26th January 2023
Galatos, Auckland, New Zealand.
Review by Cameron Miller. Photography by Doug Peters.
Mayhem at Galatos last night was a helping of a lot of the best the extreme metal scene has to offer – and few isolated aftertastes of the worst.
It’s rare that you arrive at a metal show twenty minutes after doors open to find a queue stretching round the block – rarer still to find the queue is largely for the merch line. Mayhem are a name to do it though. Words like “legendary” and “infamous” applied to music are usually hyperbolic PR, but in the case of this band’s back story and legacy they can apply quite literally.
While the reason for the winding queue, then, was obvious, I also heard a few voices anxious to catch the opener Cryer. Having had a brief listen through their bandcamp before the show, it seemed at first an odd fit to me, much more ambient and slow than anything Mayhem have ever put out. I got the vibe as soon as they emerged for the first song though. The darkness was here all right. Not just because of their deathly stage aesthetic – pale face peering out from under jet black, bedraggled looking hair – but from the slowly building oppressive atmosphere, uncomfortably slow and off kilter guitar notes, and a genuinely haunting, mournful clean vocal. Still more of a Lingua Ignota type of beautiful darkness than Mayhem, but the black metal influence came even clearer the next song, with the familiar cold and scraping tremolo guitar, again stretched out to at atmospheric, almost ambient pace. Harsh vocals came into the mix here, with such heavy delay and loop effects that the screams didn’t pierce through the instrumental, but pulsed under it, sometimes barely audible but adding to the discomfort. Grim stuff, and I loved it, but maybe a little too meditative for a lot of the crowd who annoyed me by talking at full volume throughout the entire set. The applause was warm though, and the chatter didn’t seem to bother Cryer, whose sign off was brief and cheery in contrast to what preceded: “Thanks, have fun, bye!”
Fun would definitely follow. A very particular type of fun for a very particular set of music fans. The anticipation was thick waiting for Mayhem to take the stage, with some fans already cheering, making ruckus, and jostling about with the lights still full up. The hype exploded when our corpse painted hosts took the stage, first in applause, and then in a storm of colliding bodies up front when they kicked into Falsified and Hated (from latest full length Daemon). The next song To Daimonion reminded me how much punk influence runs through black metal, with its downright rollicking riff and barked cleanish vocal passages.
Resplendent frontman Atilla’s corpse paint didn’t last long in the furnace heat, his face dripping blood and ink as he waved a cross of bones. This last prop he briefly traded for a rope noose for the pummeling mid paced march of My Death, an early set highlight for me. The three part setlist was structured like a walk back through the band’s history – late material first, then a brief break to change into robes and re-apply corpse paint for a selection from the seminary De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas. This was signaled by a cool changing of the banners framing the stage, to reveal patchy black and white skulls. The crowd caught their breath and then went absolutely mental for the opening of Freezing Moon. That round of classics flew by, then as they had another brief break the banners were changed again to reveal the faces of ill fated members Dead and Euronymous. The band re-emerged having swapped robes for leather jackets, and closed with an absolutely frenetic set of Deathcrush era headbangers.
Mayhem don’t enjoy the status they do merely on the back of infamy and controversy, and anyone who doubts that has never seen them perform. This was my second time seeing their live show, and it’s simply among the best extreme metal has to offer. Relentless intensity and hostility that builds and builds until you surely think it can not get more punishing. You don’t get that sound just by being edgy; it’s built on incredible musicianship. Atilla moves between an array of vocal styles, from shrieks to rasps to gutturals to ominous clean monk like chanting. Drummer Hellhammer is inescapable, nuanced and groovy when it calls for it, and when he needs to assaulting us with a steady wall of blasts and kicks. Hellhammer is, unfortunately, also known for making violently and unapologetically homophobic statements. Which isn’t really relevant to his playing, but is definitely relevant to my feelings about praising him. I can separate art from artist enough to enjoy his show, but not enough to forget.
A glance at the pit may have looked like a group of people fully embracing the savagery in Mayhem’s music; I have bruises to attest to that idea. But then you saw how quickly those who fell were hauled to their feet (as is compulsory), and the joy in those launched up to crowdsurf, and the glee in Atilla’s face, grinning with mischief as he gestured and urged the crowd on. The pit knew who to take care of each other – sadly I can’t say the same for everyone at the gig, considering our esteemed Doug had to leave early due to being freaking BIT on the arm. I also saw at least one woman having to repeatedly avoid a man whose company she clearly did not want to keep.
Again, these things are not relevant to Mayhem’s performance. Mayhem were superb. But how we as the crowd, or the scene or the culture or whatever you want to call us, show up and treat one another affects the experience of the show. Not harassing women and fucking biting people should really be a low bar. I’m not calling for a cuddle puddle. Black metal is a genre designed to attract weirdos and outsiders. But like the musicians themselves, a group of “outsiders” will be a majority of vibrant, independently minded people with unique perspectives on the world…and a few who are just assholes hiding behind being an against the grain rebel. I’d prefer to go to shows only with the first group.
Were you there at Galatos to witness Black Metal royalty in action? Or have you seen Mayhem perform live somewhere else before? Tell us about it in the comments below!
Note: Ambient Light was provided passes to review and photograph this concert. As always, this has not influenced the review in any way and the opinions expressed are those of Ambient Light’s only. This post contains an affiliate link. If you purchase a product using an affiliate link, Ambient Light will automatically receive a small commission at no cost to you.
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