Released: 2018, Estatic Peace Library
Rating: 4.5 / 5.0
As a Metal fan living in Western Canada, in the early 90’s, the Scandinavian Black Metal scene seemed so dark and mysterious and well frankly dangerous. I think many people who were not a part of that very small scene might have felt the same way because of the extraordinary amount of material (books and film) that is being produced about it. It is almost like an insatiable demand with several new books and movies appearing every year. I suppose by writing this review I am contributing to the phenomena.
Mayhem is arguably one of the most, if not the most, polarizing and iconic bands of that whole scene and era. Here we are almost 35 years after the fact and the story of Mayhem has been published. Jorn ‘Necrobutcher’ Stubberrud in conjunction with the Estatic Peace Library has published a photo-history of his band Mayhem. THE DEATH ARCHIVES 1984-1994 is a visually gorgeous volume. The 250 + page hardbound book is beautiful to look at and hold.
This visual history comes directly from his well-preserved archives, meticulously reconstructed and laid-out and designed with loving care. Each section is accompanied by some commentary surrounding the circumstances of each batch of photos. What struck me is how hard the band worked with little to no money and the innovative things they did to try to move forward. Some of the photos have been seen before of course but most or them have not, at least to my eyes. There are hundreds of photos, a roughly even split between back and white and colour. There are some great shots of Mayhem hanging out with Kreator in Essen in the early 80’s and many other cool surprises. We get to read some stories behind legendary albums like ‘De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas’, or the painfully difficult tour that resulted in ‘Live In Leipzig’ or the creation of the cover art for ‘Deathcrush’. All of them are fascinating stories and intimate glimpses into the life of the band. This is an incredible treasure trove for the truest fan and merely curious.
Tying this whole review back to my first point in my opening paragraph, About Black Metal being mysterious) I’m delighted to have this book, as a historical document, an archive piece but it certainly shines a light under the rock. It is like a Hollywood celebrity who is so sick of getting hounded by paparazzi and tabloids printing lies that he (or she) opens the gates to their mansion and let’s everyone in to look around as much as they want. All of a sudden the mystery, the allure is gone and the truth is exposed. A rare photo of that celebrity bedroom, for example, which one could command $10,000 for some tabloid magazine is now worthless because everyone has seen it; it is not a satanic sex-orgy dungeon… it is just another a messy bedroom with dirty socks on the floor. The value of that photo is now gone, it is simple economics, supply and demand…high supply and low demand equals less value. Maybe Necrobutcher is having the last laugh at us, he did say after all in his introduction, “They’ve (journalists) have fucked up or not given a shit about the details of the story again and again in books, newspapers, magazines, and documentaries. So this time I get to do it right.” (p.5) Maybe this will help set the story straight, but I doubt it because sensationalism always sells.
Do I, as an adult, intellectually recognize that Mayhem were probably just young kids, ripping around, getting drunk, playing with guns and knives and bashing out crude, primal Metal (like so many others in that era) even before I read this book? Of course! Now, we have photographic evidence! But that does make it any less interesting. Not at all, any Black Metal fan should have this in their library.
I’m very glad I own THE DEATH ARCHIVES but I think the ‘experience’ of growing up listening to Mayhem and my own vivid imagination of what these people were like and what they were doing will remain, largely intact. This book just enhances my perceptions rather than tarnish them. Fantasy after all can be more comfortable than reality.