The Dark Story Behind Mayhem’s “The Dawn of the Black Hearts” Cover

Mayhem’s bootleg album cover features an unflinching portrayal of tragedy, captured in a single photograph that speaks volumes about the band’s controversial history.

The Dawn of the Black Hearts
The Dawn of the Black Hearts
Key Takeaways
  • Euronymous took photos of Dead’s corpse, later used as cover art for the bootleg album “The Dawn of the Black Hearts”.
  • Mauricio “Bull Metal” Montoya, drummer of the death metal band Massacre, is believed to have released the bootleg album with the controversial cover.
  • In 2017, Mayhem reissued the album as “Live in Sarpsborg”, opting for a less controversial cover image.

The Grisly Chain of Events Following Dead’s Suicide

April 1991 was a month that shocked the black metal world to its core. Øystein “Euronymous” Aarseth, guitarist for the notorious band Mayhem, stumbled upon a grim scene: the lifeless body of his bandmate and vocalist, Per “Dead” Ohlin. But instead of immediately calling for help, Euronymous took a detour that still raises eyebrows to this day.

Most people would have dialed 911 post-haste, but Euronymous had different plans. He trotted off to a nearby shop and bought a disposable camera.

Dead had taken his own life in the house he shared with Euronymous. Finding the doors locked, Euronymous had no choice but to break into their shared residence through a window. Once inside, he found Dead’s corpse. Most people would have dialed 911 post-haste, but Euronymous had different plans. He trotted off to a nearby shop and bought a disposable camera.

Returning to the scene, Euronymous proceeded to pose Dead’s body and snap a series of photographs. It was only after this eerie photoshoot that he picked up the phone to notify the authorities. He later developed the photos and sent them to select friends within the black metal underground, almost as if they were postcards from the edge of sanity.

You might think this was shocking enough, but hold onto your guitar picks. Euronymous, no stranger to extreme viewpoints, took his actions a step further. He made necklaces out of pieces of Dead’s skull, cementing his reputation for crossing lines that most wouldn’t dare approach.

The Bootleg Album with a Haunting History

Four years after the unsettling death of Dead and two years after Euronymous met a similar grim fate, the metal underground was buzzing again. This time, it was about a bootleg album mysteriously making its rounds. Titled “The Dawn of the Black Hearts”, the album featured a haunting image, none other than the posed corpse of Dead, as its cover art.

Titled “The Dawn of the Black Hearts”, the album featured a haunting image, none other than the posed corpse of Dead, as its cover art.

Now, who would dare to do such a thing? Enter Mauricio “Bull Metal” Montoya, drummer of the Colombian death metal band Massacre. He’s widely believed to be the man behind this macabre masterpiece. Bull Metal was no stranger to Euronymous. The two had been pen pals, which granted the Colombian musician access to those infamous photographs. Having both the photos and the means to press and distribute the album through his label, Warmaster Records, Montoya became the main suspect in the bootleg’s origin story.

Fast forward to 2017, and Mayhem decided it was high time to take ownership of their dark past. The band officially re-released the album, this time under the title “Live in Sarpsborg”, swapping the controversial image of Dead with a tamer photo of Necrobutcher on the cover.

A Cover Worth a Thousand Debates

“The Dawn of the Black Hearts” isn’t just another bootleg album in the metal scene; it’s a catalyst for a broader ethical debate that has echoed through the halls of metal history. The use of Dead’s post-mortem photograph as cover art inevitably raised eyebrows and, more importantly, questions. How far can one go in the name of art, especially when shock value seems to be the primary aim?

How far can one go in the name of art, especially when shock value seems to be the primary aim?

The album cover has been the focal point of heated discussions, splitting opinions like a guitar riff that you either love or hate. Critics argue that the image crosses the line, labelling it as distasteful and exploitative. On the other side of the fence, some defend the cover as an unfiltered representation of black metal’s essence—dark, nihilistic, and unapologetically shocking. Regardless of which side you’re on, the controversy surrounding the album cover serves as a testament to the perpetual struggle between artistic freedom and ethical responsibility.