Singer Attila Chisar of Mayhem (all photos and video by Robert Hanna)
Necrobutcher of Mayhem
Few bands have fueled as much controversy as Oslo, Norway’s Mayhem since their inception in 1984 — from the gruesome suicide of former vocalist Dead, to the fatal stabbing of former singer Euronymous at the hands of bassist Varg Virkenes, who is still currently spending a 21-year prison sentence for that murder and the arson of two well-renowned churches in Norway. Despite the somewhat revolving door of guitarists and singers, the group has managed to persevere and continue to purvey some of the most raw and ugly black metal to ever come out of Scandinavia. The group has been notorious in the past for its often costumed live ritual, sometimes incorporating impaled pig or goat heads on stakes. While the group’s stage set up at El Corazon lacked any of the aforementioned cephalic adornments, they delivered a somewhat disturbing and viscerally raw performance of material spanning their entire career.
Guitarist Teloch of Mayhem
Singer Attila Chisar emerged from behind their ominous backdrops garbed as some sort of black metal priest, with an inverted cross attached to his microphone and most of the while brandishing a deteriorated human skull (a fake one, mind you), a noose, and a papal altar cloth. His tortured growls, chants, screams, and liturgies seemed to engage in some sort of dialogue with the symbolic head. The frenzied blast beats of drummer Hellhammer thundered through the room, however the enigmatic drummer was largely hidden behind layers of fog and the large backdrops on the stage.
Keep of Kalessin live at El Corazon
Singer Thebon of Keep of Kalessin
Accompanying Mayhem were fellow Norwegians Keep of Kalessin, an extreme metal band formed back in 1995. Taking their name from Ursula K. LeGuin’s Earthsea series, the group plays melodic and technical death metal with some harsh black metal influences. Less concerned with the corpse paint and pageantry of your typical black metal offering, KOK focuses their energy on absolutely frenetic drumming from left-handed powerhouse Vyl, and the raw buzzsaw guitar work of group founder Obsidian C, who has also toured with like-minded group Satyricon. The band sets itself apart with the diversity of their influences, which range from ripping thrash metal to orchestrated interludes and even acoustic flamenco guitar arrangements. They have received much acclaim in Norway and even performed during the opening program of a Norwegian Grammy awards ceremony. Their set was epic in style and length, and was certainly the most diverse of the evening.
Bassist Mortifer of Hate
Also on tour was blackened death metal group Hate from Warsaw, Poland, whose career spans back to their inception in 1992. While the group certainly did not lack anything in the posturing or hair twirling department, musically they were quite solid and provided a much needed warming up of the crowd. Corpse painted to the nines, one couldn’t help but marvel at the strange juxtaposition of designer jeans and inverted crosses, not to mention bassist Mortifer’s baggy black metal man dress. Fashion sensibilities aside, Hate was very entertaining to watch and they sounded great. Also part of the tour package was another blackened death metal group, Abigail Williams, who unfortunately had to endure a troubled set as their bass player was held at the Canadian border (an infamous tour- and dream-killing transit point). Donning their name from an infamous accuser during the Salem witch trials of 1692, the band plays very melodic and layered blackened metal. Despite the glaring and obvious lack of low-end, the group’s three-guitar assault was pleasing to the ear and entered into some very interesting and dark territory.