Every once in a while the metal scene collectively heaps too much praise on a band or record and someone needs to step up and announce that the Emperor has no clothing. We normally don’t spend a lot of time attacking beloved records, but sometimes genuinely overrated records get far too much love from the metal sheeples and that calls for a professional contrarian to set things right! If ever there were professional contrarians, they would be us at AMG.
I have a confession to make. Like many teenagers growing up in the 1990s, my exposure to heavy metal was limited to MTV and the occasional underground magazine (I miss you, Metal Maniacs!!! *sniffle*). During this time, a landmark black metal album was released that would presumably envelope the world in utter darkness. Creating a world where no mosh, trends, fun, or cure would be found. A world where a killer would record an album alongside his unfortunate victim. That world was De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas by Norwegian black metal godfathers, Mayhem. And that world bored me to tears.
20 years later, long graduated from both high school and college, being exposed to various genres and sub-genres of metal, and finding some really bleak, dissonant, and absolutely fucking evil black metal, I decided to give De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas another trip around the freezing moon with fresh ears and an open mind. Maybe my youthful innocence and shallow mind wasn’t able to process the evil contained within that 46 minute epic. Maybe I was blind to the ingenuity of the tremolo-picked riffs, the insane blasts, the frog-like croaks. Or maybe, truth be told, this is just not that good of an album.
Sure, you have classics like “Funeral Fog,” with Attila Csihar’s insane frog-croaks and Hellhammer’s now-legendary blasts, as well as the dreary atmosphere brought on by “Freezing Moon” and “From the Dark Past.” Just on those three songs alone, De Mysteriis is often regarded as the pinnacle of Norwegian black metal, a benchmark that is seen as the ultimate in second-wave black metal.
The first problem is that the quality of songwriting isn’t that good. Hellhammer would go on to become a force to be reckoned with on drums, Csihar would return to Mayhem years later to further his screaming and chanting abilities, as well as lend his voice to SunnO)) and Aborym, and Mayhem‘s replacement guitarists would run circles around both Euronymous and Blackthorn in terms of riffing and atmosphere.
The bigger problem however is that, unlike their contemporaries, the hype surrounding this record far surpassed the quality of the actual recorded material. There’s a book dedicated to what happened behind the scenes in the making of this record, but the absolutely fucked up events that took place behind the curtain of this album’s construction far outlived the record’s output. Where else are you going to find an album where the main songwriter (Oystein “Euronymous” Aarseth) was playing alongside his murderer (Varg “Count Grishnackh” Vikernes) and his accomplice (Snorre “Blackthorn” Ruch), using the lyrics of their late vocalist (Per Yngve “Dead” Ohlin), who took his own life via shotgun? Right.
I wanted to come into listening to Dom Mysteriis again with a fresh perspective and an eagle’s eye for perspective, and this record doesn’t do anything for me. Truth be told, I was more of a fan of Grand Declaration of War and its willingness to buck trends and fuck with the blackened status quo. For as legendary as this record is to most people, this doesn’t do a damn thing for me, not then or now.