Shadows and Noise: Euronymous, Mayhem, and the Birth of Norwegian Black Metal

The annals of metal history are filled with eccentric characters, but few have left an imprint as disturbing as Euronymous from Mayhem. From the grimy streets of Norway emerged a chilling saga of black metal.

Dead and Euronymous
Dead and Euronymous

Early Years and Influences

Born in the small town of Langhus, Norway in 1984, the seeds of the legendary band Mayhem were sown by guitarist Øystein Aarseth, who was better known by his enigmatic stage name, Euronymous. Alongside Euronymous, bassist Jørn Stubberud, known as Necrobutcher, and drummer Kjetil Manheim joined forces to form an ensemble that would soon redefine the genre of black metal.

In their embryonic years, Mayhem was deeply inspired by pioneering bands such as Slayer, Celtic Frost, and Venom. However, it was the track “Mayhem with Mercy” by Venom that struck a chord with the trio, ultimately leading to the christening of their band as ‘Mayhem’.

As the band grew, so did their reputation for chaotic live performances that would captivate audiences. Their blend of raw music coupled with controversial behaviour soon began to stir the music scene, making them a name to remember.

In 1987, a significant turning point for the band was the entry of Pelle Ohlin, who was better known by his stage name, ‘Dead’. Dead’s fascination with the macabre and his penchant for extreme performance techniques – including self-harm on stage and the practice of burying his clothes to let them rot before wearing them onstage – added a new level of intensity to the band.

However, his arrival was not without turbulence. Euronymous, while intrigued, was also disturbed by Dead’s obsession with death, causing friction within the band. Nonetheless, the complex dynamic between Euronymous and Dead shaped the evolution of Mayhem.

The band’s first studio album, “Deathcrush,” released in 1987 before Dead’s arrival, had garnered mixed reviews. Over time, however, it became a cult classic within the black metal scene, gaining admiration for its raw, unfiltered style. With the inclusion of Dead, Mayhem’s sound evolved into a more extreme form, ultimately solidifying their place as the pioneers of Norwegian Black Metal.

Dead’s Final Act: A Macabre Turning Point for Mayhem

The idyllic spring of April 8th, 1991, in Norway was marred by the tragic loss of Pelle ‘Dead’ Ohlin, the eccentric frontman of Mayhem, who took his own life. Dead’s death, which unfolded in the house he shared with bandmate Euronymous, was as grim as the persona he portrayed onstage. Leaving behind a chilling note that read “Excuse all the blood,” Dead shot himself in the head with a shotgun. The note also revealed that he had made previous attempts to end his life by slitting his wrists and throat.

In an eerie twist, Euronymous, upon discovering Dead’s lifeless body, chose to document the gruesome scene with a disposable camera he had purchased nearby, before notifying the police. In a shocking display of disregard for his fallen bandmate, Euronymous used one of these images as the cover for a bootleg live album, “Dawn of the Black Hearts.”

Dead’s suicide cast a long, dark shadow over the remaining members of Mayhem. Particularly disturbed by Euronymous’s morbid fascination and his grotesque handling of Dead’s suicide was bassist Necrobutcher, who chose to sever his ties with the band in disgust.

In an unsettling move, Euronymous seized the opportunity to cultivate an even darker image for Mayhem, purportedly spreading rumors that he had cooked a stew with Dead’s brain fragments and crafted necklaces out of pieces of his skull. The veracity of these claims remains a contentious topic within the metal community.

The tragic incident marked a pivotal juncture in the trajectory of Norwegian Black Metal, intensifying the focus on themes of morbidity, violence, and anti-Christian sentiment. Despite the personal trauma and public controversy, Mayhem was not silenced. The band continued to play, recruiting Attila Csihar as their new vocalist and Varg Vikernes, known as Count Grishnackh of Burzum, as their new bassist, and thus, Mayhem’s tumultuous journey carried on.

The Fatal Conflict Between Euronymous and Vikernes

The world of Norwegian Black Metal was a cauldron of rivalries, none more ominous than that between Mayhem’s Euronymous and their new bassist, Varg Vikernes. The two were prominent figures within the black metal scene, and their contentious relationship was destined for a tragic climax.

Euronymous was a central figure in the community, owning a record store named “Helvete”, Norwegian for Hell. This establishment became a notorious gathering spot for the black metal scene. Adding to his influence, he launched his own record label, Deathlike Silence Productions.

The scene, however, was spiraling into darker territories under the sway of Euronymous and others. They veered towards criminal activities that included acts of arson, particularly the burning of churches, and vandalism. Vikernes was deeply enmeshed in these activities. In an interview, he candidly confessed to the acts, claiming they were a form of rebellion against Christianity and were designed to sow fear and discord.

The simmering tension between Euronymous and Vikernes boiled over in August 1993. According to Vikernes, Euronymous plotted a grisly scheme to attack him with an electroshock weapon, tie him up, and then kidnap and murder him. Allegedly, Euronymous planned to film the torture and death, creating a horrific snuff film.

In a twist of fate, on the night of August 10, 1993, Vikernes and his accomplice, Snorre ‘Blackthorn’ Ruch, drove from Bergen to Euronymous’s apartment in Oslo, where a violent confrontation took place. Euronymous was brutally stabbed to death. Vikernes insisted it was an act of self-defense.

Found outside his apartment, Euronymous bore the marks of a savage attack: 23 stab wounds, with 2 to the head, 5 to the neck, and 16 to the back. His shocking death reverberated through the Norwegian music scene, sending it into a whirlwind of fear, scrutiny, and media frenzy.

The Trial and Aftermath of Euronymous’s Murder

In the aftermath of the brutal murder of Euronymous, Varg Vikernes was arrested on August 19, 1993. Alongside the charges for the murder of his bandmate, Vikernes was also charged with arson and possession of explosives. Snorre ‘Blackthorn’ Ruch, who had accompanied Vikernes on the fatal night, was also arrested and charged as an accomplice to the murder.

During the court proceedings, Vikernes displayed a chilling lack of remorse. Despite his steadfast claim that he had acted in self-defense, the court dismissed his argument. In May 1994, the verdict was delivered – Vikernes was found guilty of murder and arson, receiving a sentence of 21 years in prison, the maximum term under Norwegian law.

Behind bars, Vikernes continued his musical endeavors with his solo project, Burzum. Despite the limitations of his prison environment, he managed to release several albums, some of which were recorded using a synthesizer, as he was not permitted to use conventional instruments.

After serving 15 years, Vikernes was released on parole in 2009. He then relocated to France and resumed his musical career. Snorre ‘Blackthorn’ Ruch, having received a lighter sentence for his role as an accomplice, was released in 2003 and also returned to the music scene.

Euronymous’s death left a significant void in Mayhem. Despite losing their founding member and key songwriter, the remaining members chose to persevere. They completed the recording of the album “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas” that Euronymous had begun, releasing it in 1994.

The murder of Euronymous brought an end to the most violent chapter in the history of Norwegian Black Metal, but it forever imprinted a dark, indelible mark on the genre’s image and reputation.