Norwegian black metal legends Mayhem closed off their De Mysteries Dom Sathans Alive tour, in which they played their seminal debut full length album live from start to finish on February 19th in New York City at the Gramercy Theater to a capacity crowd (well technically the finish was February 20th at St. Vitus, a show that was added at the last minute and which sold out incredibly quickly).
The night opened with support from local black metal act Black Anvil, whose latest album, As Was (out now via Relapse Records), really is a phenomenal piece pf work. Ironically we missed their set as we thought they were going on second and didn’t leave on time, instead hanging out watching Black Anvil videos on YouTube and pre-gaming with some warm up beers and Chinese food. Oops. Instead, we arrived just in time for Inquisition, the black metal duo of Dagon on vocals and guitar and Incubus on drums. They played their set in full corpse paint, Dagon waving his hair around frantically anytime he wasn’t behind the microphone, and for a two piece they really have a surprisingly intense and heavy, full sound. Their thirty minute set was bathed in yellow and blue light and they put on quite a show.
Of course, the bulk of the crowd’s enthusiasm was reserved for the headliners. When Inquisition left the stage, things went dark. The house lights were dimmed and the stage was basically in complete darkness. Some candles are lit on a small table in the center of the stage, you can tell that there's a human skull on it. Then four small lights come on, each underneath a banner showing off demonic figure. It stays like this for some time, then some strange and sinister sounding instrumental music starts playing and the five band members come out - Attila on vocals, Ghul and Teloch on guitar, Necrobutcher on bass and Hellhammer on drums. Each member is dressed in black cloaks with hoods covering their faces. They stand under purple lighting while smoke machines start going ballistic, filling the stage and creating a genuinely eerie atmosphere.
They start playing, the crowd goes nuts, I'm up front in the photo pit and my camera starts acting up one song in. I couldn't get my settings to adjust and the lack of any light and the massive amount of smoke combined with the black costumes mean that a lot of the pictures taken are basically black blobs on purple backgrounds. A lot of people whose cameras didn't die will have better pictures because shortly after mine committed suicide they started using white lighting and some of the band members took their hoods off (I did manage to get a couple of shots of Necrobutcher without the hood), but most of what I got isn't go hot. A few usable shots are below, along with grubby camera phone pictures taken after my trusty Nikon D40 bit the dust, and even some video.
As to the quality of the performance itself, Mayhem was actually incredible. Their set was crazy theatrical and much tighter and more polished than you might expect given how raw and rough so much of their early stuff sounds. Attila is a big asset to the band. As their vocalist has an amazing range and is really intense and manic on stage, which makes him fun to watch. He handles the darker sinister sounding material well but also shows off his range when he delves into the clean vocals that are used periodically. All through the show in between song breaks, guys in the audience in corpse paint yell out things like 'only death is real' and hail Satan!' which adds to the craziness of it all. By the time it was all over, the backdrop had changed from the faces peering out of the darkness to the iconic church image used on the De Mysteries Dom Sathans album. The band was bathed in a mix of hot white light, piercing strobes, and occasional red hues. As they finished their set, Attila pulled his hood back for the one and only time during the night, revealing his hellish visage clad in arcane makeup. The lights went down, the candles were snuffed, there was no encore. We didn’t need one. The ritual was over.