Chaos control

Chaos control

Hellhammer’s black metal band overcame bloody controversy to get back on the screeching track.

Mark Driver

Published on June 13, 2001

Graceland, 262-0482, $18 adv. 6 p.m. Fri., June 15

YOU’RE A DRUMMER in a popular band about to release your big record, and everything’s peachy—but then you experience a few minor setbacks. Your lead singer shoots himself in the head. Your bass player stabs your guitar player 23 times after burning down a few churches and gets carted off to jail, where he becomes a white supremacist who publicly ridicules everything you do. The guitar player’s mom wants you to take the bass tracks off the album out of respect for her dead son. So, by no fault of your own, you have no band, no record, and no future. Oh, and your name is Hellhammer.

But Hellhammer, you are a person who does not take setbacks lying down. Life gives you lemons, you squeeze ’em into lemonade. You make a necklace out of your dead singer’s skull fragments. You lie to the guitar player’s mother and promise you’ll rerecord the bass yourself, when you really won’t (allegedly). The record comes out, and despite half your band being corpses, you solidify yourself as one of the most important and legitimately evil Norwegian metal bands in history, the sole heir to a demonic legacy and beneficiary of a merchandizing empire that’s put a Mayhem T-shirt in almost every longhair’s closet worldwide, regardless of the fact that you’ve only put out a handful of songs.

AFTER THEIR FIRST death, Mayhem became a benchmark of black metal, their name spoken in a raspy whisper after such legends as Venom and Bathory and slightly before other Scandinavian potentates like Emperor and Enslaved. Putting all these bands to the listening test, one feels that the enforced hierarchy isn’t so much about the music, it’s about the EVIL. And in a genre obsessed with out-eviling the competition, nothing gets you devil points like church-burning and murder (although Emperor have certainly given them a run for their money).

With legions of wanna-be evil Europeans begging to legitimize their satanic lifestyles with overpriced T-shirts, jacket patches, and limited-edition colored vinyl, who but a dummy wouldn’t try to cash in on such success?

But Mayhem’s rebirth was no cynical money grab, nor have the band become a pathetic oldies act. Hellhammer successfully reunited original band members who had split Mayhem before the carnage. With first bass player Necrobutcher and original singer Maniac, it would be hard for anyone to say that the reformed Mayhem was any sort of a sham band—and any remaining doubts were put six feet under with their first reunited release, the face-peeling Wolf’s Layer Abyss. Following up with last year’s Grand Declaration of War, Mayhem have shown themselves willing to take risks with their sound, and while not always successful, they seem to be pushing toward something masterful.

True, one doesn’t quite feel that the Mayhem of today totally jibes with their bloody past, and I’m not the only card-carrying member of the pagan resistance to think they should’ve changed their name. But hey, Hellhammer’s a survivor, the Mayhem logo looks excellent on a T-shirt, and the black-metal legend keeps chugging along like the little train that could. And it’s still heavy-duty stuff. Stop by for a bite.