They are the archetype and basis for essentially all modern black metal, and have a history more outlandish than any author could’ve come up with. They are one of the most revered extreme metal bands of all time and continue to command global relevance. They are pure fucking armageddon.
They are, of course, Mayhem.
Most bands who innovate take already established elements and evolve or alter them to create something new and (potentially) game changing. Mayhem founder Euronymous didn‘t seem to evolve sounds of the day, but rather create something entirely unheard.
At the time in Norway, death metal bands from Sweden and abroad were seeing increasing attention. Euronymous sought to create something antithetical to that. In doing so, alongside bands like Darkthrone, Emperor, and Immortal, Mayhem birthed what became known as the Second Wave of Black Metal. While it’s known as the “second” wave, it really is the first example of what we know today as black metal.
Mayhem’s first ‘proper’ release was 1994’s ‘De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas’, widely considered the most famous black metal album ever released – for reasons both good and bad. It featured lyrics written by former vocalist Dead before his suicide, recently murdered guitarist and founder Euronymous on guitar, and of course his murderer on bass. But also, it is extremely influential and helped determine the sound of black metal even to this day.
Much can be said about the dark history of Mayhem – and it all has been said many times already. It’s a fascinatingly morbid tale. Vocalist commits suicide, guitarists photographs it, churches get burned to ash, bass player stabs guitarist to death… you likely know the story, so we won’t dwell on it.
What matters is Mayhem is bigger than those it has left behind. In 2019, they released ‘Daemon’, their sixth full length album, 25 years after their debut. It received near universal praise, and is one of the strongest black metal albums of the last decade. So Mayhem’s legacy as perhaps the greatest (certainly the most well known) black metal band of all time continues.
Against all odds, Mayhem survives.