This week I find myself listening to Mayhem’s De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas album to form an opinion on a supposedly Metal Classic album that I’ve never got around to hearing before.
As far as I am aware, De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas is sort of ‘The Reign In Blood of Black Metal.’
Black Metal isn’t exactly my favourite subgenre of Metal. I only own one officially recognized Black Metal album, have about four or five more in my collection from my friends and relatives, and like two bands associated with the genre (Zyklon, who feature Black Metal musicians but play Death Metal) and Cradle Of Filth (who aren’t really Black Metal according to most people but are sort of lumped in with it anyway)
Most of the opening track ‘Funeral Fog’ and ‘Pagan Tears’ is actually fine, and closer in sound and style to Carpathian Forest (a Black Metal band I actually do like) than I expected it would be.
I do enjoy the guitar style, which does actually create a swirling cold and bleak atmosphere that I thought was beyond the talents of what I assumed were a bunch of overrated, self aggrandizing hack teenage racists who only cultivated a small following of uppity nerds who don’t even like the music but just use it to feel superior to other nerds that actually listen to music that can be enjoyed.
Yes, I had often read about the atmospheric and engrossing nature of Black Metal and had written it off as a lie, used to advertise collections of messy, badly written and samey tracks and I now see that is not entirely the case. I suppose most of my strongly negative and hostile opinion was a deliberate prejudice formed against the arrogant and annoying superiority complex that Black Metal musicians and fans are often portrayed with or seen to have in my own experience.
The guitar work on those opening tracks actually cut away that level of harsh skepticism, but I still think they are bad tracks objectively now as despite entertaining guitar work, the tracks are dull, repetitive and overlong. Additionally, the vocal style is unmusical and unpleasant and the drumming is the style of drumming that I have always disliked and will go into detail on later.
‘Life Eternal’ on the other hand is a very enjoyable song, with only one final minute wasted on unmusical slapping, and the rest of the duration on a moody, ponderous and expressive mid-tempo track that covers a lot more musical ground and generally keeps things interesting.
Just when I thought that the album might actually turn out to be good and even misunderstood, along comes ‘Buried By Time And Dust’ which is three and a half minutes of non-stop Blast Beats that completely avoids variety and musicality. Extremity for extremities sake that if I was feeling harsh would say really ought not have to exist considering Napalm Death already made ‘Scum.’
After this, the album settles into a slump, the tracks are generally about a minute too long, but contain a lot more variety and more interesting riffs, beats and vocal patterns. ‘From The Dark Past’ for example has a genuinely brilliant breakdown where the drummer actually sounds like a good and creative player.
I know that that was an unfairly snobby backhanded comment and I apologize because if someone else said it I too would think that they are a poncy, superior elitist wanker. I do realize that the impossibly fast Slayer beat and Blast Beating require a huge amount of practice, skill and musicianship to play, and that filling a whole six minutes with them requires tremendous endurance on the part of the drummer. I certainly couldn’t do it, and would be impressed by anyone I met in real life who could.
The problem is that to my own ears it just sounds bad, and the longer it goes on for the less interesting anything can be, a sudden ten second burst sounds energetic and speedy, but a minute of it turns any track into a sludge that sounds slow and my brain stops recording differences, and just loudly says ‘THIS IS THE SHIT BIT’ at me until a groove, breakdown or instrument drop-out occurs to change things up, at which point my brain will allow me to focus once more.
For the rest of the album, it is very much an on-off process to my brain where essentially a minute of white noise will be followed by ten interesting seconds and then everything will turn off again for two minutes, then there will be thirty seconds that I can actually hear and so on. The title track has some amusing Black Metal monk clean vocals that are done better by Zyklon, ‘Cursed Into Eternity’ has some barely audible Black Metal guitar leads that are done better by Carpathian Forest and Freezing Moon, well the groovy first half is actually great, even the sections with the Slayer Beats… Free. Zing. Moooooooon.
Overall, I went into the album expecting a completely unlistenable and variety free mess of abominably produced childish music mascaraing as art. (Which again, if anyone else said, I would think they were a total prick) I expected a mixture of Napalm Death’s Scum and Sodom’s In The Sign Of Evil, (two albums I dislike due to their poor production, vocal and drumming styles and repetitive natures) only worse.
What I actually got was a fairly listenable album of far above competent music that I could fully understand the appeal of. It is certainly has redeeming features to someone so ill-disposed towards it and if you generally like the tonal choices, vocal styles and super fast drumming then I now understand why you genuinely enjoy it on a musical level. Even if some of the fans are the competitive, aggressive snobs I have seen (glass houses much, me?) clearly not everyone is.
That being said, the tracks were still too samey, too dull, poorly produced and chocked full of a drum and vocal style that is not to my tastes.
I would like to have written this article without all the negativity (and would never include such statements in a full on review) but to do so would be disingenuous and ultimately pointless as the purpose of this series is to describe my honest reactions and internal processes when hearing a Metal Classic for the first time. So with that in mind I’ll wrap this up… De Mysteriis, you were way better than I thought you’d be, but still I’m not going to listen to you on a regular basis.