Today August 10, 2016 marks 23 years since the death of Øystein Aarseth better known to black metal fans worldwide as Euronymous. Øystein was murdered outside his apartment in the early hours of the morning by Varg Vikernes who until not long before his death was a friend.
Euronymous is the founder of quintessential black metal band Mayhem and the godfather of the entire Norwegian Black Metal scene which sprang up in the early 1990s. Mayhem was initially formed in 1984 with bassist Necrobutcher (Jorn Stubberud), and they recorded some demos the following year. Euronymous is credited with creating what we now know as black metal style guitar. Think buzzing distortion played at tremendously fast speeds with constant tremolo style picking. The band released their debut EP Deathcrush in 1987.
The following year two new members joined Mayhem. Dead (Per Ohlin) on vocals and Hellhammer (Jan Axel Blomberg) on drums. These two additions now completed the “classic” Mayhem lineup. The quartet played several shows in 1990 including a show in Leipzig, Germany which was released as a live album in 1993. This classic lineup however was short lived as Dead committed suicide in April of 1991.
The band all lived together in a house in the woods outside Oslo, Norway. Euronymous came home one day to find Dead had shot himself. Instead of immediately informing the police, Euronymous decided to run to the nearest store, buy a disposable camera, and take pictures of Dead’s body. Euronymous called Necrobutcher to tell him the news about Dead. Euronymous said, “Dead has done something really cool! He killed himself”. Necrobutcher was disgusted with Euronymous regarding this statement and the photographs which he took and had developed. This resulted in Necrobutcher’s departure from Mayhem.
The death of Dead caused a shift in Euronymous in which he wanted black metal to be pure evil as if the term and already dark lyrics didn’t make them evil enough. Euronymous was a self proclaimed Satanist and stated, “I believe in a horned devil, a personified Satan. In my opinion all the other forms of Satanism are bullsh*t… Satanism comes from religious Christianity, and there it shall stay. I’m a religious person and I will fight those who misuse His name. People are not supposed to believe in themselves and be individualists. They are supposed to obey, to be the slaves of religion. We praise the evil and we believe blindly in a godly creature just like a Christian.”
Euronymous opened a record store in Oslo in 1991 which he named Helvete (Norwegian for hell). This record shop became a sort of clubhouse for the emerging black metal musicians of Norway. Many bands from the black metal scene can be seen in photographs taken in the record store including Burzum, Emperor, Thorns, Darkthrone, and Immortal. It was the influence of Euronymous that caused several of these bands to switch from playing death metal style music to playing black metal. Without the founding of the Helvete record store there might not be a black metal scene as we know it today. The young men who hung out at Helvete came to be known as the Black Circle.
Burzum member Varg Vikernes lived with Euronymous for a time at the Helvete shop. Varg and Euronymous had a bit of a rivalry going on as to who could be more evil. The rivalry started a string of church burnings throughout Norway. Euronymous is quoted as saying this in regards to the church burnings, “They [Christians] must feel that there is a dark, evil power present that they have to fight, which…will make them more extreme. We also believe that when a church burns it’s not only Christians who suffer, but people in general. Imagine a beautiful old stave church…what happens when it burns? The Christians feel despair, God’s house is destroyed and ordinary people will suffer from grief because something beautiful was destroyed. So you end up spreading grief and despair, which is a good thing”
The evil rivalry between Varg Vikernes and Euronymous came to a peak in 1993. Euronymous had started a record label called Deathlike Silence Productions and released the Burzum (Varg’s band) albums on his label. Varg Vikernes claims Euronymous owed him a lot of royalties for Burzum record sales and arrived at Euronymous’ apartment around 4:00 AM to confront Euronymous about the money. This confrontation resulted in Varg stabbing Euronymous repeatedly, killing him. Varg was sentenced to 21 years in prison for the murder which is the maximum sentence in Norway. He received early release in 2009.
Prior to Euronymous’ murder Mayhem had not yet released a full length album. Everything was put on hold for a few years after the death of Dead and departure of Necrobutcher leaving just Euronymous and Hellhammer left in the band. The band eventually recruited Hungarian vocalist Attila Csihar and Varg Vikernes to play bass in the band. The band’s first full length album De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas was recorded in 1993, but was not released until the following year due to the death of Euronymous. The album stands as one of the most influential black metal albums of all time and a standing testament to Euronymous’ guitar playing. The majority of the songs on the album were written between 1988 and 1991 with Dead being the original lyricist. Euronymous’ guitar craftsmanship earned him the number 51 spot in Guitar World Magazine’s list of the Top 100 Heavy Metal Guitarists.
If you are interested in finding out more about Euronymous and black metal check out the book Lords of Chaos. If you need an introduction to black metal musically be sure to give De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas a listen. These are the songs that influenced an entire sub genre of music. Black Metal as we know it today is the baby of Øystein “Euronymous” Aarseth.
While I cannot condone nor support his Satanic views or the burning of churches he remains an important part of the history of heavy metal. Black metal to me is a great style of music. Extreme metal at its finest. I would imagine the pace of this music is close to breaking the speed of sound at times. If you’ve seen pictures of scary looking bands all dressed in black with faces painted white often times holding an inverted cross you have Euronymous to thank for this. If you can get past the evil and Satanic imagery of black metal to enjoy something different then go for it. The only wish of black metal fans is that the classic Mayhem lineup featuring Dead, Necrobutcher, Hellhammer, and musical innovator Euronymous could have provided us with more music.
Enjoy this recording of one of Mayhem’s most popular songs, “Freezing Moon” with Dead on vocals and of course Euronymous on guitar.
—- Isaac Sauers
Please note: Metal Mofos does not claim ownership of photos or songs used in this article