INTERVIEW WITH ATTILA CSIHAR OF MAYHEM AND TORMENTOR
Interview and pics by Arto Lehtinen
Attila Csihar is known for the works especially with Mayhem, but his voice has become one of the most recognizable in other projects and bands such as Void ov Voices, SunnO))), Tormentor, and a lot more. Tormentor has returned onstage after a 30-year-hiatus and Mayhem released the highly praised DAEMON album. Therefore it was about time to sit down and talk to Attila Csihar about the new Mayhem album and the resurrection of Tormentor.
BEING IN DIFFERENT BANDS
When I went thru some of my old pictures of Mayhem and found pictures from 2007, I found somewhere you had the Santa Claus clothes on!
That was a different tour. That was the ORDO AD CHAO tour. My idea was beside other ideas to do these different characters. It was kind of like the chaotic part, kind of unpredictable even for me sometimes. I think that was a great show actually. A lot of pyros and also we found somebody’s coffin, I think in Tampere.
Yes, you rose from that coffin.
I had the coffin. I rose from the coffin. Yes, Satan Claus.
You have played here in Finland with Mayhem, SunnO ))) and Tormentor. Is there any show that has stuck on your mind?
I think I will say It was the first time with SunnO))). It was like the first tour. I remember even playing on this island on the way. The small island and there was a venue and then we played in Tampere and here, but I don’t know which venue. I don’t remember. It’s like 2014 or ’15 maybe. I think that was the first. Then I have been here many times. It’s been always a great experience actually. For Mayhem they always say it’s one of the best crowds in Finland. It’s always been really good, supportive and open-minded in everybody of the band. That’s really good. Also with SunnO))) it has been sort of like this type of music and it’s great.
You played with Sunn O))) and Void ov Voices at Roadburn Festival 2011 and that was really special one.
I think it was when I made this soundtrack or something for a movie. It wasn’t a main stage. I don’t know which one.
It was a small stage.
A small stage, yes. I really enjoy doing these different things. Of course Mayhem is my main priority, but somehow I have also grown up to like mainly metal, but I listen so much to that stuff too. I was always interested in any form of music, which was dealing with this darkness, the dark aspect of nature, human, whatever. Put in that way. I listen to much experimental music of the ’80s, like Current 93, Diamanda Galás, Coil and this type of stuff. In the early ’80s when we were doing Tormentor – because Tormentor was in the peripheral – we only had bad reviews, the metal scene didn’t like this very extreme metallic in the beginning. We had an opposition. Even Bathory had 2 of 7 in the German Metal Hammer, about the RETURN album. I remember I was like “wow”. Therefore different people came to our shows and I really enjoyed to meet people from this dark scene or punk, hardcore or whatever industry. That’s how I got into this music and I grew up on that also electronic industry. I like Skinny Puppy, Front Line Assembly and stuff like that.
Pigface and G.G.F.H.
Yes, G.G.F.H. I Liked Bloodthirst. Back then they were like around then – I don’t know. It’s like for me, also even I was listening. Everything was interesting like Psychobilly like Meteors. They were like pretty hardcore and pretty dealing with evil but in a different way. The stuff like that. I am not sure anything else. I have liked, not just metal, but different bands. I’m just feeling more imbalance and comfortable to have this other type of music, more experimental or like my solo stuff that’s ambient, like experimental music.
Plasma Pool was electronic. We released Plasma Pool on an Italian label at that time. That was one of those things. I want to re-release now actually. I want to put them out, because it’s comfortable with the other way to somebody. Some kids ask for autographs and asking about that band. I know it’s a big part of my life and some people like it. I think we’re very ahead of time with that stuff or like the early ’90s, there was no computer and stuff. It was a different style to play like Electronic music.
When I discovered Nine Inch Nails for the first time in the late ’80s, early ’90s, it was completely different and hit the big time.
Then everything was like strange. How can you do that? It’s like weird instruments. I loved it f.ex Skinny Puppy. When you sing in this fucked up way, that’s so cool, because before I even didn’t think about it. Actually I think Celtic Frost and Bathory too brought me into experimental music. Celtic Frost had this “Danse Macabre” song, which was like this kind of experimental thing back then. We had these horror films which I loved as a kid. Also the Bathory albums started with these long intros of course. That was also very inspiring.
When getting onstage with Mayhem you have different costume there. You have a hood over your face in SunnO ))). Do you have your different ego and your personality in those bands – Is it like Dr. Hyde and Mr Jykel when you have a different costume and mask?
Probably, but it’s the same person that comes in different forms. It’s not like that many different. I am the artistic myself, which is mostly I am just trying to switch off my ego, or just going to the deeper state of mind I guess. I love it. I love to perform and I feel like channelling sometimes, but also creating stuff. It’s great. I even don’t have a stage name. I’m just Attila now. My stage name was Mayhem in Tormentor, before I heard about Mayhem.
DAEMON- THE NEW MAYHEM ALBUM
As for the DAEMON album. When you were touring for the DE MYSTERIIS album, it kind of reconnected you as a team and a band and that’s how you started working, putting ideas together for the DAEMON album. I’m right?
More or less, yeah. It was not planned like that. When we started to play DE MYSTERIIS, suddenly everybody all-around was interested. We were like okay, let’s play. It was quite a long tour. Actually I think it was a bit too much.
I saw you two times on that tour.
Yes, yes. For sure it had an effect on us, so it kind of put ourselves together. It has kind of brought us back at least a little bit or just gave a direction. For us MYSTERIIS is something even for us, that’s where we just play now the first time ever like a full album. We also think it’s like very special and we never had even right play, and not even to reproduce it or anything. It should be like a statement, its unity and stuff. Somehow it still affected us and we had this idea when we had this meeting. As I had seen it or we were just talking, “Why don’t we just do something else?” Go back in the MYSTERIIS era when everybody was more in louder music. It was a bit more accessible or I wouldn’t say simplified, but less obstruct maybe. “Let’s do something else and feel that vibe since the MYSTERIIS”, I guess that inspired us in this way. I think so. Musically I think the structure of the song. Maybe it has the atmosphere a little bit.
It got the same kind of feeling and atmosphere as the MYSTERIIS album. But ESOTERIC was a very complex album.
No, that album was very different. It was a totally different thing. That’s really cold and inhuman stuff like that. This is different.
You recorded the album in separate studios. You did at Necromorbus in Sweden and other guys were processing in Norway. As far as I know, you also recorded in Holland?
Yeah, that’s right.
Did you want to have a peaceful moment, when you were doing your vocals on your own without the disturbance by other people and wanted to focus on when you were working separately
Every time it’s a bit different process and I don’t mind that. I always like to do differently. I think it’s always going to learn from different experiences. This time it was different. You were right. We recorded at the Morbus studios, but today it’s been different. We’ve been together for months and months on these tours. We don’t have to be there always together, plus today’s technology is like we can send the files back and forth. We were just thinking, “What’s the most effective way to do it?” Actually the guys were there while the drums were recorded, everybody. I wasn’t there because I was busy with something, plus it was not necessary for me. It’s not that big space. They had to fix, nail down bass guitars with the drums. Then everybody recorded or fixed the guitars at home. I think it’s how I understood. I was very alone in that first time ever. I always had someone with me in the studio, but now I was alone with the producer of course.
Was it a strange feeling?
That was interesting actually.
Yeah, actually I liked. I always had this philosophy. It’s always good to have the composer in the studio, to discuss with him his vision and how to correspond. This time it was like with the other like come out of that thing. The last album ESOTERIC, we recorded with Mollarn, before I was with Rune, the other studio. The ORDO album – I was just with Tore – the producer – it was good, because actually he mixed our whole last, this MYSTERIIS tour that he mixed. He knew my voice, my capacity. He mixed my voice many times, so that happened. He inspired like many things for me. It was good work with him, – very intense and very good. It still took like a week. I only recorded some things and like 10, 12 hours sessions per day. He inspired me a lot to try these different things – whatever comes and feels. In that sense it was good, but it was good to be alone too. I was just doing whatever I wanted of course. No limits in a way. For this other record, those were my vision to have a little bit more voices and a little bit different from the last records. Also like the demon speaks in tongues. It’s like sometimes talking in your head, sometimes out. The demon is a channel, a connection, like in ancient Greek. I mean Daemon means that.
What does Daemon mean actually? Where did you get that title for the album?
It came to the point when we came to this point to do old school. For me it also meant that everybody should be involved like back in the days. When talking about the studio and the MYSTERIIS album, everybody was in the studio when I was singing. All the members and everybody was somehow more involved. Today it’s like people can record at home, you have a demo and you rehearse a bit. You’re not so much part of it or could be like that. On the last record for instance it was more like Mollarn and myself and other others of course were part of it, but like a kind of like just did their stuff. I was tired of it and I was thinking also you look back, the Mayhem records. All the records are like this after the MYSTERIIS. It’s only one composer and one vocalist and they make the thing and the others just come around that. Now I wanted to do different, to get everybody involved. I think maybe that makes this album special I think and Daemon was the common thing for that I think. It’s the demon of course and it means like the dark aspect of human nature or whatever. We could call it anything. For me it’s just like the negative energy and intelligent energy, but also…
The other side of the human mind.
The outside of the human mind and also it could be outside of nature itself. That’s common and of course it’s a basic thing of every Mayhem. It was like a common word or we just named it like that. The use of the word for that. Also Daemon means in ancient Greek like with an E, the bridge or channel or communication between this world and the other world. It has a negative use of the album.
When you were writing the lyrics what kind of things did you write about? Were you going deeper and deeper in the human darker side of things on this album? The previous album had more about mind-controlling.
No. This album we wanted to do something else. We didn’t want to do like another concept record – Other concept album like before. Those ones were more composed and relief, kind of fine-tune, especially ORDO, but also ESOTERIC. Now I’ve come to the point that how to get everybody more in the world that we share time. I also ask the people; “You’re welcome to send me ideas, lyrics, titles.” When people wrote songs, they even sent me some ideas, eventually after or whatever. This way I wanted to have this. Actually I used all these lyrics we had. I wrote maybe two songs, two lyrics full, but also those were a little bit on the original idea. People sent me texts and then I was just shaping them, putting them together, adding stuff. Taking off or whatever that is needed, arrange it and present it. Which I actually enjoy. I do many. I just realized I have so many songs to sing. It’s like been made by Dead or Maniac or stuff. It kind of feeds to the Mayhem feeling to get other people’s lyrics. I thought it’s going to get me out of this box a bit, plus it could involve everybody. That was the whole point.
Do you have to be in a certain mood when you’re dealing with the Mayhem lyrics or doing something else like the Tormentor stuff? Do you have a mindset in a different way?
Yeah, yeah. We can do it any time of course with this kind of inspiration. I make notes and stuff like that and also at home. I have my home studio. There is a computer and a microphone and the software, but actually my room is isolated. A living room, I designed a little for that. Normally I just do them or also trying out at home, or we come together and work on stuff, so many ways to write lyrics. You can write them ahead, but also sometimes just ideas that’s very healthy. Also sometimes I’ve just seen something on a song, which comes naturally and then I put lyrics on that kind of structure or ideas. Some of the times I’m just researching a lot. Sometimes making lyrics and some other times I just go on with what comes straight in the moment and just don’t think about it too much. Many ways.
Do you feel that you’re getting selective when getting older?
Maybe, yeah. I don’t know. We’re getting older. It’s amazing that we’re still doing this. It’s really cool.
You used to be on the Season of Mist for a long time since Mayhem returned. Now you’re on Century Media. What was the reason that you switched the label? Did your contract expire with Season of Mist?
Personally I don’t think it’s in the name of the band. We never had a problem with Season of Mist. It’s obviously of course there are some agreement bumps, but nothing like any issue. Always been satisfied. I know Michael. He is cool. I’d call him almost like a friend. It’s been great that you could call him if there was anything. Now it’s been so many years with Mayhem too. We all want to just try something else I guess. Also we have a new management now, with Tore who’s leading the management. He suggested it. We were like that maybe that could make a bit stronger for us in Germany and stuff. I think after all it’s a good idea. It was a bit strange. I don’t know to whom to call to talk to the label or anyone really, probably I could, but it was not necessary. With Season of Mist it was like I talked to Michael many times on the phone, the boss. I knew if I wanted something – If I had something like a question I could just straight call him. I prefer independent labels. We’ll see how it goes. I have nothing against to say. I have something wrong so far with Century Media. We’re just at the beginning, the album just came out. It seems okay.
NEW TORMENTOR STUFF BEING WORKED ON
I talked to you guys of Tormentor at the Netherland Deathfest. I asked, “You were supposed to do seven shows and then it was supposed to be over.” They replied, “Let’s be honest with you. We’re getting 50. If we’re waiting another 10 years, we’re 60. There will be no way to do anymore.” Is that the reason that the guys wanted to get the old band onstage?
It’s been like so many years. That’s my first band. We started on ’89, ’90. More like ’90, ’91 there. A long fucking time ago. For instance, with the player, he was totally out of the scene after a few years. We just got a family and whatever jobs. The others went abroad like Joey – the drummer. Has a big tattoo shop in Hamburg. He was an aristocrat. He’s very nice. If you want a good Tormentor tattoo, go there.
Someone lives in Sweden.
Tamás is in Sweden now. He moved there too. He used to play with Nifelheim a bit. The guitar player. It was so unsure after 30 years and it’s been in the air. We’ve talked about it time to time like maybe 10 years ago. The time somehow, it didn’t feel right. It’s been also busy days like I’m saying they were all around the place. We skipped it and the guitarist was also not too much into it. Then when it came to the 30 years anniversary of ANNO DOMINI. Plus I had a little bit of a year off from Mayhem that was long touring. We’re more like in this writing process, so we got more freedom to book shows. The most amazing thing was we had a rehearsal. It was okay, kind of promising, a few songs. Then in a couple of months later like Atilla, you know, it was like fucking nailed it down. I was like, “Wow, cool.” he practised back himself and everybody else too. Everybody took it seriously this time. Then I was like, okay. We didn’t want to do too many shows, because it was not sure how it was going to go. We booked seven shows to start it and see what’s going to happen, but the first one was the most important in Budapest, and that was super great and successful. Then everybody became like… Of course then we played in Finland at Steelfest, which was our first abroad show. That was super great. It’s a milestone and then everybody just got into it. The guys were like, “Yeah, we want to play.” Of course not we can’t do tours. We can’t do long tours. It’s not our plan to come back like a professional band like that. It seems some people really like to see, especially these days like bands from the ’80s. It’s not so many left with the original line up and we’re the original line up and it’s fucking crazy for that. There is no other people. When we travel, it’s like time travel. It is the same type of tone, conversation and stuff we had like 30 years ago. Same jokes and problems. It’s fucking crazy. It’s awesome actually, very funny.
The guys told me, when I asked, “Have you done some new songs? – Maybe, maybe”. Well are you working on new songs for Tormentor?
Yeah maybe. I think I should talk to Atti about it. He had some ideas. It’s such an old band. I think we should try for ourselves a couple of songs to make and see if we like it. We don’t want to sign any record, the label or anything. We’ll see. Why not? Maybe.
The RECIPE 777 album came out in 2000. It was quite different than what we expected…
Yeah, because the other guys were kind of out.
Except for the drummer.
Except for the drummer. That time I made this mistake that I had an offer from Avantgarde, because they saw us with Mayhem. They just gave us an offer, so I had this offer, this contract. “You can do an album”. I came home and it was in ’98 and talked to the guys, and nobody knew the drummer was super into it. We did together, but then we were like, “Don’t try to copy.” The idea was back then also make it as bizarre and strange and crazy as possible. Now we had to find new members and we wanted to just not trying to imitate that, but do something else in the same way. I think it’s a cool record. We had these other guys, great guitar players too. These blues guitar player Zoldun. We just thought okay. It shows how avantgard-ish we are. I think it’s cool because back then everybody was very sceptic, nobody really dug it. Then I only recorded black and roll. Then later these people came and everybody slowed down and there was many of these groove records and stuff. I think it’s very artistic. I like that. There is a lot with different, it’s also dark actually.
When I did the tape trading the early ’90s late ’80s. I used to follow underground magazines. The Mayhem guys was doing a really good promotion for Tormentor as they always mentioned bands Master’s Hammer, Imperator and Tormentor in every interview. That’s where I became familiar with those bands and because I traded tapes a lot. I got these bands from Western Europe and the States, but…
But East Europe was difficult.
Someone had the ANNO DOMINI tape, then I managed to get it. The era was completely different.
Yeah, yeah. It was very different. Only these fanzines exist and only this tape trading. We couldn’t release anything. It was impossible to get a record deal almost. There was like very out of the picture that in the beginning at least. Everybody just recorded tapes, we had some small studio. We did that too. The first demo, “Seventh Day of Doom” was recorded in one night in this four-track homemade studio actually. It was a homemade deal and a homemade set. There was a four-track record and that’s how we did it in one night. ANNO DOMINI was different in that we had an offer from a State company. That was actually a pretty okay studio and that was insane. The vinyl couldn’t be released because of the old system and it was like fuck up. That’s why we only had a tape. We started to copy the tape to the fans eventually. We could see that it was not going to happen, like ’89, one night. There was a problem with it. That’s why the tapes got of course famous.
It was circling around in the underground.
This is how I got in touch with Mayhem because they had Tormentor. I think it was one of the final things of that.
PASSION FOR METAL
Before concluding the interview, name five essential metal albums that made a huge impact on your music taste.
Of course the first one was maybe HIGHWAY TO HELL Hell from AC/DC, when I heard when it came out. It’s pretty a long time, ’78. That was when I hooked up on the music for more heavy… At the time it actually sounded much more heavy than today and still today it’s cool. That was somehow my interest and then of course I would say SCREAMING FOR VENGEANCE or DEFENDERS OF THE FAITH from Judas Priest was really cool. Also I was touching a bit like punk, CITY BABY ATTACKED BY RATS by GBH, and also PLASTIC SURGERY DISASTERS BY Dead Kennedys When these albums came out. Discharge, HEAR NOTHING, but it was a little bit later. Then of course Bathory is a big deal. Also this UNDER THE SIGN OF THE BLACK MARK probably is the most influenced metal album for me, could be. That means that I remember when I got it. When it came out it was like buying, not leaking.
At that time the whole speed/thrash metal kind of exploded – You had to get everything that you managed.
For us in Hungary, everything was really expensive. These albums were smuggled in, even more expensive. For us like buy less than vinyl. It would be around 20 boxes of cigarettes, Marlboro. Marlboro was also an expensive cigarette. It was 30 Forints and it was 580, best-printed vinyl like Bathory. I think Bathory was more, because it was like six something. I was going crazy. The one was 700. It was a big deal to buy vinyl. We had the Yugoslavian once they were like 320. They were a little cheaper. I had a few vinyl’s which were really I wanted to get. Some Hungarian prints and shit, but this underground western prints were super expensive. Luckily some shops were renting out. Which today we would say that’s not a very nice thing, but for us it was a life saver. MP3 today it’s much better. Now it’s much better. Back then it was cool, someone could say “You can take this. It was not original, it was already open. You can take the vinyl, tomorrow bring back. It’s only 100, so we gave back”. You had to place only three box of cigarettes. About albums – Slayer was a big deal for me, especially later it hit me back again in the early ’90s. It was fucking cool, because every other band faded out. Bathory went to this Viking stuff. That was okay, but the other bands… Even Sodom, Destruction. Everybody changed. Slayer I like that they kept on somehow. Then there were the other bands that I mentioned were the influences for me. I don’t know. I could pick up albums from there. For metal it’s like that and also later like Emperor, IN THE NIGHTSIDE ECLIPSE was fucking cool to hear when it came out.
Darkthrone, yes, a little bit. I liked it, but it was not so interesting, influential like Arcturus. From the new stuff, new (indecipherable) stuff….. Some Immortal, some Carpathian Forest, some Shining. There are some stuff, but they did not influence me so much. Maybe Nightside of it. It’s a long time ago and it was kind of cool when it came out.
It was cool. Yes, absolutely.
It was like another level or something. It was very nice.
I thank you for your time. It was a pleasure to talk to you.
Thank you. All right, cool.