The Story Behind Mayhem’s Most Controversial Release

The bootleg that pushed boundaries in taste and remains one of the most debated works in Mayhem’s catalog.

Key Takeaways
  • Released in 1995, the album had only 300 copies and was backed by Warmaster Records’ Mauricio “Bull Metal” Montoya.
  • Features a 1990 live concert in Sarpsborg, Norway, and has seen multiple reissues with varying tracks.
  • Controversial cover art features a post-suicide photo of Mayhem’s vocalist, Per “Dead” Ohlin.

How “The Dawn of the Black Hearts” Came to Be

In the dark annals of black metal, few albums have sparked as much controversy, intrigue, and pure shock as Mayhem’s “The Dawn of the Black Hearts”. Released in 1995, this notorious bootleg made its debut on vinyl, thanks to Warmaster Records. But here’s the kicker: the record label took “limited edition” to a whole new level, producing a scant 300 copies. That’s right, just 300, making it a coveted treasure—or a dark artifact, depending on how you look at it—among die-hard fans and collectors.

Behind this enigmatic release was Mauricio “Bull Metal” Montoya, owner of Warmaster Records Colombia and the original drummer for the death metal band Massacre. As if the stars had aligned for this dark symphony, Montoya was also a pen pal of Mayhem’s guitarist, Euronymous. Makes you wonder what kind of letters those two exchanged, doesn’t it?

Now, let’s talk about the title. “The Dawn of the Black Hearts” wasn’t just a stroke of grim genius; it was borrowed from a line of lyrics penned by none other than Fenriz of Darkthrone—another titan in the black metal scene. The name perfectly encapsulates the album’s macabre essence and the genre’s overarching themes.

Despite its bootleg status, this album often sneaks its way into lists of Mayhem’s main discography. A mistake? Maybe. But perhaps it’s a testament to the album’s indelible mark on black metal history. It’s like that guest who crashes a party but ends up being the life of it. Only in this case, the party is a dark, chaotic gathering of metal aficionados, and the guest is an album that simply refuses to be ignored.

A Glimpse into the Sarpsborg Concert

Picture this: You’re among a crowd of 300 metalheads in Sarpsborg, Norway, jamming out to the dark and twisted sounds of Mayhem on a chilly night in 1990. Even the guys from Immortal are there, nodding along to the madness. This electric atmosphere was captured in eight raw tracks, featuring Mayhem classics like “Deathcrush”, “Necrolust”, and “Funeral Fog”.

This electric atmosphere was captured in eight raw tracks, featuring Mayhem classics like “Deathcrush”, “Necrolust”, and “Funeral Fog”.

But the story doesn’t end there. Over the years, this bootleg album has seen multiple reissues, each with its own quirks and extras. Some take us on a time-traveling trip back to 1985, where Messiah rules the mic and Manheim slams the drums. Other editions add spice to the mix with four additional tracks from a 1986 show in Ski, Norway, where Messiah is again at the vocal helm. But let’s set the record straight: Some re-releases got it wrong, claiming these extra tunes were recorded in Lillehammer with Maniac on vocals. The ever-changing landscape of this album makes it a collector’s jigsaw puzzle, with each version offering a different piece of Mayhem history.

The Controversial Cover of “The Dawn of the Black Hearts”

The cover art of “The Dawn of the Black Hearts” is far from your typical metal album artwork. It’s not just dark; it’s literally a snapshot of death—featuring Mayhem’s deceased vocalist, Per “Dead” Ohlin, in the aftermath of his suicide. The photograph came courtesy of Mauricio “Bull Metal” Montoya, who happened to be pen pals with Euronymous, Mayhem’s infamous guitarist. Now, Euronymous was no stranger to controversy; the guy made necklaces out of Dead’s skull fragments, for crying out loud.

It’s not just dark; it’s literally a snapshot of death—featuring Mayhem’s deceased vocalist, Per “Dead” Ohlin.

This cover has been slammed as possibly the most “tasteless” thing to ever grace a vinyl sleeve in metal’s storied history. But, just like a guitar solo that you either love or hate, opinions on the cover are deeply divided. On one hand, you’ve got folks who say it’s the epitome of black metal’s no-holds-barred approach to themes of death and nihilism. On the other hand, there are those who see it as nothing more than a distasteful and disrespectful stunt. Either way, this cover is as polarizing as a power chord in a jazz lounge.

A Bootleg for the Ages

When you think of bootleg albums in black metal, “The Dawn of the Black Hearts” inevitably comes to mind. Dubbed by metal historian Dayal Patterson as “perhaps the most bootlegged black metal release of all time”, it’s a record that refuses to be shelved, both literally and metaphorically.

In an attempt to legitimize this notorious record, it was officially reissued in 2017. Now going by the title “Live in Sarpsborg”, the reissue features a new, less controversial cover with Necrobutcher gracing the artwork. But don’t let the rebranding fool you; the album’s essence remains as potent as ever.

This isn’t just another bootleg; it’s a living, breathing part of black metal lore. From its initial limited run of 300 copies to its subsequent—and numerous—unofficial reissues, the album maintains its unique place in both Mayhem’s discography and the annals of black metal history. It’s a story as complex and layered as the music it contains, and it’s not going away anytime soon.