Watain / Mayhem
The Opera House
Jan 13 2015
If one was to go looking for old Satan himself to appear on Earth in physical form, you'd do worse than to expect him to be at the Opera House on Jan 13 where a near coronation in his unholy honour was held.
Bringing together Sweden's Watain, one of the most intense bands in contemporary black metal with Mayhem, the original Norwegian architects of the demonic genre conjured an evening of ferocious blasphemy.
After a thirty-five min set by black metal/ thrash trio Revenge to set the vile mood, things took a turn for the worse with the arrival of Watain. Led by frontman Erik Danielsson, the four piece commanded the stage amidst a stage set with two crucified skeletons, a couple of large upside down crosses, regal Watain banners and a small alter in front of the drum riser. Still promoting their excellent 2013 album The Wild Hunt (they headlined The Opera House in Oct of 2013 upon it's initial release) Watain delivered a ten song sixty-five minute set mixing numbers from all albums. While the band pounds out riff after riff, Danielsson prowls the stage making graceful arm gestures as if a feral conductor directing this symphony of sickness. Near the beginning of "Black Flames March" Danielsson knelt before the altar and lit half a dozen red candles to add to the feeling of this performance being a diabolical religious rite. The epic title track from the most recent album, "The Wild Hunt" was given an even more stately reading than done in the studio.
Far from trying to enamour himself too much with the audience, Danielsson at one point called those in the balcony "cowards". The set ended with a terrific version of "Malfeitor" from the band's 2010 masterpiece Lawless Darkness. While the crowd surged forward to better appreciate this dark moment, Watain pounded out a menacing yet exuberant interpretation. After this, Danielsson was alone onstage blanketed with a layer of soft blue lighting kneeling in front of his altar then turning to give the audience a bow of respect.
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Norway's Mayhem have arguably the most criminal past than any band in history regardless of genre. On April 8 1991 damaged vocalist Per "Dead" Ohlin infamously slit his wrists then took a shotgun to blow the top of his head off. Mayhem founding member and guitarist Oystein "Euronymous" Aarseth found the body and after taking parts of Dead's obliterated skull to make jewelry, took photos of his frontman's remains. One of these grisly pics actually ended up on the cover of the live bootleg Dawn Of The Black Hearts recorded at a 1990 show in Norway.
On Aug 10 1993 Euronymous himself was killed by Varg Virkeness, the influential and legendary one-man force of nature known as Burzum (who ironically actually played bass guitar on Mayhem's genre defining De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas debut album released in 1994). After 15 years of incarceration, Virkeness still maintains the crime was committed in self-defence.
Numerous line-up changes throughout the years and periods of inactivity only increased the group's mythical status. With an impressive new album 2014's Esoteric Warfare, Mayhem are back with a blood thirsty vengeance. It's definitely an odd feeling of unease seeing an empty stage with the infamous Mayhem logo hanging on a backdrop. After such a long and notorious history, can Mayhem really be just a hard touring metal band? Can it really go back to being just about the music?
Damn right, it can.
With lead vocalist Atilla Csihar leading the charge, Mayhem attacked the stage for an unrelenting seventy-five minute fifteen song set. Although only officially in the group since 2004, Csihar was the session vocalist on the band's important and influential 1994 debut album De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas
. Attila is as dramatic figure onstage as you'll ever see. Wearing zombie-like corpse-paint with splashes of blood on his face, the madman immediately became the show's primary visual focal point. Standing firm footed at the lip of the stage, the vocalist throws up subtle arm and hand movements which combined with the striking lighting designs makes for a remarkable image to accommodate the brutal music being delivered.
During "Symbols Of Bloodswords" (from 1997's Wolf's Lair Abyss) the vocalist seemed to be hammered with lightning fast beams of white light from every direction. At times he appeared almost imprisoned by the sharp shafts of blinding white illumination. For "My Death" (2004's Chimera), while bathed in dark crimson, a short noose in his hand was a simple yet extremely effective prop. He also sang a few songs directly to a human skull he was sometimes holding.
New guitarist Teloch (ex-Gorgoroth) acquainted himself well on older material ("Deathcrush", "Pagan Fears", "Freezing Moon") while really digging in deep on the newer songs like "Psywar" which he was himself a big part of the writing of. Grinding guitar shapes sculpted by Teloch and touring axe-wielder Ghul wash over the crowd like waves of sonic sin. The original Mayhem rhythm section was present as well. Drummer (and one of the most important figures in the original black metal scene ) Jan Axel "Hellhammer" Blomberg pummeled his kit without so much as breaking a sweat. Sometimes outspoken bassist Jorn "Necrobutcher" Stubberud is clearly a fan favourite as he was welcomed with enthusiastic cheers as soon as he walked out onto the stage.
After ending the show with a crowd-approved "Pure Fucking Armageddon" from the band's original 1986 demo release of the same name, the usually reserved Atilla and Necrobutcher came forward to shake hands with fans at the front of the stage. It was a genuinely nice human moment after the preceding grim ceremony.
Robert Lawson 2015.