This was a hell of a lineup for a hell of a beautiful fall Friday night in Berlin at the Columbiahalle. This was my first time at the small stage of this venue, which was a pleasant surprise—not too big, not a basement, strong pours at the bar and a patio out back to chill out. Good place for a night out, particularly if you are going to see Mayhem, arguably the most infamous metal band of all time, touring what is arguably the most infamous metal album of all time, 1993’s De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas. Nice. Yet the evening had much more to offer in the person of not one but two brilliant, very different, openers.
Orthodox black metal wizards, Inferno, kicked things off. Hailing from the Czech Republic, they are actually an older group whose earliest recordings go back to the mid-‘90s. While they began as a fairly straightforward raw act, they have developed a distinctive and effective approach to the more hifalutin end of black metal—jackhammer drums furnishing a vehicle for breezy, almost psychedelic guitars hovering over the rhythms together with the vocals, with nary a riff in even longer songs. Like most of what comes out of the Czech scene, it’s awfully different, interesting stuff, and the latest release, Gnosis Kardias (Greek for “knowledge of the heart”) is absolutely worth checking out. Muddy sound and a somewhat recalcitrant stage presence diminished the effectiveness of the music, but their performance was special and rare, and I’m glad I arrived in time to catch them.
They were followed by the UK’s Dragged Into Sunlight, which is one of the most intense bands in the world of underground heavy music today. While the vocals and the stage aesthetics owe as much to punk as to death metal, the riffs and overall black purity is Satan, Satan, and Satan. Alternately blazing hot and crushingly slow—with occasional nods to thrash and even slam—I dub them the Deathspell Omega of crust. It’s a disgusting thing in the best possible way. Know them, love them, and make sure to see them.
And then The True Mayhem, playing De Mysteriis dom Sathanas start to finish. Made by youths exploring suicide, church burnings, and murder, the record serves as documentation of what happens when the earnest worship of death is taken to its logical conclusions. It also remains (imho) the greatest black metal release of all time, and it will never be equaled. The current lineup of five has three classic members, two of whom played on De mysteriis itself, and so the band is about as authentic as one could reasonably expect, barring a zombie Euronymous going to France and burying the dagger—ahem, hatchet—with Varg.
But how was the gig? Given how insane some of their gigs have turned out over the years, Mayhem has set a standard for themselves that cannot possibly be met on a nightly basis: some of the best gigs used to end with hospital visits. Not sustainable. Consequently, The De Mysteriis full set is theatre, and good theatre. The songs are immortal and it is wonderful to see Atilla, Hellhammer, and Necrobutcher tear through them. Yet it’s fairly clinical stuff. By all means, go see these legends, I’ll see you there, but don’t expect it to send you to hell. That kind of gig just happens, even when the songs played are the devil’s own.