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Book Review: The Death Archives (Mayhem 1984-94), By Jørn "Necrobutcher" Stubberud

Updated: Mar 21, 2022

By: A. W. Finnegan #HeavyMetal #Mayhem #PelleOhlin #Euronymous

"Try to knock us down and we will rise above" - Jørn "Necrobutcher" Stubberud

This book review will take a look at a band that has become part of heavy metal history, a band that has seen the depths of tragedy, adversity, and yet, continued on, to persevere in the face of vicious elements and incredible odds, a story told by Jørn "Necrobutcher" Stubberud, in his semi-recent book, The Death Archives: Mayhem 1984-95. This is the official story told by its co-founder, from the band's inception, through the many hardships, various lineup changes, and unfortunate tragedies that the band had to endure. Mayhem's story is an example of the resilience of the spirit, the sheer Willpower and directed aggression, put into productive channels like the crushing sounds of metal music.

A band that survived to continue on, even with the band ripped into pieces by the tragic deaths of first, their singer, Pelle, who sadly took his own life in 1991, and just two years later, Mayhem lost their guitarist and co-founder, Euronymous, who was murdered by a temporary replacement bassist, who came into the picture after a series of betrayals to Necrobutcher by Euronymous, which led to bringing the now-infamous Varg Vikernes, of Burzum, to replace Necrobutcher's bass tracks for their debut album, De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas. The Natural Laws of karma would soon came back on Euronymous, and Varg would become the hand of his tragic demise. It is hard to imagine a band surviving this level of obstruction, yet they did. The Willpower of their music became the unbreakable chain whose links would remain with the surviving members and former members to carry it onward all the way to the present day. This is a tale demonstrating the unstoppable power of heavy metal music, the war-like aggression that human beings need to survive some of the harshest elements of this cold, treacherous world.

I've already stated numerous times in other articles and videos, I grew up on heavy metal, from thrash to death metal and beyond, it is an inseparable part of who I am. I am forever indebted to this music because it is a driving force of inspiration that took me through the best and worst times, this continues undiminished today, and has been the source of much-needed influence to what I do in the best and most intense way that I can. It is obvious that this same force captivated the members of this great band, who grew up in the decade before my introduction to metal, and they put this force into a more direct form, by starting a band of their own. I can't help but feel somewhat jealous, because 80s metal is what I came up on in the 90's, and I always dreamed of what it would have been like to have seen Metallica, Slayer, Venom, and all those great thrash and metal bands from back in the 1980's.

Although I've been a metalhead since I was in the second grade, I actually got into Mayhem fairly recently. I had heard of them for years, and I had listened to fair amount of death metal in my teenage years, but it was just how it unfolded, I was a latecomer to Mayhem and their many of their black metal contemporaries, until this year. It had nothing whatsoever to do with the popularity or the recent attempts at movie-making. It was an organic gravitation when I finally arrived at its doorstep, and had a lot to do with the fact that 2020 was such a shitty fucking year for me, I lost several people I cared a lot about, and naturally I needed some metal that was a bit darker than I was typically used to. Similar circumstances in 7th grade led me to finding death metal bands like Carcass, Napalm Death, At the Gates, Dissection, Obituary, and so on. Years went by and I gravitated to different forms of metal and hardcore depending on what was going on in my life, but eventually those deep, dark reaches of the Self, would align with the music and energy which most effectively resonated with life's current experience. In 2020, the time was ripe to descend into the dark, brutal sounds of black metal, with these Norwegian pioneers, Mayhem, directly in the center. In a way, I'm kind of glad, because I once again have that moment of magic, when you find awesome music all over again, much like when I found Slayer in the third grade.

Because this book is somewhat of a different format than the previous books I've reviewed, I will not be breaking it down chapter by chapter, as I don't want to give too much of the book away, and due to the fact that the COVID-19 situation has restricted musicians from being able to tour, I encourage all who find this band or story interesting or inspiring, please buy the book and support Necrobutcher's effort in writing it. It is very unfortunate that so many bands have had to take a loss in touring revenue at the present time, as musicians are so important to us, and without them life would be even more frustrating than it already is, and is it ever fucking frustrating!

This book is easy to read and follow, and very interesting, insightful, it pulls you into the story as you read. The book is balanced out with rare photos, which Necrobutcher included from the early days of Mayhem, into the reformation with Hellhammer, Maniac, and Blasphemer. At times, the story was comical, the antics of the band and their friends, othertimes, tragic and sad, as the case with the death of Pelle, their former frontman who sadly took his own life in 1991, and once again, the later death of the guitarist, Euronymous in 1993.

Before reading this book, I wasn’t very fond of Euronymous, due to hearing of the very distasteful act of exploiting the death of Pelle, and betraying Necrobutcher in the recording of De Mystertiis Dom Sathanas. I still feel somewhat like that lowness of character is hard to move past, but having the glimpse into his earlier years, his close friendship with Necrobutcher and the band, at least levels this out, and I have a more complete understanding of his full personality, he had likeable traits too, and in many ways, it’s a pity that he made such bad choices near the end, otherwise he might have lived to be part of what Mayhem eventually became- the kings of the black metal scene, with many successful tours and amazing future albums.

Reading about Mayhem on the internet does not do the justice that reading the story direct from the band does in retelling the journey. Many pieces out there on the net likely have parts of the story wrong, and of course there is always the gossip that takes on a life of its own. Its more worthwhile to hear directly from its co-founder, with the rare photos to view as the story is told. Of course, you can access interviews from the band and gather parts of the story too, but the book is a nice crystallization of the experience, building the black metal dream that Mayhem became. The photo-to-text ratio is perfectly balanced, and this makes the book an extremely pleasant read. It’s the kind of book you read in a fairly short time, because of its ability to pull you into the story.

My website, the Garden of Great Work, is not exactly a music site, it’s a site about Natural Law, Occult initiation, knowledge of the Self and the outer world. Some may wonder where this fits in and why I am reviewing a heavy metal book on this site. I’ve already stated in some of my videos, Truth is embedded in all things, and a major part of this site, as well as the alchemical Great Work itself, transmutes how adversity and chaos shape us. It highlights how persistence and Willpower takes effect in the real world, to reach the spiritual gold. Mayhem’s story is an excellent example of this. Furthermore, heavy metal and its raw energy, the archetypal sound that underlies its aggressive nature, is a war-like energy that all humans need to overcome the weight of the world, pulling ourselves out of the depths of Hell and overcoming the hardest of obstacles.

Necrobutcher’s retelling of the early days of Mayhem, illustrates the level of work and dedication it takes to make it in the music business, to really make it, not sell yourselves out to some big label that does everything for you and waters the music down in the process, but to blaze your own path and do it how you intended it to be done. It gave a glimpse at the level of struggle, the early days where touring meant surviving with very little, living out of the confines of comfort, making sacrifices to build the dream they envisioned. Having to lug all their equipment around Europe, while fending off con artists, Nazi skinheads, suspicious authorities, and the whole nine yards, while at the same time, not getting paid the full share of what they were offered to play at some of the gigs. Coming up in a band like Mayhem was truly a struggle.

I love reading about their run-ins with the band Venom, their short clash, and how it eventually worked out in Mayhem's favor. Also, it was interesting when they found themselves hanging out with Napalm Death. I saw Napalm Death much later in Boston for a show in 1998. They also crossed paths with Kreator, among others. They went to see Metallica just months before Cliff Burton was killed. That is a concert people like myself can only dream of attending.

Necrobutcher tells of their various lineup changes, like Manheim, their first drummer, not having the dedication to fulfill the vision that Necrobutcher and Euronymous set out for. Touring thoroughly tests one’s dedication and Willpower, and for Manheim is wasn’t meant to be. But this temporary setback eventually brought them a force to be reckoned with- Jan Axel Blomberg, a. k. a. Hellhammer, who’s drumming is unstoppable, and fit right in line with the work Mayhem already had in motion. The early days saw Euronymous on vocals, evolving through Eirik “Messiah” Norheim, to Sven Erik “Maniac Kristiansen, Kittil Kittilsen, and finally, Per Yngve ‘Pelle’ Ohlin, who took the name “Dead.” Pelle brought a unique element to Mayhem, one gets the impression he was one of those truly unique individuals that no one forgets, even when their time is short, but leave a lasting impression.

Reading about Pelle directly from Necrobutcher was an important part of the book, they were evolving to their true form, The True Mayhem! Pelle brought Mayhem a unique personality and put forth deep lyrics and his dark, creative genius to the center of the band. To get there, Pelle moved all the way from Sweden to Norway, with almost nothing, and set out to be the front man of Mayhem. Initially he set his first impression by sending his demo singing with his first band Morbid, with a written letter to Necrobutcher, even going as far as to include a dead, crucified mouse with the letter. Also, he talks about how when Pelle wore corpse paint, it was not for entertainment’s sake, but to feel more like a real corpse, to align with the death energy, while also starving himself, cutting himself onstage, and becoming the death he felt within.

I saw elements of myself in Pelle, as I was always very introverted, I could be upbeat, but I’ve struggled in my life with terrible depression and feeling out of touch with everyone else growing up. I was always drawn to and fascinated by the mystery of death and darkness, and I can remember that when I felt down and out, I used to like to walk through cemeteries to feel closer to death. Eventually, I came close to death on numerous occasions in my crazy years growing up. Of course, my story is different than Pelle’s, but I can relate to some of his nature and personality, as it was described by Necrobutcher.

It was sad reading about Pelle’s tragic passing, I felt for Necrobutcher when he talks about receiving the news. I lost my childhood best friend in January of 2020, It’s a terrible feeling. I can only imagine how horrible that news must have been to him, and then on top of that, Euronymous taking photos of Pelle’s corpse to exploit it. He talks about going into Pelle’s room after it happened, and seeing how terrible it was, no one having cleaned up. I can’t imagine how tough that must have been, especially with all the insanity that was going on at the time.

The way Euronymous took photos of his late friend, in such a distasteful, disrespectful way, ended with Necrobutcher temporarily leaving the band, and Euronymous going behind his back to get Varg Vikernes to re-record the bass for their debut album, De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, which Necrobutcher should have been a part of. After all, it was he and Euronymous who built the damn thing. According to Necrobutcher, he eventually links back up with Euronymous and planned to re-record the bass for their debut album. This was cut short by yet another tragedy, Euronymous is murdered by Varg Vikernes, who went to his flat early in the morning and brutally murdered him on August 10, 1993. This shows the effect of karma in motion, that our actions, how we conduct ourselves, and how we treat people have definitive consequences. The murder of Euronymous was yet another tragic blow to the dream they had built. Now the band was ripped in half, and a short hiatus followed.

The tests of time commenced, the vicious elements of chaos and adversity hit with intensity, but the intensity and Willpower Necrobutcher and the remainder of the band kept alive, was stronger than the tragic blows of fate. The band played on. Necrobutcher soon brought the band back into order, he resumed his position as bassist, Hellhammer on the drums, Maniac was back on vocals, and the lineup was solidified with an exceptional new guitarist, Rune Eriksen, known as Blasphemer. They continued on, playing harder and heavier than ever. And the story leaves off here.

As I said before, I didn’t want to give all the details away, just a basic rundown and review, with thoughts of my own, and the importance of how they managed to come up and succeed in their vision. The book holds so much more, the struggles, the antics, the details of the story, complete with pictures and an ability to pull you back into the 80s and early 90s, at a time when a band called Mayhem was rooting itself into the depths of heavy metal history. This was an example of the ability of Willpower to carry us through the toughest elements of nature, the most violent storms, the downpour of rain. I admire the strength, the courage, and persistence that Necrobutcher and the rest of the band put into the band, that went on to make history in the heaviest ends of the heavy metal spectrum. Heavy metal brought the war-like energy, needed to survive the constant battles and challenges faced. It is the reason why heavy metal has become such an integral part of my daily life, and at my darkest, toughest times, metal bands like Mayhem, are there to carry me through, so I can make it through and carry out the Great Work I came here for, just as they did...

Buy the book, the albums, and merchandise. Support the band, as they play such important parts in helping so many people, like myself, do what we came to do.

Official Mayhem Website:

Book link (Amazon): The Death Archives: Mayhem 1984-94

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