The Past Is Alive: Mayhem, Inquisition and Black Anvil, NYC, 2/19/2017
It was warmer than expected on Sunday evening when I went to see a sold-out show at Gramercy Theatre. But the mild weather did nothing to detract from the coldness in store from Black Anvil, Inquisition and the legendary Mayhem, performing their 1994 album De Mysteriis Dom Santhanas in its entirety.
Seeing Black Anvil and Inquisition would be a cool prospect on its own. But I was particularly excited to see Mayhem this time around. I'd been lucky enough to catch them on tour with Revenge and Watain back in 2015. However, as it often happens, the band ran into visa issues with the U.S. government. So by the time I saw them, they played without bassist Necrobutcher, the band's sole remaining original member. Additionally, they'd only played a couple songs from DMDS, as they were still supporting Esoteric Warfare at the time. I've gushed over the album on this website before, so the opportunity to see it played back-to-front was too good to miss (and I'd failed to jump on the more intimate St. Vitus show in time).
Though I own one of their albums, I haven't listened to Black Anvil that deeply. But after seeing their opening performance, I'll be making it a priority to do so in the future. With a sign draped behind them "ny X bm" for New York Black Metal, they performed a set of energetic metal that included some unexpected shades of alternative rock vocals and classic heavy metal swagger. Though neither of these things is unprecedented in black metal, Black Anvil's particular sound betrays a group of musicians who didn't exactly start with black metal. R.G. and P.D. used to be in Kill Your Idols, so they can say they've been in two awesome bands. This experience also gives them some finesse in songwriting dynamics and the effective use of gang vocals.
Ok, so I hadn't realized that Inquisition just performed with Dagon and Incubus alone. But as off-putting as this was at first, somehow it seemed to work. Though it was still kind of funny to watch Dagon alternate between microphones at stage left and stage right. Perhaps it gives him a chance to move around a bit. Anyway it doesn't matter, the band put on an impressive set, with rippers like "From Chaos They Came" mixed in with crushing numbers like "Dark Mutilation Rites." It was also amusing to watch Incubus bounce up and down while delivering the impossibly fast drumming he's known for, presumably as a way to keep his whole body energized and not pass out.
Though my own viewing experience was slightly hurt by two (not one, TWO) people in front of me filming the entire set on their phones. I get it if you're trying to get some short snippets here and there, but you really don't need to spoil other people's view and distract them with your glorified camcorder. This must be a recurring problem, as a voice came on the loudspeaker before Mayhem went on to ask people to put away their phones and not ruin the atmosphere. And yet…those two people stubbornly kept filming. Whatever.
As the band prepared to take the stage, the image of Euronymous, Atilla and Hellhammer from the DMDS artwork came on, drenched in the same spooky shade of blue that adorns the album. The stage also featured some set pieces of grim figures, and an altar with two candles and a skull. Like the album itself, the stage was set up to be dark and spooky, but still subtle enough to not let it become a joke. The same could be said for the band's costumes, simple black robes, with Atilla, Teloch and Ghul each sporting some form of corpse paint. Mayhem's performance was as thrilling as you'd expect it to be, though the second act sounded significantly better than the first. Atilla's vocals could have been louder, and the same goes for the lead guitars. Still, Hellhammer and Necrobutcher make for an unstoppable rhythm section. Though it was pure nostalgia, the heart of a black metal fan cannot help but feel tremors as the loudspeakers blare Dead's lines from the Live in Leipzig album as the band kicks into "Freezing Moon": "When it's cooooold, and when it's daaaaark, the freezing moon can obsess you!!!"
I was also glad to see that a substantial number in the crowd was able to sing along to even lesser-known tracks like "From the Dark Past" and "Life Eternal." The crowd was mostly metalheads in their 20s and 30s, some older faces here and there. A couple people wore corpse paint, one of whom I'd seen two years earlier and was using a lighter in the center of the mosh pit, presumably to take himself way too seriously. Another was a guy I'd met at Summer Slaughter back in 2010 who liked to complain about hardcore dancing. Interesting who you see recurring at shows over time.
Before the band launched into the glorious title track that ends DMDS, the speakers let out the eerie piano version as an intro to lead into the maelstrom of guitars, fast-drumming and operatic vocals…a black metal paradise. I'd say this was Atilla's best moment of the night. The song has long been my favorite from Mayhem, and though it already clocks in at more than six minutes, I could easily go for another six without growing tired of it. And then the show was over. It made sense, seeing as the tour is specifically dedicated to the one album (though a rendition of "Deathcrush" would have been nice).