“Militant men in peaceful times attack themselves.” So says and shrieks Maniac during “Vortex Void of Inhumanity,” the introduction to Mayhem’s 1997 EP Wolf’s Lair Abyss. Psychologist-philosopher William James wrote of what he called the moral equivalent of war, inspired by seeing entire countries in wartime come together and demonstrate a powerful single-minded focus on a goal, specifically victory. He was subsequently inspired to harness this focused fervor in abstract thought and allow it to be exploited for socio-political ends in peacetime. One need look no further for an example of this in reality than the Revolutionary madness of college students: militant professors, active in the Sexual Revolution of the 60s, gave “intellectual” “clout” to the youthful idiots, who would later become professors and preach cranked-to-eleven militant Revolutionary inanity to their students, making a self-perpetuating echo chamber that always needs a fight. In effect attacking themselves, the various traditions of their nations were assaulted through the smokescreen of Foucault’s “power structures” and other bad philosophy. Intellectuals in our day never run out of enemies.

Wolf’s Lair Abyss deals not with these exact topics, but these opening lyrics define the whole EP, at least as I understand it. Mayhem repeatedly went to “war” with anything in sight: what they perceived as a weak and decadent metal scene with Euronymous’s famed “No Mosh No Core No Trends No Fun” ideal, Christianity with their despicable and morally abhorrent arsons, and the conventions of the budding black metal scene with De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, specifically in electing to use Attila Csihar’s unconventional vocals that differed greatly from both his alma mater Tormentor and Dead’s Live in Leipzig performance. What or whom was the enemy on Wolf’s Lair Abyss, then? We’re never really sure, and neither is Mayhem. This is the key to what makes this brief EP so compelling.

The most telling line appears near the conclusion of the record in “Symbols of Bloodswords,” the best song on offer: “one war remains – war of everything.” Through the amateurish Nietzsche-isms that populate Wolf’s Lair Abyss, Mayhem attacks religion as a whole with a focus on Christianity, morals, untermenschen, and what seems like decency in general. Here, however, the mask slips: the Mayhem of Wolf’s Lair Abyss is at war with life itself while simultaneously wanting to worship, grasp, and dominate it in its seemingly infinite possibilities with no restrictions. This plays directly into the cold, sterile, and abrasive instrumentation and production present on all of the songs, as while Mayhem is attacking everything in their blood-red sight, they’re still clearly trying to demonstrate a sort of mastery, an ability to control the destructive chaos they’re summoning forward. They want, in other words, to channel Nietzsche’s ubermensch.

Maniac’s hymn-like vocals that appear in “I Am Thy Labyrinth” make that section one of the few legitimately unnerving pieces of black metal in existence. The affirmation of life in traditional hymns is replaced with a denial bordering on contempt, and the screeching over the top sounds like an effort to violently impose meaning where there’s only debris. “Ancient Skin” clings to the past, coming across as an effort to shed the “old” Euronymous Mayhem sound and usher in the “new” Blasphemer era. Fittingly, “Symbols of Bloodswords” appears after this with the unforgettable clean vocalization of “all the stars in the North are dead now;” the “Ancient Skin” has been shed, and there are no more guiding lights in Mayhem’s world. The Grand Declaration of War, the beginning of the “war of everything,” will soon be made, its propagandistic anthem being that perfect ending riff, which remains one of black metal’s all-time best to this day.

Friedrich Nietzsche was not a nihilist, and Mayhem seems to have missed that point entirely on Wolf’s Lair Abyss. It appears to me that they latched on to the iconoclastic aspect of Nietzsche’s thought, the destructive and warlike elements, and tried to summon up strength merely from those. This yielded tremendous results, as Wolf’s Lair Abyss is one of the most nihilistic black metal records I’ve ever heard. And yet there’s no nihilist chic, no formula; Mayhem simply did it, and few have done it since. This isn’t the best black metal record of all time, but it deserves immense credit for being that cold and unforgiving music so many bands in the genre aspire to.


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  • Eli Valcik

    So I guess we are not gonna show Dawn of Black Hearts on here. Besides all of that shit I should mention that I am a HUGE Mayhem fan.

  • Nukenado

    Four Nietzsche name-drops?
    Shudder…

    • herrschobel

      I guess you could put those in any BM review. I wonder how this music would sound to Nietzsches rather sensitive ears.

      • Nukenado

        Everything Nietzsche hated, probably.

      • Dowsky

        “Friedrich Nietzsche was not a nihilist, and Mayhem seems to have missed that point”

        This could be said of pretty well every angsty teenager (read: every black metal band ever) that comes
        across Nietzsche and misinterprets everything he says once they hear/read the apocryphal “God is dead.”

  • André Snyde Lopes

    Besides the whole history and mystique of the band’s early stages, Mayhem has always been more like Mehyem to me…

    • ssorg

      I don’t really agree, but whatever you think about their recorded work, they are compellingly monstrous live

  • rumour

    Nailed it:
    “…while Mayhem is attacking everything in their blood-red sight, they’re still clearly trying to demonstrate a sort of mastery, an ability to control the destructive chaos they’re summoning forward.”

  • Jason

    I wonder why this never got reissued. I’ve seen copies of this go for $25.

  • EnslavedEld73

    This record is sick! Too raw for the more mainstream types. They could have eased off the treble though….

    • Name’s Dalton

      Bass! How low can you go? Death row? What a brother know…

      • EnslavedEld73

        Finally! A Public Enemy reference in the comments section. I actually saw them with Primus and Anthrax back in the day! Good times.

      • You wot m8?

        Ha! Perfectly timed, sir.

  • Name’s Dalton

    Bravo for that scathing introductory paragraph!

    • Nukenado

      It’s Diabolus; he always has philosophy up his sleeve.

      • Name’s Dalton

        Not so much up it as on it.

        • herrschobel

          I really wonder what that means :-)

  • “If you’re blue and you don’t know where to go to why don’t you go where fashion sits? Putting on a shirt.”

    • rumour

      RIP Gene Wilder and Peter Boyle

      • AMEN!!!

        • Name’s Dalton

          Just watched Young Frankenstein again last night!

  • Thatguy

    Wow, Diabolus! What a great review of an important work that I have never heard.

    I have seen a recent version of Mayhem live though. That was fun.

    • herrschobel

      I always wonder if that is actually you in your profile pic. And then I imagine you in a BM crowd :-)

      • Thatguy

        That’s me! I put on a black T-shirt with an obscure band logo on it and I fit right in.

        I don’t mosh. I never cared for moshing.

        • [not a Dr]

          Isn’t that the suggested attitude for BM? “No solos, no moshing, no fun”?

          • Thatguy

            Oh, I have fun…in my own way.

    • Diabolus_in_Muzaka

      Did you catch them on the DMDS anniversary run?

      • Thatguy

        No. At the Soundwave festival a few years ago.

  • Wilhelm

    Am I the only one who loves “A Grand Deceleration of War” ?

    • basenjibrian

      Parts of it can be silly , but me too.

      • Drew Music

        Pretty much sums it up, but if we’re being honest that’s basically all extreme metal. Musicwise, I camp with the kvlt crowd, but I fully acknowledge that there’s something at least a little laughable about grown ass adults wailing about monsters and fairy tales.

        • basenjibrian

          One of my favorite little side hobbies is to read the band name and album and song titles from extreme metal to co-workers.
          On another note (and responding to Diabolus’ little digs at black metal “philosophy” (as laughable as it can be), the scariest lyrical content in my entire huge extreme metal collection is in the piece “Blessed Curse” by Funeral Mist. Arioch doesn’t growl about the devil or anything silly like that. He just has a nice little extract from a standard American Southern Baptist hell and brimstone sermon. I am not sure how any outsider can listen to that stuff without a sense of horror…these people are salivating at the thought of eternal torture. What petty human sin is worthy of eternal torture at the hands of an omnipotent God who so fucked up his Creation that the world is the way it is today? Who is really to blame for such…silly posers like Arioch or Maniac, or an all-knowing entity who at the beginning of time knew there would be Hitlers and Stalins and Union Carbides and smallpox blankets (not equating them, just giving the range of sin). Why is such a deity worthy of worship?
          I would also note that church burnings seem pretty…petty…in light of the “sins (LOL) of the Christian church over history.
          Diabolus

          • Diabolus_in_Muzaka

            Burning down churches is morally abhorrent nonetheless. And the whole “all part of God’s plan” stuff comes largely from Martin Luther’s ideas and leads to weird stuff like not being able to defend yourself in war because God willed you be attacked/destroyed. I’m not going to defend the determinist bit because I find it indefensible. Francisco de Vitoria has a great response to that false idea focused on laws of war, and it’s a good read.

          • Nukenado

            Never got the “everything is set so everything is futile” part. We’re not omniscent beings capable to view time, so even in linear time where the future os set, it would be unknowable, wouldn’t it?

          • Diabolus_in_Muzaka

            It’s more a retroactive or even contemporary justification of everything. Lutheran version is “it’s all God’s plan” and hence the only solution is total faith, hence Sola Fide; everything is part of the plan, we don’t get it, but it has to be that way.

            The far more dangerous secular version is “the right/wrong side of history,” which is the same thing except instead of God alone knowing the plan and expecting total fealty, it’s “elites” or “intellectuals” saying they know the one and only correct course for a country or even humanity, and in turn expect absolute fealty from everyone.

          • Nukenado

            Yeah… I just feel that fatalism often makes people ignore the retroactive part and consider everything futile…

          • Drew Music

            My two cents put it as such: with the incomprehensible vastness of existence being what it is – eternity, the infinite universe, etc – I personally feel that everything is futile, but it doesn’t detract from my ability to find enjoyment in life. I think of all of humanity’s grandest constructs – society, religion, politics, et al. – as fleeting, placebic triumphs, no different or more significant than winning a video game; there is pride to be found in many of our accomplishments, to be sure, but 99.999999999999999% of all existence will ultimately be unaffected by our accomplishments great and small, so I don’t take any of this too seriously. The moments that I get to experience matter to me in that they are mine and ultimately comprise my own existence, but I don’t confuse myself or the rest of this as having or even needing a purpose and I don’t feel like that makes life any less wonderful to me.
            We’re here because we’re here.

          • Nukenado

            I am nihilistic in that sense. I guess what I mean is that fatalism often urges people to not act for it is futile.

          • basenjibrian

            Excellent. The search for ultimate purpose can lead to horror.

          • [not a Dr]

            it’s “elites” or “intellectuals” saying they know the one and only
            correct course for a country or even humanity, and in turn expect
            absolute fealty from everyone.

            This sounds like the argument that spawned most of today’s heresies!
            The non-corpse-paint pope wouldn’t approve…

          • basenjibrian

            Ah….but the argument is that GOD is omniscient and outside time. :) We may not know better, but God does. See DiM’s response also.

          • Nukenado

            Oh…

          • basenjibrian

            Oh I know. I was semi-trolling. Destroying a beautiful heritage building is awful, be it in the name of Allah (ISIS) or in the name of some cartoon nihilistic “Satan” or “Will to Power”.
            A lot of what we consider modern Christianity is based on an accretion of ideas and writings and cultural relics. There never was a pure original Christian church, it has always been confused and conflicting and unclear. :)

    • Diabolus_in_Muzaka

      You’re definitely not, album is quality.

  • Nexus

    Add Foucault’s power theories as something I never thought I’d read in a metal article. Great review Diabolus, especially that first paragraph. I haven’t listened to this in a while or very much. Definitely will revisit it

  • therealtidus

    The only thing that pops to my mind when I see Mayhem is the interview with them on “Metal: A Headbangers Journey”… Not my cup of tea, but i’ve heard worse Black Metal

    • herrschobel

      Yeah that interview was something … very awkward

  • Felchmeister777

    Miss this era of the band. Arguably Hellhammer’s most frenzied, ferocious performance…

    • Diabolus_in_Muzaka

      Agreed, and Blasphemer was always an interestint songwriter and excellent player.

      • Bas

        I am late to the discussion as usual… The only thing I am curious about: why is Foucault’s power structures bad philosophy? Or what is according to you the criterium good philosphy?

        • Diabolus_in_Muzaka

          It’s bad because it’s mostly incoherent, has no real set of principles except destroying various traditions for no reason other than that they may alienate some people, and does what pitiful pseudo-philosophy does: harms real people but fails to even consider its hand in the carnage.

          Good philosophy understands and comprehends what is instead of seeking to endlessly criticize and destroy it through sophistry. Good philosophy can also form the backbone of a coherent set of principles, which Foucault cannot do.

          • Bas

            Thanks for the answer. I am a lot milder abour Foucault. More or less like Rorty does I see it as poetic philosophy which can help in developing new vieuws on society and science. I forgive him his shortcommings in consistency.

            Now I understand your linkt between Mayhem and Foucault also better :-)

  • Phil Daly

    For some reason, I’ve just never “clicked” with Mayhem, be it old or new. No idea as to why, but they just don’t seem to sit right with me. The whole “anti-trend” thing way back when felt horribly contrived, and I don’t think I’ve ever managed to shake the feeling that there’s something of the pantomime about them. Odd.

    • basenjibrian

      Probably not “odd”. Probably “perceptive”. And I do like their albums on a rare occasion.

    • Thatguy

      Black metal = pantomime = opera. That’s the fun of it.

    • Wilhelm

      For as influential and important it is, I think De Mysteriis is a pretty average album when compared to their contemporary’s outputs. I still enjoy chanting “funeeeerraaaaal fog”.

  • Dowsky

    “Foucault’s . . . bad philosophy.” This made me smile.

  • Best album review ive read in a long, looong time. Thank you!

  • Mollusc

    I wonder if the way a lot of people view Nietzsche is because they approach it through the distorted lens of Nazism. Not accusing anybody of being neo-Nazis necessarily, but the associated mysticism, syncretic as it is, is appealing to impressionable minds.

    • Nukenado

      Just going back to an old review and discovered your comment. Nietzsche’s writing is a bit too flowery and IMO, a bit narcissistic.

      • Mollusc

        …Zarathustra is written in faux- or mock-biblical style (which does make it come across a bit pompous). I found Beyond Good and Evil quite direct.

        • Nukenado

          I found Beyond Good and Evil still a bit flowery. Maybe it’s me comparing him to Kant…

          • Mollusc

            You Kant go doing that…!

  • ivantoxie

    That first paragraph was very interesting and sticks out like a sore thumb today.