Mayhem Interview

Ester Segarra

The latest release from the legendary Norwegian black metal band Mayhem is the EP Atavistic Black Disorder/Kommando. It includes a new song, a couple of bonus tracks and four covers of punk songs recorded during the Daemon sessions. Guitarist Ghul gives us the scoop on the EP, the influence of punk on black metal, their recent Norwegian Grammy honorary award, the evolution of how Mayhem have been treated by the Norwegian press and more.

Chad Bowar: Was this EP always planned to be released after Daemon, or was it a result of the pandemic?
Ghul: We always had a plan to release these songs, but we didn’t have a definite vision until this EP idea emerged. It wasn’t related to the virus of unspecified origin.

What is the origin of the previously unreleased song “Voces Ab Alta”?
It was written and recorded as part of the Daemon session, but just didn’t feel like it fit on the album, so we kept it aside for another opportunity to release it.

Are there a lot of similarities in the attitude of punk and black metal?
Absolutely. There are certainly crossovers musically, too, in terms of some of the simplified guitar playing, and very power chord based, harmonically simple riffs (at least in some very early black metal). But in terms of attitude, there was definitely the same anti-authority, anti-society and anarchic approach in the feeling behind the movements. Punk was a little more concerned with political and economic issues and of course black metal was more about pushing against religious tyranny and embracing alternative spiritual paths, but they had the same essential rebellious energy behind them.

How did you decide on the punk songs to cover?
There was no system, we just had a few ideas and tried some songs to see what worked. The Ramones one we had played a few times before, but apart from that it was really trial and error. We played around with them and when they worked we recorded them.

How was it working with former members Maniac and Messiah again?
Those tracks turned out to be great. Their voices just sound so perfect for those songs. I was listening to them with Attila while we were in quarantine (we hadn’t heard them since they were recorded), and I actually mailed Maniac to say how fantastic it sounded. Both are perfect, and a very different side of their vocals to their Mayhem work.

The EP is available in vinyl editions. Are you a vinyl collector?
I’m not, no. I don’t really like to load up my life with too many “things,” but I fully understand the addiction. I think they are hard to beat in terms of sound, and in a digital age they provide something to hold and appreciate.

You have some summer festivals on your calendar. Are there any you’re particularly looking forward to playing?
All of them, really. I have learned over the years not to look forward to shows specifically because it’s too unpredictable. The greatest shows are almost always something you only realize in retrospect, but every festival is exciting. There is a great energy to the sound of distant stages, the smell of the outdoor cooking and meeting with friends from other bands you don’t get to see often.

Have U.S. Covid travel restrictions been lifted to allow you to make the trip for Psycho Las Vegas?
Really hard to say, they seem to change week by week because no one knows what they are doing, and “the science” changes on an hourly basis. Just awaiting another mythical variant that lets them put us back under house arrest for another year. I really hope it happens though, that was a really painful one to lose last year, and at the moment it looks possible.

You were supposed to do a U.S. tour in 2020 that had to be canceled. Do you plan to reschedule for 2022?
Yes, we were actually in the U.S. at the start of the tour when it all went mental, we were fortunate to be able to even get home. We are absolutely looking at 2022 right now, and we have a potentially exciting option but obviously I can’t go into details. Look for announcements soon, though.

Where haven’t you played live that you’d still like to get to?
There are still a few places I would love to play. Iceland for sure. I would really like to do South Africa and India too. Hawaii would be great. It’s definitely doable, but more as a break-even holiday. There are many more, honestly I love to visit new places, meet the people, learn things about other cultures and ways of life. Mainly the food and the local distilled spirits if I’m being honest. Mainly the local distilled spirits if I’m being properly honest.

Since touring for Daemon was pushed back, do you anticipate the next Mayhem full-length will be delayed as well?
Well, there’s no rush on that. This album deserves to be toured properly first. That being said, there’s no definite timeline anyway, so it’s hard to say when something new might land.

What was your reaction to receiving a Norwegian Grammy Honorary Award?
I’m not such a fan of these circle jerking award ceremonies in general, but this one genuinely did mean something. It’s a recognition of the contribution Mayhem has made to music over 35 plus years. For me it was just great to be associated with something so iconic.

How has Mayhem’s coverage by Norway’s press changed over the years?
They seem to be a lot more positive these days. It used to be non-stop hit pieces. I think I am personally more comfortable with the public enemy status, to be honest. The important thing is the band has never compromised or tried to sanitize. We don’t do anything to gain favor from the press or authorities, we stick to music and ideas. We don’t jump on popular bandwagons and causes, shill the vaccine or that kind of thing. I see many other bands doing that kind of stuff. I suppose each to their own. For us, we don’t care whether they write good things or bad things about us, we are what we are.

How did the pandemic affect you and your family?
The virus hasn’t, but the bizarre and inconsistent reactions of the governments certainly has. I suppose I’ve been relatively fortunate, I don’t really socialize and I can work with composing at home. I dread to think how these measures have destroyed so many people’s lives with financial ruin, suicides, not seeing relatives for months before they died and a thousand other consequences. That’s not even taking into account what will happen to the economy as a result of all the money printing. People often ask how they can support us, and offer sympathy for how badly it’s all affected musicians. I really appreciate that, it’s genuinely humbling, but please, don’t worry about us. Think of yourself and your own, and just come back to us when we start to move again. We want everyone to come out of this healthy and secure, and we want to see you all again very soon.

(interview published July 8, 2021)

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