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Career Advice From Black Metal Band Mayhem (Who Perform at Union Transfer Thursday).

January 6, 2015

Ester SegarraText by Chad Sims. Images courtesy of Mayhem.

“Would you like to interview Mayhem?”

As I read the email from the label publicist, a chill ran down my spine. This sensation was not of excitement, but rather fear.

Did I want to interview Mayhem? I wasn’t sure. I didn’t know if I wanted to have any contact with the band that could, without exaggeration, be called The Scariest Band on Earth. For those who don’t know let me explain.

Mayhem is a black metal band that has existed since 1984. Like most black metal bands they have evil sounding music and lyrics about pretty much what you would expect (death, decay, darkness, cold, etc). The big difference between Mayhem and many other extreme metal bands is they really lived this stuff.

Mayhem has had one lead singer killed himself (Per Yngve Ohlin aka Dead). Founding guitarist Oystein Aarseth (aka Euronymous) was later murdered by bass player Varg Vikernes. Around those years, some of the band members had also participated in a wave of church arsons perpetuated by the black metal scene. Vikernes was convicted of the murder and arson. He has since been released from prison but was later arrested and convicted on charges of inciting racial hatred in France.

So now you should understand why I was a bit hesitant to take on this assignment. Luckily, the surviving members of Mayhem seem to be focused on making music these days and in fairness, they didn’t really have much to do with the above events. The band plays Union Transfer on Thursday with Watain.

In fact, I spoke with Teloch (Morten Bergeston Iverson) one of the newer members and guitarist of the band, and I was told I could not ask about the suicide or murder. Besides Mayhem, Iverson plays in multiple other bands and has his own band called Nidingr.

Despite not being in the band in those black years, Teloch certainly has a very dark sense of humor when discussing Mayhem and his musical career.

You have now been in Mayhem for a few years. What is it like playing in one of the most important bands in the history of black metal?

It’s a cool gig. It takes me around the world, at airports and the inside of a tour bus. Travel around the world and don’t see anything. Great. It’s of course cool. Then again, I don’t find joy in much things in life. But looking back, I could never foreseen that the day I experienced De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, that I one day would play in Mayhem because I don’t really have any goals in life. I take things as they come and jump in at situations that I don’t really want to do. I am telling myself I grow as a person doing things I find uncomfortable.

What does the band Mayhem mean to you? What I mean by this is, you are credited as one of the main songwriters of the new album, so how is writing a Mayhem song different than writing a song for one of your other projects?

Yeah, Attila, our vocalist, wrote the lyrics and I wrote the music. What was different for me this time when writing was, first of all, it was a Mayhem album I had to write, so I didn’t exactly feel I was free to do whatever I wanted to. There are some rules to follow to make it sound like Mayhem, at least in my head, not that I want to get into that now.

First rule is, it has to sound like Mayhem! Second, it has to sound like nothing they released earlier! Well, fuck me, what a easy task. It was fucking hard. Of course, the album, it’s not good enough in my head and I can’t wait to start on the next one. This album was very important to get out of the way. Now we know what will work and what will not work when making the next one. We know what we must do more of next time and what was shit, if we can ever agree on it, that is.

MayhemEsterSegarraWhat were your primary inspirations for Esoteric Warfare?

Euronymous and Blasphemer. There was no point for me trying to top Ordo Ad Chao. That would be the end of me as a Mayhem writer. So instead, my plan was to make an extended version … but more controlled version of it, plus at the same time honor the band’s past composers. I thought that it was fitting to slow it down and look a bit at the bands past. So there is something in Esoteric Warfare that can be found in all the Mayhem albums. Very fitting as a 30 years anniversary album, in my opinion. So there was a bunch of things to think of just even before starting to compose this. And on top of this I had to add some of my own flavor into this soup of evilness.

Will the live show be primarily this album or will it be a fair balance across Mayhems catalog?

We will do our 30 years anniversary set for this North American tour, the same setlist we played all over Europe last year. We have to get that out of the way before we can focus properly on Esoteric Warfare and our plan is to go over again and do a tour focusing more on Esoteric Warfare.

What is different about playing in the United States versus Norway/Europe?

I would say the main difference is that we don’t really get paid much when playing over in the States. I mean, there are shitloads of preparations to be done and insane amount of papers and forms to be filled out. Big costs renting buses, a backline, expensive flights, etc. etc. and then suddenly, they are now starting with this tax shit for foreign bands. Good fucking thing we have all our black metal millions stashed away so we don’t really have to do this for a living anymore and can spend six weeks on the road and get back home with a salary equal to what we would have made blowing a fucking hobo in the fucking alleys of fucking Vancouver.

Partly joking here, of course. The hobo would pay more of course.

No, but seriously, the crowd is slightly different in some strange way. Sometimes it can feel like the Americans are more into the music. Not like they are more outgoing and wild but more thoughtful in a way. Not sure how to explain it. And sometimes the Americans seem fucking dumb. Take your pick…

I will stop fucking around now. It’s always cool to play over in America, just being on the road over there and seeing the different landscapes, etc. It’s very cool for us being from Norway. Everything in Norway is very small compared to USA, except our penises.

What were the first bands/musicians that made you want to learn to play guitar?

Metallica was the one that started everything for me. Metallica is also the reason I totally failed at school. I wasn’t attending classes at all. I sat home all the time learning how to play. Metallica records were more my thing back then. Result: an under average guitar player with no social skills. I don’t understand math or any of the other shit the other kids in my class studied. And I have no clue about any history or shit like that. Of course, years of drug abuse doesn’t help either. Stay in school kids. I can’t stress that enough. And stay away from playing black metal. Find something real to do instead, like blowing hobos in Vancouver.

Ester SegarraWhat sorts of interests or hobbies do you have outside of music?

Right now there aren’t very many hobbies. There is no time for it. Too much of this music stuff going on these days. But when I do find the time, I try to do some photography or just be out walking in the forest. But its been a long time since I’ve gotten to do that now.

I read an interview where you said you were not interested in what lyrics said so much as how they were delivered. Can you expand on that? Are vocals just another instrument as far as you are concerned?

Its just a smart way for me to avoid talking about my concentration problem. I have, since very early age, have big problems focusing and concentrating. Plus I’m diagnosed with severe memory loss, so lyrics just go under the radar for me. I have enough trying to focus on the guitars or the overall feeling of a song. That’s good enough for me.

Do you have any other projects on the horizon or is Mayhem your only focus these days?

Yup, I was finishing the songs for a new Nidingr album. I think I have them 90 percent done now and soon ready to be recorded as a pre-production. But before I got to finish the Nidingr songs, I got hired to do music for a theater play by Bertolt Brecht named “Mother Courage.” That has been my main focus the last month. I will also keep on working on the play while on this American tour. The play will premiere here in Oslo 13th of February at the Norwegian state theater, main stage. A project named Umoral is being mixed. Also in the middle of writing and rehearsing at this theater, I played bass and guitars on the upcoming Myrkur debut.

What do you want people to know about this current incarnation of Mayhem?

Apparently, this version of Mayhem is the tightest it has been in years. People who have been following the band for many years say that they have never seen the band as good as it is now. Might be worth checking out. Who knows how long it will stay like this. Maybe someone in the band gets killed or kills someone.


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