label: Deathlike Silence Productions

Without doubt, Norwegian Mayhem’s debut full-length album De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas is one of the quintessential albums within the genre. Mayhem as a group and guitarist Øystein “Euronymous” Aarseth in particular created, defined and inspired the whole second wave of black metal, not only the Norwegian scene. The notoriety and rumours surrounding the band fascinated a whole generation of young metalheads, and have become the stuff of legend.

In a way, De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas is also the closing of an era. By the time it was released, Euronymous was dead – as everyone should know by now, slain by Varg Vikernes of Burzum, who also plays bass on this album. Mayhem, temporarily, was no more. And, in a short time after the album’s release in 1994, many Norwegian bands would start expanding their horizons and experiment with new sounds – signalling the end of the golden era of Norwegian black metal. A flame that burned briefly, but all the more passionately. And much thanks to Mayhem.

Released originally on vinyl in 2020, this box set compiles together the album, two instrumental recordings of it (a rehearsal and a rough instrumental mix of the album), and a vocal recording session. The original vinyl release included a fourth vinyl, but it was cut from this CD version as it was revealed to contain the same material as one of the other discs, just with worse sound quality. The perils of sourcing nth generation tapes from ye olde tape trading circuit!

The extra material contains no unreleased tracks, and there are no significant differences in the tracks between rehearsal and final recording. The band obviously went into the studio well prepared and rehearsed: they knew what the album should sound like. Testament to this is a letter from Euronymous to producer Eirik “Pytten” Hundvin, where he explains exactly what sound he wants and how they should set about to achieve it, which is reproduced in the book.

To boot, all of the material has been released before. The first of the instrumental recordings has circulated for over 20 years as the famous bootleg From The Darkest Past (although most versions omit the almost-title track, present here), and the vocal session tracks were made available as the EP Life Eternal in 2008 on vocalist Attila Csihar’s (of Tormentor fame) own label Saturnus Productions. So, in other words, even for the dedicated fan, it’s slim pickings.

As far as the album itself goes, there can be no doubt: De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas deserves every ounce of legendary status it has accrued during the years. Quarter of a century on, it is still a potently dark, fierce, mysterious and evocative album. Euronymous’ guitars weave dense layers of occult darkness, drummer Hellhammer puts in a performance full of high-speed violence but also nuance and atmosphere, and Attila Csihar’s vocals are inhuman, weird, dramatic. At the time of release, many commented negatively on the vocals, but a lifetime later it is easy to say they are an essential part of the album.

The songs are all some of the best black metal ever – here credit must be given to Snorre “Blackthorn” Ruch (of Thorns), who not only helped write some of the tracks and lyrics, but is also nowadays widely credited with inventing the fast tremolo picking style Euronymous uses to great effect on this album. How bizarre that he would later be an accomplice in the murder of Euronymous!

In a nutshell, as an epilogue to the history of “the original Mayhem”, De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas proves that there was much more to Mayhem than them just being there first. It proves conclusively that Mayhem inspired Norwegian black metal also because they had a strong vision, ambition and the collective skills to realize this ambitious vision. They were leaders for a reason.

The accompanying book amply proves this with interviews of people involved in the recording process, from band members to producers, artists and so on. The amount of work and the attention to detail the band and Euronymous put into realizing the album is quite stupendous, especially considering the turbulent times the band lived in. Former vocalist Dead had committed suicide some years before and founding member Necrobutcher (bass) had left, leaving the line-up in a state of fluctuation. Not only that, apparently Euronymous’ business ventures, the label Deathlike Silence Productions and his record shop Helvete, were in financial troubles, and there was the building enmity between him and Vikernes. And all the ruckus going on about the Norwegian scene in general. In this context, it is remarkable how an ambitious album such as this could turn out so… well, flawless.

That being said, this anniversary box isn’t quite as fabulous in all aspects. Visually it is a succes: the box itself is quite presentable, and especially the book looks good. Sadly, some of its contents are a bit throwaway. It would have been worth revising some of the interviews for the 2022 CD edition, considering for example Hellhammer talks about the “upcoming” album Daemon – released three years before the CD version of the box. And I could have done without interviews of random scene personalities about the significance of the album.

As for the additional material; well, if you’re a diehard fan, chances are you already own some other version of them – official or not. The sound isn’t improved upon, and whilst it is nice to have From The Dark Past on the From The Darkest Past recordings, it’s one track. So for avid collectors, this doesn’t offer much unheard material – it’s just another item to add to the collection. And if you’re not a devoted fan or collector, you probably won’t be interested in two instrumental versions of the album and a vocal recording session with just slightly different versions of the tracks. At least not for this price.

Additionally, the packaging of the CD’s leaves something to be desired. The album proper comes in a nice digisleeve complete with a booklet containing the hand-made lyrics parchments. The three other discs, however, are in mere cardboard slipcases. Adding insult to injury, or in this case the reverse, the pocket they are housed in is sized after the digisleeve, meaning the other discs have place to move about. This resulted in one of the discs being scratched already before playing it a single time!

As such, my bottom line for this release isn’t all too excited. It looks good, and the book contains plenty of reading material – some of it quite redundant, though. The material on the extra CD’s is mostly throwaway for long-time fans. At this price, around 80€, it’s a bit hard to feel this was worth every penny. The vinyl box was priced at around 130€, which again makes me feel like it’s slim pickings for that price.

Above all, this is a collector’s item. It’s not something you buy because it contains unheard material. It’s not something you buy if you want De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas and feel like being extravagant. It’s something collectors buy to add to their collection.

I also feel that the setup of this box is a bit of a missed opportunity. There are loads of other rehearsal recordings of the material on this album floating around, featuring Dead and even Cultoculus, whose stint in Mayhem was excessively short. Compiling this material onto this release would have made it feel far more worthwhile, as some that material seems to be quite hard to find even as bootlegs these days. And while I’m indulging in wishful thinking, why not include the magnificent De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas Alive recording as well for “the complete experience”?

So, in other words, if you want a nice box-sized display item of De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas to adorn your home – get this. If not… well, consider twice.

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