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Black Metal Chronicles

Remembering MAYHEM’s "Dead," Per Yngve "Pelle" Ohlin, On What Would Have Been His 53rd Birthday

Per Yngve Ohlin left with Øystein Aarseth Euronymous
Per Yngve Ohlin (left) with Øystein Aarseth a.k.a. Euronymous (right)

Today, we celebrate Mayhem’s Per Yngve “Pelle” Ohlin, or “Dead,” on what would have been his 53rd birthday. Pelle was only 22 when he committed suicide on April 8th, 1991, but the Swede will forever be remembered as an unsurpassed frontman. For countless fans and musicians, Pelle defined black metal and provided the subgenre with its heart and soul. The luminary possessed a unique vision of the world, a vivid imagination, and an otherworldly presence that was both entrancing and comforting in a metaphysical sense. It is already cliché to state that Pelle epitomized what it means to be true. Pelle truly sacrificed everything for his art. When the teenage Morbid co-founder flew to Oslo to join Mayhem, he brought a suitcase containing all of his belongings (comic books, clothes, fake blood, store-bought cobwebs) and made a commitment that was absolutely unconditional. In Norway, Pelle faced relative poverty. To say that the ambitious vocalist never tasted the fruits of his labor is an understatement. Pelle fed on spaghetti with free ketchup and what Mayhem managed to steal from the local grocery truck. Although Mayhem had already established a name for themselves even before Pelle joined the band, he died without having received the due rewards and the proper recognition that he deserved as an artist.

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Pelle is generally credited as the inventor of corpse paint. He certainly coined the term. Mayhem’s Necrobutcher told author Dayal Patterson: “… it [Pelle’s makeup] wasn’t like dark, it was green, decomposition colors…” Although other black metal bands had already donned face paint, Pelle was the first to apply it in the plague-inspired way that he did. The eccentric vocalist was also known for burying his clothes so that they would begin to rot and thereby acquire the appearance and stench of death. In the documentary Once Upon a Time in Norway (2007), Cadaver’s Anders Odden alleges: “Pelle buried himself in a coffin for three days — to get death fungus under his eyes.” Pelle has often been described as crude, but that interpretation is far too literal. In an unconventional sense, Pelle’s work is actually characterized by its sophistication and refinement. Pelle used “morbid” aesthetics in order to channel his inner powers and transport himself into another realm. His pen pal “The Old Nick,” Nicola Curri, described Pelle’s “resoluteness to go beyond the physical, his awareness of his limitedness as a human being.” No one will doubt Old Nick’s assertion: “… he was also characterized by a dark mysticism and a passionate curiosity for what was weird and mysterious.”

In his quest for truth, Pelle embraced the unknown or that which is shrouded by a dense layer of “Funeral Fog.” Pelle often fled into the woods for inspiration. He asked Old Nick: “Have you been living alone in a forest for a longer time? Have you then felt how your mind can ‘turn back’ to be more primitive…” Pelle continued: “The worst thing about the modern time is the modern way of thinking and too much can be explained.” Like many poets and existential philosophers, Pelle hated the relationship of modern man towards technology. Instead, the noble soul nourished his rich inner life with Eastern European legends and found an outlet in drawing. Pelle collected Romanian postage stamps and dreamed of traveling beyond Scandinavia. Pelle’s thirst for erudition was truly as strong as his “Transilvanian Hunger.” He wrote: “My goal in life is to visit Transylvania and Moldovia and to learn everything of the legends there that rarely are known of in the west.” (He fantasized about financing his educational stay in Transylvania by working as a “blood bringer.”) Pelle made lists of obscure texts that he hoped to find. The Ohlin family received books and calls from booksellers asking for Pelle for years following his death.

Pelle has been described by those who knew him as gentle yet demanding, secretive yet honest, and reticent yet outspoken. Depending upon whom one asks, Pelle was either humorless or one of the funniest people imaginable, social or anti-social, easy-going or extreme. Obviously, Pelle was a highly complex individual whose personality encompassed a large portion of the totality of human descriptors. The unification of opposites within Pelle seems to have been harmonious seeing as he was incredibly pure of heart, despite his many “ghosts.” The majority of statements made about Pelle tend to reflect more about the speaker than about Pelle himself. When Mayhem’s “Necrobutcher,” Jørn Stubberud, was asked by his buddy Thomas Seltzer of Turbonegro whether Pelle was “depressed”/ “nedtrykt,” he answered: “No. I usually picture him smiling from ear to ear.” Jørn described his bandmate as “such a happy guy.” In his book, Jørn reflects: “Pelle wasn’t a gloomy guy at all but he was very introverted.” Whereas others failed Per Yngve, Jørn was sensitive to his friend’s struggles. Slayer Mag’s “Metalion,” whose real name is Jon Kristiansen, recognized that there was much that Pelle did not let on about. As Ludwig Wittgenstein theorized: “What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence.” Nevertheless, one thing is certain: All of Pelle’s contacts seem to be unanimous in their admiration of him. Pelle is said to have been a terrific companion. Being “polite and considerate,” Pelle once bought a large knife as a birthday present for a man who feared him. Although the man freaked out, Pelle had no ill intentions. Morbid’s “Dr. Schitz,” or Jens Näsström, explained to Slayer Mag: “I don’t think he [Pelle] was always fully aware of the impression he made on people.” During his career, Pelle does not seem to have had that many monikers. Besides “Dead,” of course, he has been called “Geten”/“The Goat” and “Horn-Per.” The best way to think of Per Yngve, however, is probably as “Pelle Erövraren”/“Pelle the Conqueror,” the Swedish title of a Danish novel by Martin Andersen Nexø, because he has taken the world by storm.

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Per Yngve Ohlin was born on January 16th in Stockholm. Pelle came from a loving family. As the eldest child, however, he was greatly affected by his parents’ divorce. Pelle had a full brother, Anders; a sister, Anna; and a half-brother, Daniel. As an adult, Pelle made several wild claims about his upbringing. He boasted to Slayer Mag: “My mum told me when I was a baby I slept so intensive so I turned white! So she had to check me all the time if I were still alive!” Pelle also told Old Nick that his great-grandmother had been a practitioner of white magic.

Anders has summarized Pelle’s elementary school days as an idyllic time. When speaking with NRK, he described his brother as a “gladlaks”/“happy salmon.” Nevertheless, Pelle implied in his suicide note that his depression dated back to when he was just 5 years old: “I didn’t come up with this now, but 17 years ago.” One of the saddest moments in Blood, Fire, Death: The Swedish Metal Story (2013) is when Anders relates the story of when Pelle was over at a best friend’s home and the mother sent him away early because “Fredrik” was about to have his birthday party.

Upon entering middle school in 1982, Pelle became the immediate target of ostracism because he didn’t fit in with either of the two main, rigidly defined social groups. This led to a tragic near-death experience, or rather an actual death experience. According to Pelle, the following occurred in 1983: He was severely beaten by other children until his spleen ruptured. After Pelle returned home from school, his stepmother, who was a nurse, entered his room to check on him. Pelle’s heart had either stopped beating or had a very weak pulse. Thus, his stepmother performed CPR until the ambulance arrived. Pelle told his father that he slipped on ice, but his lie was quickly discerned. Although Pelle rarely fibbed, he would tell his friends that he had been the victim of a skating accident, fell through ice, ate poisonous mushrooms, etc. All the same, the real-life event would spark an interest in subjects such as astral planes and out-of-body traveling. In a letter to Old Nick, Pelle launched into a semi-fictionalized account of his brush with death and an interpretation of what he perceived while in the twilight zone:

“I had a weird experience once, I had inner bleedings and it couldn’t be found at x-rays so when it continued to bleed and bleed I finally fainted and dropped down the floor ‘cos I run out of blood. The heart had no blood left to beat and my veins/artairs were almost emptied of blood. ‘Technically’ I was dead. At that moment when I fell down (into a door I heard of later) I saw a strange blue color everywhere, it was transparent so I could, for a short moment, see everything in blue, till something shining white and ‘hot’ surrounded me. What happened later is out of interest. I woke up when some ambulance men came and drove me to a new hospital and there the bastards of surgery started to cut me up at the wrong side so I got a huge scar for that. However, it’s someone I know who’s had many out-of-body experiences is using magic of various kinds and knows much more than I do of ‘supernatural’ experiences, that I asked of this ‘cos it was so strange about those colors. She told me that the first ‘plane’ in the astral world has the color blue. The ‘earthly’ plane has the color black, then comes a grey one that is very near the earthly one and is easy to come to. The next one further is blue, then it gets brighter and brighter till it ‘stops’ at a white-shining one that can’t be reached by mortals. IF any mortal enter it, that one is no longer a mortal and can not come back to the other planes nor back to this earth. After the white plane or level or whatever it goes further with other colors that I don’t know of, there only spirits and great sorcerers can travel. I was told that the white plane I then entered, without I knew it, was the dead world and I died. But I also got thrown back after a short time which very rarely happens. So of what I’ve heard of I have some kind of purpose to achieve here. That happened for almost 8 years ago and I’m trying to find out what I have to do ‘here’ before I can enter the light again.”

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After seeing the above-mentioned “shining white” light, Pelle was transferred to another school in Tungelsta because his principal refused to acknowledge that he was being bullied. Pelle was resilient and quickly formed new friendships. Pelle’s first band was called Ohlin Metal. Anders revealed to Finn Håkon Rødland that he was actually the one who kickstarted his brother’s musical journey in a way by spurring his interest in Kiss, despite being 5 years Pelle’s junior. (Pelle’s future collaborators Necrobutcher and Euronymous, for example, shared Kiss as an early inspiration.) Pelle never had any formal music training. Anders recalled: “He [Pelle] shocked the whole family when he one day said that he was in a band. I think it was in ninth grade at the time, he was maybe 14 or 15 years old. He had never played an instrument and bought his first guitar after he started with the band. I think he spent more time drawing on it than playing it.” Obviously, it did not take long before Pelle gave up on the guitar, as he wrote, although the instrument presumably still rests at his mother’s house.

After founding Ohlin Metal, Pelle’s next move was to respond to an advertisement that was posted by a band called Armageddon. Pelle was enticed by the fact that they had noted their admiration for Slayer. Pelle’s first rehearsal with the band took place with John Hagström, or “Gehenna,” and Sandro Cajander, who was also part of a “rap band.” Armageddon soon became Scapegoat at some point in 1985. Sandro’s participation proved short-lived. In 1986, Gehenna and Pelle’s band morphed into Morbid. In 1987, Morbid played their first show. As Morbid’s vocalist, Pelle already fully embodied “Dead.” He wore corpse paint, as he informed Slayer Mag at the time. His antics included crawling out of a coffin that the father of guitarist Ulf Cederlund, or “Napoleon Pukes,” found for the band. (Like Cederlund, Morbid’s drummer Lars-Göran Petrov, or “Drutten,” would go on to join Entombed, which LG fronted for about 25 years.) Pelle collected pamphlets from funeral homes and obituaries. He affixed the latter to his shirts. Pelle had crazy ideas to enhance Morbid’s performances like using WWI gas masks. The outrageous frontman could wipe the laughter off spectators’ faces within seconds. What viewers saw on stage was an extremely visceral performer, who was as untainted as he was uncompromising. Pelle was an irritating perfectionist, who demanded much from his bandmates. During rehearsals, Pelle pushed himself so hard that he was forced to rest between songs. Pelle wrote lyrics that reflected his idiosyncratic disposition: “Funerals get orgasm from my soul. From the funeral… from the past… from the dark. The cross… a necromancer’s cross. By night will strike me… I die.” However, Pelle vented his frustration about the fact that his Morbid bandmates allegedly refused to help him with lyrical responsibilities.

In a letter to Metalion that we will soon be revisiting, Pelle explained: “Morbid are into: other dimensions, the dark side of magic, guts, animalsex, killing dandys, Satanism and Anton Lavey. Our music is maybe a bit of our own style, we tried to not copy others styles and others music. And because Black Metal shall be so evil you can get it.” As Pelle’s understanding of Satanism evolved, he soon came to recognize Lavey as a fraud. (This is a conclusion that Mayhem’s other members would come to as well.) Pelle was spiritual, but he does not seem to have been particularly religious. For better or for worse, Pelle never fulfilled his wish of “join[ing] a very underground and Illfull, Evil and Grim Coven.” Although Pelle wrote that his coven of choice would have been one in which human flesh was consumed, it must be acknowledged that he, like other black metallers, loved to make fantastical statements.

Pelle’s early musical heroes included Mercyful Fate, SodomVenom, SarcófagoAC/DC, Black Sabbath with Ozzy Osbourne (He was not a Dio fan!), etc. Because Pelle was the real deal and measured others by his own yardstick, he was quick to smash his idols and the altars that he had built for them, as we shall see. He often developed a distaste for bands that mellowed after their early work. Pelle waged war against “wimps” and “stupid trendmakers.” His philosophy was “Be evil. Not openminded…” Pelle fully personified black metal in dress, attitude, behavior, etc. That is why Pelle felt that he needed a challenge that was even more serious and extreme than Morbid. After all, the band was still tossing “semlor,” Scandinavian sweet buns filled with cream and almond paste, into their audiences. (How… “disgusting?!”) Yet, the semlor made a mess, which caused people to trip and fall, so perhaps sugar-dusted pastries are actually more brutal than they seem. Bassist “Dr. Schitz,” or Jens Näsström, acknowledged that Pelle had just cause to feel dissatisfied. He confirmed that things were “going slow” for Morbid. Although Thomas Nyqvist of Putrefaction Zine told Bardo Methodology that Morbid allowed Pelle to amass a “huge following in the underground,” Näsström admitted to Slayer Mag “we had a really tiny following back then [in the old days with Pelle].” Anders explained to Finn Håkon Rødland: “Pelle was impressed by the raw and horror like style that Mayhem had. I guess he felt that Mayhem was like a Norwegian equivalent to Bathory, that was in need of a vocalist, and he absolutely didn’t want to miss that opportunity.”

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Mayhem was formed in 1984 in Ski. Bassist “Necrobutcher,” Jørn Stubberud (born April 13th, 1968), and drummer “Manheim,” Kjetil Manheim (born November 27th, 1968), had known each other since they were in second grade. In light of the pair’s musical aspirations, little Manheim joined a marching band in order to learn how to play the drums. Before founding Mayhem, they started a punk band called Musta, for example, the Finnish word for black. They rehearsed at the Langhus school, where Manheim’s father was the headmaster. Jørn first encountered guitarist “Euronymous,” Øystein Aarseth (born March 22nd, 1978) at the Follo Line’s Ski Station when they were both 16 years old. Øystein was supposed to show Jørn to an audition for a glam band, but the chatty teenagers immediately decided to form a band of their own instead with Manheim’s participation. (Øystein had created a different band called Mayhem in 1983. Mayhem [#1] allegedly rehearsed for the final time on May 17th, 1984 — Norwegian Constitution Day.) For a very short while, Øystein’s friend Nils Svensson joined Mayhem (#2) for practice sessions before deciding that the group’s style did not suit him. In his most excellent book, The Death Archives: Mayhem 1984-94 (2015), Jørn has revealed that his job in a stamping factory financed their first demo, Pure Fucking Armageddon (1986), on which he and Øystein shared vocal responsibilities, and more. Jørn’s work clearing away forest for power lines paid for the demo/EP Deathcrush (1987), which featured vocalists Maniac and Billy Messiah. (Later on, Jørn would even turn to selling drugs to support Mayhem.) The point is that when Pelle first read about Mayhem in Metal Forces, they were already a band that had gone to great lengths, including traveling through Europe, to advance their collective career.

Although Pelle is generally said to have arrived in Oslo in 1988, according to The Death Archives, Pelle first “appeared” in 1987.  Necrobutcher writes that Pelle arrived in Norway in the winter of 1987/1988. (Discrepancies regarding the exact month of Pelle’s arrival, which has been said to have been as late as the spring of ’88, may be caused by the fact that it seems that he may have gone home to Sweden for a couple of months at an early point.) Jørn has stated that Pelle’s first contact with Mayhem came in the form of a parcel, which included the December Moon demo (recorded on December 5-6th, 1997), a letter, and a partially disintegrated mouse that was crucified on two sticks. Jørn immediately popped the cassette into the player in his truck. The mouse and letter, however, flew off the bed of his vehicle and were therefore lost. According to one version of the story, Pelle’s address was written on the tape. Jørn has stated that he believes that Slayer Mag’s Metalion had alerted Pelle that Mayhem needed a new singer. Metalion has said the same. However, Metalion would have informed Pelle of Mayhem’s search after he had already written to Mayhem. It appears that Metalion only reached out to Pelle after Euronymous played him the ice-breaker cassette, which was probably Morbid’s Rehearsaldemo (1987). (Metalion received December Moon only after an earlier tape from Pelle.) The fact that Pelle established contact with Mayhem before Metalion is supported by a letter wherein Pelle introduces himself to the latter, says that he is happy that Metalion “liked the smell of Mayhem’s sacrifice,” and clarifies that the mouse died on an inverted cross. In the letter, Pelle also confirms one of the strangest legends concerning his character:

“By the way, [Bathory’s] Quorthon got a present from me too. In the date of 1/6 -87 Me and Schitzo (Ass Bass of Morbid) walked up to Elektra [Studio] and leave the rehearsal tape and a upside down cross with a nailed guineapig head on it and tied [blindfolded] eyes with spikes through the eyes! (The guineapig was so nice and the smell was wonderful!) We leave it [in a plastic bag] to the receptionist girl and told her to leave it to Ace Forsberg of Bathory. A few days later we called Börje (the boss on the records, Quorthon’s father) He liked the band but not the present. We had all took this thing too seriously, he told us. But I think we’d NOT. Seriously we think Quorthon is a POSER like Celtic, Mefisto and them.”

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A sketch by Pelle exists in which he illustrated this unlucky rodent head. Apparently, when Pelle and Morbid’s Jens Näsström called to see how the father and son team liked their gift, as mentioned, Börje replied that they “were the sickest people he had ever met.” Before delivering the mouse and the demo tape, Pelle had attended a signing session with Quorthon for Under the Sign of the Black Mark (1987) that left them quite disillusioned. This historic event transpired on May 29th, 1987. Pelle saw the Bathory mastermind flashing the thumbs up like a rockstar. In Pelle’s mind, Quorthon’s less-than-evil behavior exposed him as a hypocrite. Thus, Pelle’s love turned to hate. (As hinted by Anders, Pelle’s disappointment in Quorthon prompted him to shift his focus toward Norway once he discovered Mayhem.) Nevertheless, Quorthon had been kind at the signing. He had even agreed to attend a party at Jens’ home that day, but Jens’ plans went awry. Quorthon invited Pelle and Jens to Electra Studio the following Monday. (Hence, the visit detailed above.) Fortunately for Quorthon, he was away on business when the boys arrived. Pelle would later publicly eviscerate Quorthon when speaking with zines like Battery: “He is one of the worst motherfucking wimps I’ve had the misfortune to meet!”

Pelle’s letter to Metalion makes it clear that he only worshipped metal (unlike his future Mayhem bandmates, who were even influenced by the likes of Brian Eno) and took pride specifically in being a black metal musician. (We will later touch upon Necrobutcher’s initial aversion to the term “black metal.”) In his letter, Pelle emphasizes that his work with Morbid had never been a poser’s act to become rich and famous. This is not to say, however, that Pelle did not want to be appreciated and paid for his work. Euronymous would later deceive Pelle with his Coca-Cola-fueled pipe dreams of monetary success. Nevertheless, even prior to meeting Euronymous, Pelle was conflicted between the drive to succeed in the traditional sense and his wish to slap commercialism in the face with underground values.

After sending the aforementioned demo tapes, Pelle befriended Metalion by phone and also began calling Euronymous. Metalion believes that Mayhem made the decision to bring Pelle to Oslo after he sent a picture of himself. Yet, Necrobutcher recalls being anxious while waiting for Pelle — Mayhem hoped that he would look right for the part of their newest vocalist. Apparently, Mayhem was not prepared for Pelle to permanently move to Sweden as quickly as he did. When Pelle joined Mayhem, Manheim had already left in order to prioritize family by finding a stable job. The wise teenager had “other ambitions.” After his uncle warned him that a career in music would probably result in having to “eat flatbread,” Manheim chose to pursue “the good life.” He has stated: “I didn’t want to be poor anymore.” Manheim told Thomas Ericksen that he had thought that Mayhem had already exhausted their potential and were “about to fall apart.” (This should tell you something about the messy situation for which the young Swede naively volunteered himself.) Nevertheless, Manheim and Pelle would become acquainted. Pelle quickly scared away Manheim’s replacement, Vomit drummer Torben Grue, who has since become an opera singer and continues to play in bands. Norway’s best skinspounder, “Hellhammer,” Jan Axel “von” Blomberg, soon completed Mayhem’s “golden lineup.” Pelle’s father visited the band, and before long Mayhem, traveled to Sweden to pick up his old car as a gift.

Pelle’s transition to Norway was a bumpy ride that would never correct itself. For the first week or so, he and his Mayhem bandmates communicated in English. Euronymous’ dialect was particularly challenging for Pelle to understand. As alluded to, there is a major rift between how Pelle’s Swedish friends and his Norwegian contacts describe him. Even basic questions, such as whether Pelle liked to drink (the Norwegians say no), produce radically different answers. Morbid’s Jens Näsström, for example, who has become a psychologist, did not see Pelle as anti-social. Pelle’s Mayhem bandmates, on the other hand, remember that he would not bother answering certain people when they were speaking. It is true that even in Sweden Pelle could be guarded, especially around strangers. Yet, under the right circumstances, Pelle could also be quite loquacious. Unfortunately, when writing about Pelle, strangers have attempted to turn him into the poster boy for this or that mental illness. This type of behavior is not only despicable, it is also immoral. We will merely state that Pelle expressed his discontent with his predicament away from home and that this was clearly a contributing factor to what Anders Ohlin has referred to as the “deep depression” into which his brother fell.

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Nevertheless, Pelle quickly managed to imbue Mayhem with a character that was all his own. Metalion wrote in Metalion: The Slayer Mag Diaries (2011): “He gave the band an entirely better vibe, more in tune with the black metal image Euronymous wanted.” Deathcrush (1987) was Mayhem’s last effort before Pelle’s arrival. This classic demo/EP features an opening track by the German experimental musician Conrad Schnitzler and a silly outro, which is a Cliff Richards & The Young Ones cover. It would be truly difficult to outdo Deathcrush’s lyrics: “Bloodsucking cuntless nuns. Her guts were boiling out of her butt. Eating her slimey cunt as I hold her tits.” Yet, Pelle, who related much better to Pure Fucking Armageddon (1987), told Slayer Mag: “The ‘Deathcrush’ lyrics aren’t bad at all but they are later what became gore or trendy. I’m now writing what I think is black metal from my point-of-view.” Pelle defined his POV in his letters to Old Nick with the motto: “Only Black is true, only Death is real!!! Gore is trend!” Whereas Mayhem had utilized on-the-nose, splatter-film violence and crude sexual themes in Deathcrush, Pelle’s inclinations were more elevated and esoteric. Necrobutcher confessed to NRK that he hadn’t realized how deeply personal Pelle’s lyrics had been until after he committed suicide. Pelle introduced a romanticized death-longing to Mayhem. Thus, Pelle transfigured the essence black metal as a whole. In a way, Pelle was like hell’s version of the German poet Novalis, who is best known for his Hymns to the Night.

Pelle performed with Mayhem for the first time at Bootleg in Oslo in 1989. He sang a couple of songs including “Freezing Moon,” which was called “The Freezing Moon” at the time. Mayhem’s first actual concert with Pelle, however, took place in Jessheim on February 3rd, 1990. Mayhem turned the event into a drinking party in order to troll the Christian radio station that had apparently instigated the event. Euronymous wore heeled boots, tights jeans, a bullet belt, and corpse paint. Necrobutcher had tried to convince him that unless it was going to be a “unison thing,” which he and Hellhammer clearly were not supporting, only Pelle should wear corpse paint. The Jessheim date, which was marred by technical glitches, is the concert at which Pelle famously cut himself with a crushed coke bottle during the penultimate song. Necrobutcher had given purposely given Pelle knives that proved too dull. Allegedly, the janitor used electrical tape to bandage Pelle. Mayhem tried to take their bleeding singer to the hospital. Yet the time they arrived, it was too late for stitches. (Pelle had actually intended to use a chainsaw that evening. On another occasion, he would make plans to use a butcher’s saw, for example.) Emperor’s Faust was at the gig. He remembers Pelle taking a Grandiosa pizza out of the oven back at the Mayhem residence in Vevelstad later that night. Because he had lost so much blood, Pelle was not feeling well. According to Harald Fossberg, future black metal heavyweights like Snorre Ruch, Fenriz, Nocturno Culto, Abbath, and Demoaz attended the Jessheim show as well. In a letter to Marduk’s Evil in which Euronymous mentions the incident that took place, he alleges that Pelle “believes that he’s the incarnation of Vlad (Dracula).”

Pelle would continue to cut himself onstage, and Euronymous would encourage him to do so. Whereas Euronymous viewed Pelle’s behavior as a selling point, Necrobutcher insists that he was not fond of Pelle destructive habits. In other words, he did not see the value in Pelle’s shock tactics. He told NRK: “… I thought that it wasn’t worth it.” The efficacy of Pelle’s self-harm, however, cannot be doubted. It clearly produced an unforgettable impression. Slayer Mag quoted Pelle: “Something I study is how people react when my blood is streaming everywhere but that’s not why I do it… That I can’t do too often w[h]ich makes me a bit mourning…” Old Nick interpreted Pelle’s self-mutilation as an attempt to relive his near-death experience. Necrobutcher states in The Death Archives that self-harm is not something that he saw Pelle do privately.

There is one particular story about Pelle’s ability to put on a show, even off-stage, that stands out. Pelle met Grotesque’s frontman Thomas Lindberg (currently of At the Gates), with whom he had corresponded, for the first time at a New Year’s Eve party that was hosted by Metalion. Although it has been written that this soirée occurred in 1988, Metalion gives the more plausible date of 1989 in Metalion: The Slayer Mag Diaries (2011). Metalion told the authors of Blood, Fire, Death: “Pelle and Tompa together would result in complete chaos… They sat in my parents' bedroom cutting themselves [with blades]. It looked terrible in there; we had to throw away everything with blood stains.” Lindberg recalled: “Metalion’s parents weren’t home, so me and Dead sat on their bed drinking his mom's champagne. We were having intense discussions, ‘We’re going to Transylvania tonight, you and me, Tompa,’ he said. Somewhere in that fog, I remember thinking, ‘No, I don't think we’ll be doing that this evening.’ I remember it ended with me hiding in Metalion’s room — not because Pelle was aggressive but because he was totally fixed on the notion that we were undertaking this great journey together, since we were so close.” A knife-wielding Pelle had to be tackled and restrained with handcuffs by Euronymous, Metalion, and the late René Jensen of Cadaver. Metalion noted in his book that while this was going on: “… he [Pelle] tipped over a big table full of beer bottles in the living room, and he tried to smash the big window facing the garden.” The all-star crew of partygoers brought Pelle to the police station in order to have the cuffs removed. According to NRK, Pelle retained no memory of the wild evening afterward.

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In total, Mayhem only played 4 concerts abroad with Pelle. In the winter of 1990, the band geared up for a tour that was made possible by the comparatively low cost of Interrail passes. Mayhem planned to travel to Germany for 3 gigs. Then, they would be forced to return to Norway to receive their welfare money before hopefully journeying to Athens for 1 or (as Pelle wrote) 2 shows thanks to Sakis Tolis of Rotting Christ. Next, Mayhem was set to play 2 concerts in Turkey before wrapping up with a final performance in Holland. Pelle was right to approach the venture with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Although Mayhem followed through with the 3 German dates, Necrobutcher has affirmed that Mayhem did not receive payment for them. Pelle reported difficulty breathing in Germany, seeing as the air was filthy in Leipzig, for example, where the third gig occurred. Necrobutcher remembers listening to the Leipzig tape, which had been made on a cassette recorder, the day after the gig. In The Death Archives, he reflects: “We decided that the recording wasn’t good enough and I knew we could do better.” After Pelle’s passing, however, Euronymous made a deal to have the recording released as a tribute against Necrobutcher’s wishes. The result is the famous Live in Leipzig (1993) album, which would not come out until after Euronymous had also died. Old Nick helped with the artwork. The photos that were used were taken in a Langhus barn.

While in Norway to pick up welfare checks as planned, Pelle misunderstood a note regarding Mayhem’s visit to Greece. Pelle penned: “I just can’t understand how shit sucking D.U.M.B. we could be.” Although the event(s) had merely been rescheduled, Pelle believed that the concert(s) had been cancelled. Hellhammer, Necrobutcher, and Pelle then reunited with Euronymous, who had stayed behind in Munich. From Germany, Mayhem embarked upon a hellacious journey to Turkey. Pelle experienced nosebleeds en route while on the train. The show in İzmir was famously shut down. The police pulled the electricity after 3 or 4 songs. Unbeknownst to Mayhem, the authorities had set a time at which the show was to end. Necrobutcher believes that the opening band had exceeded their allotted time. Necrobutcher has also confirmed that he was handcuffed at some point during the evening. The organizer of the event told Black Metal Chronicles that the show was attended by 500 people (only 300-350 of which were ticketed) and that the band was paid $400, whereas Necrobutcher remembers being paid a pittance of $100. (It would take 27 years before the city of İzmir welcomed their second black metal band, Mork, in 2017.) With Operation Desert Storm threatening to put a halt to transportation, Mayhem skipped their upcoming show in Ankara, Turkey, which they had hoped would be televised. (Although the better part of Mayhem was obviously quite displeased with their experience in Turkey, Euronymous seems to have held a more optimistic view than the rest of his companions.) Departing from Turkey, Mayhem headed back to Europe by boat. At sea, Euronymous and Hellhammer drank away Mayhem’s earnings from the failed İzmir show.

Necrobutcher recalls in The Death Archives that while traveling by train towards Holland, someone stole Pelle’s wallet in Zagreb, Croatia. (Hellhammer saw this as payback for the fact that Pelle had refused to let anyone borrow his money in Turkey.) In Belgrade, the band gathered just enough change to eat at McDonald’s, or “McDisease, McProfits, McDeadly,” as it is called in sketch within Slayer Mag. Unfortunately, when Mayhem arrived in Holland a day earlier than expected (3 days before the concert), they could not reach Bob Bagchus, on whom they were depending because he was in the studio with Asphyx. Thus, Mayhem hit the road back to Norway. In Munich, Necrobutcher scraped up enough just enough change for the band to purchase about four Snickers bars to last him and his three companions the entire trip back. With lean times like these, it is no small wonder that the band fantasized about pleasing their “hunger on living humans.” After the tour, Pelle expressed his newfound hatred for trains. Mayhem tried unsuccessfully to organize events abroad on other occasions with Pelle. For example, Mayhem had arranged to travel to Poland in December 1989. However, they discovered just 2 days beforehand that the organizer was a fraud after speaking with one of the other bands that had supposedly been booked.

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Back “at home” in Norway, Pelle proved that he could be an ascetic and grew thinner for aesthetic purposes. He hoped gain “starving wounds” by restricting his food intake. Necrobutcher remembers that Pelle drank a lot of tea. When asked about his “secret” by Renascimento Do Metal in 1989, Pelle answered: “we don't survive, we’re very poor…” Pelle’s father stopped funding his son’s stay in Norway once he realized that Pelle was using the money that was being sent to ship out demos rather than to buy groceries. At first, Pelle crashed at the homes of both Necrobutcher and Euronymous. Sometimes, Necrobutcher, Euronymous, and/or Hellhammer would move into the other living spaces in which Pelle was lodged, yet they often had other arrangements and/or fallback locations where they could stay. Pelle was temporarily housed in a partially burned down youth club, where his comic books would be stolen during Christmas break. The building was also occupied by drunkards. Hellhammer kept Pelle company in a seemingly vacant home in the woods until they were evicted by the shotgun wielding owner. Then, Pelle was placed in a motel that was nestled on camping site called Beverdalen to which he was sent by the government after Necrobutcher hooked him up with welfare. If Euronymous’ words are correct, Pelle even spent time living in a car. At one point, Mayhem inhabited a large pad in Vevelstadåsen that Euronymous heated with coke bottles that were filled with hot water, as Necrobutcher writes. (You may have seen Euronymous pictured in his office at Vevelstadåsen, where a photograph of the GDR leader Erich Honecker hung on the wall.) In 1990, Mayhem moved to Kråkstad. (It was here that Pelle ultimately committed suicide.) The home, which belonged to the parents of Euronymous’ former classmate, was beyond what the band could have hoped for. It even had a gym. Although Necrobutcher was often present and lived nearby with his girlfriend, Metalion believes that he had quit the band at some point while Pelle was still a member. If this is true, it’s news to us. In any case, despite the fact that Necrobutcher was not even a year older than Pelle, he was in a very different place in life than his friend, whom he described as a “little brother.”

The only Mayhem studio tracks that exist with Pelle on vocals are “Freezing Moon” and “Carnage,” which were recorded at Creative Studios in Kolbotn. Although these recordings are generally attributed to the year 1990, Necrobutcher has dated them to 1988. “Freezing Moon” was, of course, written by Pelle in 1988 while “Carnage” was an older song. These studio versions came about as the result of nagging by ex-Morbid’s Jens Näsström, who was putting together a Swedish compilation album called Projections of a Stained Mind. Näsström contributed a song to the project by his band Skull. (Ex-Morbid’s LG Petrov and Ulf Cederlund also appeared on the record with Entombed.) Pelle told Slayer Mag that Mayhem would not receive payment for Projections of a Stained Mind, which seems to have been released by Chicken Brain Records in 1991, despite Pelle’s belief that it would come out in 1990. Maniac explained to Dayal Patterson that while recording “Freezing Moon” and “Carnage”: “I had to hold a bag of dead crows for him [Pelle] when he was singing so he could sniff it for the right atmosphere. Those crows had been in the ground for quite some time when he dug them up.” Maniac explained to NRK that Pelle would stick his head into the bag before rising up again after each whiff. Pelle actually made a habit of collecting roadkill, which he sometimes kept under his bed or in the freezer. Pelle inhaled the scene of his decomposing keepsakes before gigs as well. In an odd way, this ritual of “saving” the dead, betrays an odd kind of sensitivity.

Mayhem had the brilliant idea to integrate pig heads into their image prior to Pelle’s arrival. Therefore, it was a stroke of luck that Pelle enjoyed tossing these heads around onstage and into the audience. During an interview with Battery, Pelle expressed his desire to recreate the Transylvanian landscape during shows. He wished to set the stage with instruments of torture, human craniums, and different types of animal heads. Friends and bandmates remember that Pelle kept a spear, which he used to chase cats, under his bed. Lords of Chaos: The Bloody Rise of the Satanic Metal Underground (2003) quotes ex-Emperor’s Faust: “I remember one night he was trying to sleep. A cat was outside his apartment, so he ran outside with a big knife to get the cat. The cat ran into a shed and he went after it. Then you heard lots of noise, and screaming, and there was a hole in the shed where the cat came out again, and Dead ran after it with his big knife, screaming, hunting the cat, only dressed in his underwear. That was his idea of how to deal with a cat.” Metalion theorizes that Pelle simply pretended time and time again to have been outmaneuvered by the swift cat that prowled around the premises of his Kråkstad address. Metalion reflected in The Slayer Mag Diaries: “That’s important for me to remember: He drew a line.” As a child, Pelle seems to have had a soft spot for animals. They often featured in his sketches. Anders Ohlin has shared a memory with the authors of Blood, Fire, and Death that is particularly amusing: A young Pelle once audaciously pointed to a woman in a leopard coat and demanded to know whether it was real or fake, causing her to blush. As a child, Pelle was even a member of the organization Nature and Youth Sweden.

***

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As a child, Euronymous was known as a good boy, a straight-A student, and someone who practiced a healthy lifestyle. He was even respectful towards his parents. Thus, his early desire to be treated like royalty was probably just an endearing quirk at that stage. However, the megalomaniacal component of Euronymous’ personality seems to have become severely agitated as he matured. Comrade Euronymous’ communist values annoyed Necrobutcher. Manheim has affirmed that Mayhem supported left-wing activities in the early days. Euronymous seems to have been attracted to the power hierarchy. Dødheimsgard’s Vicotnik told Metalorgie that he thinks that Euronymous gravitated towards communism because he viewed it as more deadly than National Socialism. Yet, Hellhammer has confirmed that Euronymous developed fascist sympathies after realizing that communism was too humanistic for his liking. Nevertheless, Euronymous agreed with the golden lineup that Mayhem’s music should be apolitical.

By various accounts, Euronymous seems to have been a housemate from hell as far as his treatment of Per Yngve is concerned. Euronymous, who had very broad taste in music, played loud synth music to annoy Pelle. On one particular occasion, Pelle fled into the woods with his pillow; however, Euronymous soon marched outside with his shotgun and began firing at birds. Pelle hurled a large rock at Euronymous, inflicting minor chest wounds. Pelle once went so far as to stab the tyrannical guitarist. Their quarrels and fistfights prompted Hellhammer to move in with his grandmother. Without Hellhammer to act as a middleman, Pelle’s situation must have seemed even more insufferable. Euronymous manipulated Pelle and even told him that he should kill himself. Therefore, it may be surprising to hear that Euronymous thought that Pelle was brilliant. He both admired and seemingly envied his frontman.

Of course, Euronymous was a very gifted man, who (along with Snorre Ruch) has been credited with creating the Norwegian black metal style of riffing. Varg Vikernes’ suspicion that Euronymous did not really want others to play black metal because he feared competition seems to hold a lot of truth. Nevertheless, Euronymous mentored Ivar Bjørnson and Grutle Kjellson of Enslaved. Although Enslaved, which takes inspiration from the Norse gods, has a concept that is very different from what Euronymous represented and posthumously continues to stand for, he supported their artistic vision. When Euronymous opened Helvete shortly after Pelle’s death, he did not overcharge for records. Musicians like Abbath and Vicotnik hold their late friend in high regard. Vicotnik explained Thomas Eriksen: “I loved to talk to Øystein because he had time for you. Even though you were 13 years old, he took the time to speak to you.” That said, Varg Vikernes remembers a trip to Oslo that he made with his Old Funeral bandmate Demonaz during which he discovered the Mr. Hyde component to Euronynous’ personality. Although Mr. Vikernes is not exactly an objective source on the matter, his observation that Pelle did not feel comfortable speaking in front of Euronymous is heartbreaking. Apparently, Pelle only came out of his room when there was food or when Euronymous was gone. Vikernes also recalls that Euronymous scolded Darkthrone’s Zephyrous and Nocturno Culto when they proudly arrived at Mayhem’s place bearing their masterful debut album, Soulside Journey (1992). Euronymous had taken objection to the fact that they were wearing jogging pants. (After Pelle’s death, Euronymous would list his companion’s hatred of jogging pants, posers ruining the black metal scene, and the sort of people who are into peace and love among the absurd reasons why Pelle killed himself. In this fashion, Euronymous attributed his own pet peeves to Pelle.)

Euronymous’ acquaintances have described his childish habit of threatening those whom he didn’t know. When that did not work, Euronynous often tried to win over these imagined foes. Necrobutcher has verified that Euronymous even threatened bands that wore Hawaiian shirts. The 5’ 6” guitarist frequently said things that he neither meant nor had the bravado to follow through with. He often asked others to do his dirty work. Many believed that it was only a matter of time before Euronymous’ antics proved fatal. Euronymous, however, was more than just a benign blowhard. Occultus, the bassist and vocalist who briefly stepped in after Pelle’s death, was forced to leave Mayhem because Euronymous and crew supposedly ignited a cross in his garden, hurled rocks through his windows, and threatened to kill him. Euronymous may or may not have put lead or another harmful substance into the food of a freeloading Polish-born fanzine editor named “Marci,” Marcin, who moved to Chicago and currently lives in Europe. (Apparently, Pelle also detested Marci.) In August 1993, the month of his death, Euronymous would have begun a 4-month prison sentence for injuring two people with a broken bottle. He caused one of the two men 38 stitches for the crime of looking at his lady friend at a bus stop.

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For the Christmas break of 1990, Pelle visited his home in Sweden for the final time. In 1991, Pelle’s father continued to try to convince Pelle to return home, reportedly visited him, and even went through art school brochures with his son. It has been stated that, at that point, Pelle himself wished to return to Sweden for good. Earlier, Pelle had planned a reunion concert with Morbid that had been set for September 9, 1989. Pelle and his old Morbid bandmates also expected to record an EP. Sadly, neither the event nor the EP ever came to be. At another point, Pelle had tried to bring Mayhem to Sweden to play with Grotesque. Jens Näsström confirmed that Pelle and Morbid had made new reunion plans shortly before his death. Näsström told Bardo Mythology: “In this case, it [Pelle’s last, illusory ray of hope] was his decision to move back home to Sweden. Pelle had actually been admitted into art school and we had started rehearsing with Morbid again, his mother later told me he was incredibly excited to be back playing with Gehenna (guitars) and me.” Näsström suspects that Pelle was not as thrilled about the notion of returning to Morbid as his mother let on. All the same, he still told Slayer Mag that Pelle’s intention to follow through was “pretty serious.” What is interesting is that Näsström further revealed to Metalion that he does not believe that his friend intended to quit Mayhem: “… he certainly was no stranger to the idea of running (at least) two bands at the same time…” Necrobutcher believes that Pelle’s father was the one who applied to school on his son’s behalf and that Pelle was worried about balancing school with his musical ambitions. Considering Pelle’s dream of becoming a comic book artist as well as the support system (not to mention the enormous talent) that his Morbid bandmates offered him, it seems that Pelle’s father had the right idea.

Anders Ohlin speculates that Pelle’s pride would have prevented him from returning home “with his tail between his legs.” Anders explained to NRK that Pelle had confided in him that his bandmates had lost their focus and were not as invested in Mayhem as he was. The idealistic frontman, who had an innate intuition of his worth, was crushed that his band had fallen apart before he had realized it. Obviously, Mayhem’s sense of camaraderie was lacking. Necrobutcher revealed to Terrorizer: “He [Euronymous] was concentrating more and more on his record label, and I was starting to rehearse more and more with other bands, because I need to practise a lot. He didn’t care too much about Mayhem anymore. He was burned out. He wasn’t into the band thing anymore, he was just into making money with DSP [Deathlike Silence Productions]. We were even considering kicking him out of the band.” Meanwhile, Hellhammer has always been a sought-after drummer and did not need to deal with the headache that Mayhem had become. The fact that the fashionable musician liked to hang out in bars and had a bit of a glam rock flare aggravated Euronymous, or rather “Buzz Killington,” who apparently tried to restrict Jan Axel’s access to booze and only tolerated him because of his immense talent.

Remembering MAYHEM’s "Dead," Per Yngve "Pelle" Ohlin, On What Would Have Been His 53rd Birthday
Drawing by Pelle

***

“Excuse the blood, but I have slit my wrists and neck. It was the intention that I would die in the woods so that it would take a few days before I was possibly found. I belong in the woods and have always done so. No one will understand the reason for this anyway. To give some semblance of an explanation I'm not a human, this is just a dream and soon I will awake. It was too cold and the blood was coagulating all the time, plus my new knife is too dull.” Pelle returned indoors where he shot himself in the head while wearing his “I ♥ Transylvania” T-shirt. (Pelle has said: “Transylvania… I’ll die to go there.”) Varg Vikernes has confirmed that the bullet that Pelle’s used came from him, but he has also denied this by claiming that Pelle had reserved a special shell for this purpose. (Regardless, Vikernes clearly had nothing to do with Pelle’s suicide. However, the fact that he later killed Euronymous, who had threatened to murder him, has been described as the result of the victim’s bad karma. All the same, Euronynous’ wrongdoings do not detract from the fact that his death was a great loss.) The shotgun that Pelle used belonged to Euronymous. It had come from when Euronymous, Necrobutcher, and (presumably) Manheim met Maniac for the first time in Rjukan in 1986. Considering this, Maniac’s second tenure as Mayhem’s vocalist (1995-2004) seems like a sick twist of fate.

Pelle left the lyrics for his song “Life Eternal,” which has become immortalized on De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas (1994), with his suicide note. “A dream of another existence. You wish to die. A dream of another world. You pray for death to release the soul. One must die to find peace inside. You must get eternal. I am mortal but am I human. How beautiful is life now when my time has come? A human destiny but nothing human inside. What’ll be left when I’m dead? There was nothing when I lived. What you found was eternal death. No one will ever miss you.” For Pelle, who felt that “MUST know everything,” even death was perceived as a means of acquiring knowledge. He once commented that there is an easy way to find out what awaits in the afterlife.

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(Ironically, ex-Bathory’s Jonas Åkerlund, who directed a hung-over Pelle as an extra in Candlemass’ “Bewtiched” music video, depicted Pelle’s suicide in the Hollywood feature film Lords of Chaos [2018], which Fenriz rightly called “the worst idea since un-sliced bread.” Metalion expressed his feelings about the motion picture to Bardo Methodology: “… I really dislike that the deaths of two comrades are made into entertainment for who find it ‘cool.’” Despite recognizing Lords of Chaos as a work of fiction, Anders Ohlin was kind enough to loan Åkerlund’s film crew a pair of Pelle’s jeans.)

It is often said that Euronymous planned to spend some time away, at Manheim’s house, in order to give Pelle just enough privacy to kill himself. Manheim has confirmed that Euronymous and Pelle discussed the latter’s suicide beforehand, but he is not sure how seriously Euronymous took the conversation. (Manheim has stated that people were “expecting” Pelle to commit suicide, and Anders Odden alleged that Pelle had tried to take his life several times.) On April 7th, a Sunday, Euronymous called Necrobutcher, who intended to check on Pelle that weekend, to say that he could not get into the house. Euronymous then remarked: “He’s probably hanging in his room.” This was meant to suggest that Pelle had already killed himself. Euronymous discovered Pelle’s body the next day, the day of his suicide. Instead of officially reporting the tragedy, Euronymous drove to the store to buy a disposable camera. (Alternatively, on the Helvete Historien om Norsk Black Metal [2020], Anders Ohlin seems to say: “Some days later [after Pelle’s suicide], Øystein found him…” However, it is possible that this deviation from the story that can be found in sources such as Blood, Fire, Death: The Swedish Metal Story, for which he was interviewed, may have been caused by the documentary’s editing.) Once back from the store, Euronymous rearranged the crime scene. He placed Pelle’s knife on top of the shotgun. Euronymous was eager to have Hellhammer help him have the photos developed. (Hellhammer, who given a different timeline of events, has stated that he saw Pelle, who hinted that he bought “a very sharp knife,” the very day of his suicide. Yet, the date of as early as 2 days prior has been used to mark the final encounter between Pelle and Hellhammer.) Hellhammer has claimed that Euronymous made a stew of Pelle’s brain, which had fallen out of his skull. Metalion suspects that this rumor is true given Euronymous’ extreme tendencies. Euronymous, however, denied resorting to cannibalism. He explained that Pelle’s corpse was too old. Euronymous considered sawing off one of Pelle’s arms, but he feared that this would raise suspicion in the eyes of the police.

The tragedy of Pelle’s death took Necrobutcher by surprise. Necrobutcher, who cared deeply for Pelle, was horrified when Euronymous phoned him to say that “Pelle had done something really cool.” Euronymous outraged Necrobutcher by boasting of his plans to develop the pictures of Pelle’s corpse and to use one of them on the cover of Mayhem’s next album. Necrobutcher warned Euronymous that he would murder/“beat the shit” out of him if he so much as dared. A week later, Euronymous arrived at Necrobutcher’s home with an envelope of photographs. As Necrobutcher told the authors of Blood, Fire, Ice, for example, he yet again responded: “I’ll kill you if you do that.” Necrobutcher refused to involve himself with Euronymous until he came to his senses. Thus, he objects to idea that he ever “left” Mayhem. (Necrobutcher has justified his position to Against Magazine: “Everybody is saying ‘when you left’ … I never left anything… my best friend blew his brains out and my other best friend took photos of his dead body and wanted to use it as promotion.”) Metalion and Occultus helped Euronymous decontaminate the crime scene themselves. As Metalion penned, Necrobutcher lent a hand: “… he was the only one who acted rationally.” Various people involved have confirmed that Euronymous and Hellhammer made necklaces out of fragments of Pelle’s skull, which they found while cleaning several days later. Euronymous sent pieces of Pelle’s skull, wet brain, and the lead from the bullet as gifts to several acquaintances. (Hellhammer kept his skull amulet until he lost it while at a party at Fenriz’s house. His necklace got caught on a battle axe on the wall and went flying.) In 2018, a piece of what was allegedly Dead’s cranium was sold for $3,500 on Serial Killers Ink.

Necrobutcher was the only person to fly from Norway to Sweden to attend Pelle’s funeral. Euronymous refused, despite Pelle’s mother’s wishes. He called Necrobutcher “a sentimental wimp-fucker” for acting differently. Pelle’s service was held at the Österhaninge Church, where John Lennon’s “Imagine” and Rod Stewart’s “Sailing” were played. Pelle was buried in the church’s cemetery. Necrobutcher attended the Ohlin family’s reception afterward. (Jørn was eventually able to reconnect with Pelle’s brothers after many years.)  Also in Sweden, Dissection would play “Freezing Moon” in Pelle’s honor just days after his passing. (Before committing suicide in 2006, Dissection’s Jon Nödtveidt would also hint that he was going to Transylvania. His friend IT, with whom he had a feud, was among those to receive a piece of Dead’s skull.)

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In the absence of Pelle, Manheim, and Necrobutcher, Euronymous would take the opportunity to reinvent Mayhem. Pelle had certainly been fond of the label black metal, but Necrobutcher was adamant that Mayhem should avoid it. In conversation with Thurston Moore at Rockheim, where Mayhem is now in the Hall of Fame, Necrobutcher explained that because Venom had already coined the term with their album Black Metal (1982), borrowing it would make him a copycat. (In fact, Mayhem’s name comes from the Venom song “Mayhem with Mercy.”) Nevertheless, Euronymous proceeded to create the “black metal scene” at Helvete. Euronymous would also continue to make egregious comments about Pelle’s suicide and speak of him as if he had been a “truly evil” caricature of a man. Or rather, Euronymous spoke about Pelle as if he had been garbage. Euronymous bragged to The Sepulchral Voice: “When Dead blew his brains off it was the greatest act of promotion he ever did for us… It's always great when someone dies — it doesn't matter who.”

After Occultus’ departure, Euronymous recruited the Hungarian-born Tormentor frontman Attila Csihar to sing on Mayhem’s first studio album, De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas (1994). Euronymous told Csihar that he had been Pelle’s favorite vocalist. (Pelle had written to Old Nick: “Have you heard of the INCREADIBLY KILLLING GREAT band Tormentor from Hungary? Their demo is about 4 years old but it sounds like the Death/Black Metal bands of today. We try to find out if they want a deal of DSP, but unfortunately they hardly speak any English at all so it seems like neither them or us understood it…”) Although Attila has acted as Mayhem’s vocalist since 2004, he left after the recording De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas in order to return to school. Because no one could “replace” Pelle, it is a plus that Attila has an individualistic approach and has not tried to mimic the late vocalist. All of the lyrics on De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, which is perhaps the most highly regarded black metal album of all-time, were written by Pelle, except Necrobutcher’s “Cursed in Eternity.” On “Pagan Fears,” Attila sings: “The past is alive. Woeful people with pale faces, staring obsessed at the moon. Some memories will never go away. And they will always be here.” (In a letter to Old Nick, Pelle exclaimed “The past is alive!” when discussing his wish to visit Transylvania’s castles.) Pelle’s lyrics for the penultimate track are especially poignant: “Only silence can be heard. Silence of peoples’ tears. No one knows my grave. Buried by time and dust… Some memories will never go away. And they will forever be here.”

Pelle had known what Mayhem’s upcoming release was to be called as he told several zines and Old Nick: “The only we know about it is that the title MUST be used — De Mysteriis Dom.Sathanas.” He also mentions the album by name in conversation with zines like Battery, Slayer, and Renascimento Do Metal. There is even an audio clip of Pelle intoning the most beautiful four words known to man, “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas,” on the radio before adding in Swedish: “Hello children, today we will learn how to cut…” Pelle had grand plans for how the De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas should sound. He eventually explained to Nick: “What we wanna have as the intro is choros singing in a very big church and for that I’ll probably do some singing or background talking + (the most important) a catholic chorus which I hope we can ‘rent’ there… It’s meant that it shall switch, later on, to a satanic invocation messing and that can probably be done everywhere (except Scandinavia, as usual) but you told something about some dudes you know who’re more or less involved in covens… We need real stuff.” Regarding the ancient text itself, Pelle told Renascimento Do Metal that he first heard about the book when he read about it “in a ghost story… where a man found a book with that name, when he started to read it, he discovered that the book was bound in human flesh and that the about 500 years old skin were still alive. The book was so evil that he started to bleed. He was a very ‘wrong’ person and the force beyond human imagination on it that was hidden in ‘De Mysteriis Dom.Sathanas’ came out for another sacrifice.’ Unfortunately, there’s only one copy of that book, but I will not give up of searching for it.” Hellhammer has said that Pelle was truly obsessed with finding this Necronomicon. In The Death Archives, however, Necrobutcher states that the famous title De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas was actually inspired by Iamblichus’ De Mysteriis.

Shortly before Euronymous’ death, on August 10th, 1993, he and Necrobutcher began planning a reunion. They hoped to organize a festival for Mayhem’s 10th anniversary with bands like Sodom and Kreator. Necrobutcher was supposed to record new bass tracks to replace Varg Vikernes’ on De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas. After all, Necrobutcher had written a significant portion of the album. Necrobutcher’s reconciliation with Euronymous was made possible by the fact that he assumed that Euronymous had reversed his attitude regarding the photos of Pelle. In 2019, Necrobutcher confused fans when he dropped the bombshell to Consequence of Sound: “… actually, I was on my way down to kill him [Euronymous] myself.” His statements seemed to imply that Varg Vikernes, who stabbed Euronymous 23 times, beat him to the murder. In another interview that was published the following day, however, Necrobutcher made it clear that he had already overcome his desire for revenge by that point. (At the time of Euronymous’ passing, Necrobutcher was working at IBM and had recently become a father.) During his chat with CoS, Necrobutcher also alleged that the police had bugged Vikernes’ phone and knew that he was about to kill Euronymous. We will note that although Euronymous’ family requested that Vikernes’ bass tracks be replaced on De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, this never happened.

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***

Almost 31 years have elapsed since Pelle’s passing. The fact that Pelle took his life just days after Easter, which fell on March 31st that year, serves as metaphor for this savior of sorts whose vocals retain the raw power of something that has just risen from the dead. Pelle’s timeless artistry erases the barrier between life and death and remains eternally fresh. Pelle once told Slayer Mag: “… we hope to never grow up.” Although Pelle quite literally gave black metal its voice, he also posthumously manages to put plastic, modern metal to shame. People like Pelle don’t even come around once in a “Freezing Moon.” Despite the plethora of imitators, there is simply no one in the music world like Pelle.

Nevertheless, the Ohlin family has been forced to fight to preserve Pelle’s dignity. Euronymous told Orcustus Zine: “I don't think people should respect each other…” Practicing what he preached, Euronymous sent a copy of a photograph of Pelle’s corpse to Mauricio “Bull Metal” Montoya in Colombia. (Bull Metal also received a fragment of Pelle’s skull.) On February 17th, 1995, the one-year anniversary of Darkthrone’s Transilvanian Hunger, Bull Metal’s Warmaster Records first published the bootleg album The Dawn of the Black Hearts as a limited-edition vinyl. (The album is a recording of a Mayhem show that took place on February 28th, 1990, to raise money for Slayer Mag.) The photo that Euronymous had sent was displayed on The Dawn of the Black Heart’s cover. The album has been further bootlegged beyond measure. As a result, the image of Pelle’s corpse appears on the internet, shirts, books, and documentaries. Bull Metal, whom Necrobutcher attempted to track down, has long since passed away. On April 7th, 2017, Mayhem tried to reclaim the recording that was made infamous by The Dawn of the Black Hearts by officially releasing it with a new name, Live in Sarpsborg, and a new cover image. Euronymous’ parents, who burned the other photographs of Pelle’s corpse that they found among their son’s possessions, have granted Anders Ohlin the rights to the tragic photo of his brother. Sadly, however, these factors have not prevented Pelle’s “postmortem” picture from continuing to spread. Anders asks that fans stop sharing this photograph, which he often encounters on social media.

In The Slayer Mag Diaries, Metalion corrects those who believe that Pelle's death was the fulfillment of his destiny: “When he died, everyone was quick to assume that was what he wanted. Yet nobody who said that was really aware. If people actually talked more seriously with him, maybe we would have better understood what he was going through… People thought he was different, and they just left it at that. I think that network of people around Dead in Norway failed him completely. He was living in squalor with no telephone and no car. Because of that, I had much less contact with him than when he lived in Sweden… He wrote lyrics saying essentially that he didn't belong among the living And people just agreed, even imitating by pretending they felt the same way. I think they were just worshipping the Dead character, not the person. That was just wrong. Imagine him being so young, like twenty years old, moving from Sweden to Norway, living with Mayhem. They didn't have any money. They lived on nothing at all. So of course, lots of dreams were crushed.” Metalion continues: “… in Norway with everything going against him, he probably didn't see a future.”

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As Pelle’s legacy continues to grow, it becomes ever more apparent that his sensitive spirit has managed to enhance the lives of his fans. Pelle was clearly a genius performer with an uncanny ability not only to fully embody his artistic persona, but also to make people feel understood. A man in Chile, for example, contacted Anders Ohlin to say that Pelle’s music saved his life. Blood, Fire, Death’s Ika Johannesson relayed the touching news to Decibel: “To this day the old members of Morbid and their friends meet up with Pelle’s brothers once a year to party and celebrate his memory.” Sadly, however, Lars-Göran Petrov succumbed to cancer last March. Anders visits Pelle’s grave every month.

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