A Touch of Mayhem at the Wiltern: Norwegian black metal pioneers Mayhem found themselves back in the spotlight in 2018 thanks to the Lords of Chaos movie, which highlighted the actual fucking mayhem that surrounded this band. Suicide, murder and multiple church burnings made headlines, and the music was effectively pushed back. There are thousands of music fans out there who know who Mayhem are, but have no idea what they sound like.
Black metal, at its best, is terrifying. It’s usually a little more nuanced than death metal, with the vocals alternating between death-gutteral and hair-raising screeches. It can be orchestral and operatic, which can be incredibly effective in a film score-sort of way. Mayhem’s early work, notably the De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas and Grand Declaration of War albums, are seminal. If you’re interested in digging deeper, the back catalogs of fellow Norwegians Dimmu Borgir and Emperor are worth digging into.
Don’t bother with Burzum though; that band’s Varg Vikernes is a nazi, and it was he who stabbed Mayhem guitarist Euronymous to death. So yeah, loads of chaos surrounding these fellas, hence the movie’s title. So how do they come across in 2022?
Honestly, this performance at the Wiltern was “fine.” The band played every song very well, the crowd was up for it, the sound in the venue was great . It was fine. But fuck, we just wanted more. Mayhem are still a great band, and nobody wants anybody to be killed again, but Mayhem don’t even really sound scary anymore.
The current version of the band sees vocalist Attila Csihar and guitarists Teloch and Ghul alongside longtime members Necrobutcher and Hellhammer (Csihar was in the band 1992-92, and then rejoined in 2004). All five members have been together as Mayhem for a decade now, and it shows. They put in a flawless performance as they open with “Falsified and Hated” from 2019’s Daemon album then go straight into “To Daimonion” from Grand Declaration of War.
The set is split into three acts, and the second opens with “Freezing Moon” from the debut album, which sees the crowd’s energy dial up a bit. That’s only amped when it becomes clear that all of Act II is pulled from the debut, with “Pagan Fears” sounding particularly gnarly.
It’s a solid setlist, played by solid musicians. And shit, they’re all in their fifties now. They’re not the rebellious kids that we saw dramatized in the film anymore. But there were just a few too many times when it felt like they were going though the motions, and that’s just a little bit disappointing. For much of the set, the band were dressed like satanic monks, but we needed demons.
Earlier in the night, we did get plenty of energy from Cleveland band Midnight — we knew nothing about them beforehand but they were super-impressive and we’ll be exploring that group further.
A Touch of Mayhem at the Wiltern