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Sunday, November 08, 2009

DVD Review: Mayhem - Pure Fucking Mayhem

Mayhem - Pure Fucking Mayhem
2009 Index Verlag
Ray Van Horn, Jr.



Black metal is the most dangerous form of music expression there is for a reason; its self-empowering principles can only be handled by the maturest of mortals lest they fall into a life of hedonistic sociopathy. Not every black metal performer is to be stereotyped as a church burner, albeit the genre's tainted legacy stems from the Scandinavian underground war against Christianity which has seen many houses of God burned to their foundations--most infamously in Norway.

One can pinpoint much of black metal's tortured enigma to Varg Vikernes, aka Count Grishnackh, the creator of Burzum who most genre fans hail for his creative contributions written in prison. Ask many insiders, Burzum (along with Emperor, Hellhammer, Bathory and of course, Mayhem) albums have set the course for nearly all who've followed black metal's bleak, distortion-scratched path since. Vikernes (ironically born with the first name Christian) has been implicated in many church burnings, which he did nothing to absolve himelf with his ballsy cover on Burzum's 1993 EP Aske.

As most people following this controversial genre know, Vikernes' biggest day of infamy stretches to his time spent with the already-tortured black metal pioneers, Mayhem. Metal historians are well familiar with the day Vikernes turned on his one-time Mayhem bandmate Euronymous and took him out of this life. Considering Euronymous was notorious himself for issuing death threats to past Mayhem associates, it's downright cryptic he would meet his own end in gory fashion.

This dramatic bloodshed would be enough to derail any band, yet alone Mayhem. Perhaps the vision of stark grandeur was bigger than the principals of Mayhem themselves as they have continued on to this day under the most dire of circumstances. Their alarming story is herewith outlined for the first time in intricate detail by Swedish filmmaker Stefan Rydehed in his morbid documentary Pure Fucking Mayhem.

Prior to the Vikernes-Euronymous clash, Mayhem was most infamously known as being the darkest band in the metal universe, so much one of its earlier members used it as a safe haven for his suicidal tendencies. Pelle Ohlin, best known to the genre as "Dead," set bars for the genre's undead facade with his hoary ghoul paint and stench-crusted clothes which were given authenticity by his sleeping outside in the dirt, much less in direct proximity to dead animals. If anyone truly wanted to die with an exclamation point, it was Dead; consult Dead's parting words in his suicide note: "Excuse all the blood..."

Pure Fucking Mayhem recounts the days of Mayhem's charred career featuring interview spots with Necro Butcher (Jorn Stubberud), Atill Csihar and original drummer Kjetil Manheim. Though the narration sequences are bare bones (though appreciatively spoken in English), Pure Fucking Mayhem deeply draws the view in--assuming he or she has the wherewithal to learn this band's sanguinary history.

Featuring lost still photos of the group along with tenebrous live footage (really only serving best from audile standpoint), Pure Fucking Mayhem is a dark excursion into a hellish odyssey not even the most skilled horror fiction craftsman could write. Tracing the group's steps with a heavy focus on Mayhem's early days from 1984 beginning with their demo Pure Fucking Armageddon through the recording of their '87 debut Deathcrush, Pure Fucking Mayhem is blunt and sometimes brief with its historical facts. It would seem vulgar and perhaps geeky for the narrator to do more than simply present said actualities and let the testimonials handle the dirty work, which is the documentary's biggest strength.

Necro Butcher fields a lot of the on-camera stories about his band and at times he seems deadened to his task, while other times just a hint of emotion leaks through. Manheim is probably the voice of reason on Pure Fucking Mayhem. It's not like Manheim has distanced himself entirely from the legacy of Mayhem, but he certainly appears to be moved on from the entire bit. Save for a moment where he refers to Burzum as "shite," the clean-cut Manheim is mainly here to add quite a bit of color commentary as the band's drummer from '84 to '88.

The harsh ugliness of Dead's existence (though he doubtful saw his own life as an "existence") is painted through Manheim and Necro Butcher's memories. The man only truly known by himself is portrayed as a funeral-obsessed outcast whose stage persona was matched in full by his real life. Dead is a disconnected young man who auditioned for Mayhem by sending his note of intention with a dead bird. He was known to bag dead animals and inhale their putrid remains prior to Mayhem gigs just to get into the proper mindframe. The blood he carved out of himself onstage was real, not show, and Dead's final act of contrivance was his only satiation. Those who know Mayhem's haunted tale know Dead slit his own throat and walked around his apartment with the spurting gash before blowing his head off with a shotgun.

As if this wasn't horrific enough, Mayhem's rogue guitarist/vocalist Euronymous--whom the documentary reveals actually had no real bond or friendship with Dead--snapped off pictures of Dead's corpse. A stomach-churning photo of Pelle Ohlin's sprawled remains including his emitted brains tastelessly found its way upon a Mayhem bootleg, Dawn of the Black Hearts, which is flashed briefly in this documentary, so hold onto your cookies.

Pure Fucking Mayhem dedicates a fair chunk of its 90-minute running time to the atrocities committed within the band as well its residual effects. Necro Butcher relays his repulsion by Euronymous' sick acts following the suicide of Dead, while he expresses forgiveness of Vikernes for his murder of Euronymous. Consider the fact Necro Butcher did leave Mayhem momentarily to cope with the loss of Dead, and you still have to wonder how he maintains his will.

The remainder of the documentary traces Mayhem's unfathomable continuance with Hellhammer on drums and a flotilla of guitarists and vocalists the band's devout can recite on command: names such as Occultus, Blackthorn, Nordgaren, Maniac and Blasphemer. Although Vikernes only played bass in Mayhem for a year, his crime leaves a taint which sticks with the viewer during the remainder of Pure Fucking Mayhem.

As Necro Butcher, Attila and Hellhammer currently continue on with Mayhem featuring a pair of supplemental guitarists, Morfeus and Simaeth, one has to wonder what kind of mental fortitude does it take to carry on beyond such a bloody internal combustion. The wear of these tragic events are evident in the rolls beneath Necro Butcher's eyes, particularly when he mentions the loss of past comrades and friends despite their mental inhibitions.

Pure Fucking Mayhem is a triple-dog-dare-you-to-watch story with minimalist production. Fitting in a way this documentary isn't very glossy; it's practically as dirty and downtrodden as Mayhem themselves. If Mayhem's story had been put in the hands of expert filmmakers, more than likely it wouldn't deliver the same brutal impact it's designed to do. Like black metal itself, Mayhem's dastardly in-house events are meant to remain underground. Even Manheim expresses in Pure Fucking Mayhem he wasn't thrilled so much the band grew a worldwide audience. Many black metal artists remain private despite putting their dark art on public display; perhaps Mayhem's story is a warning in this context.

One of the cool bonus features to this package is the inclusion of a bonus CD of classic black metal songs reimagined as piano fugue nocturnes which appear in the documentary such as "Eternal Life," "Obsessed" and "Anno Dracul." Sumptuously warped and they somehow remove part of the pallor of this story...only a part, mind you...

Rating: ***1/2

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Thanks for the review. I'll have to try and find a copy with the English narration as the one I was sent is all in Norwegian, of which I speak not one word.
"Dead" is one of the saddest people I have ever heard of. Probably the most truthful description I have heard regarding him is "a nice guy with a lot of personal and mental problems," which I think sums up the person and not just the stage image.

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