Mayhem are infamous; this much is true. From violence within and outside the band, members igniting churches on fire, and even murdering other band mates. These events have, naturally, overshadowed their music in the eyes of many people. But no one can deny the influence over the Black Metal genre that this band has had, or, more appropriately, continues to have. Deathcrush, Mayhems first ‘album’ (some debate it’s status as an EP), has undoubtedly paved the way for many future bands that would become part of the infamous second wave of Black Metal and has become a milestone in the genre. And it’s not hard to see why. From the shrieking, abrasive vocal style, to the simplistic riffs, to the raw atmosphere, to basically everything, hordes of bands have looked to Mayhems’ debut for inspiration.
Upon listening, the first thing one might discover is the production. While not as trebly and distorted as later outings from similar groups, Deathcrush has a certain quality to it’s sound that makes it…unique. Everything is up at the front, at war with each other for your attention. This loudness lunacy doesn’t detract from the quality; on the contrary, it rather adds a special element to the stringed instruments ethereal, thin aurora, with both Necrobutchers’ bass and Euronymous’ guitar being as coldly distorted as possible. It wouldn’t be surprising that their amplifiers must have, at some point or another, melted down from all the treble rawness they produced. The up front production has a similar answer for the drums. Most all of Manheim’s drumkit has been somehow ‘crystallized’ by this style of production. By that I mean the cymbals sound sharper than what would have been expected, the snare having a bitter snap, and his toms a pinched sound. But perhaps the aspect benefiting most from these loud sensibilities is the vocals. Like the guitars, Maniac’s vocals can be heard as quite ethereal. Both because of the incredibly high screams he achieves coupled with his sloppy execution and with a reverberated effect that is plainly noticeable, yet appealing all the same. He is on top of everything, directing the band which way and that; sounding both strained but powerful, thus the highlight on Deathcrush.
But that would all be for nothing would it not be for the band’s energy. Intense and uncompromising, the band blasts their way through their eighteen-minute debut. Frantic, staccato, palm muted riffage and crazed, out of control soloing make up the guitars. Blast beats and fast fills with snare loving sensibilities are the essence of the drums. And throat shredding, agonized, slurred and brutal vocals. Each are unchecked and have their own set of rules when it comes to their way of doing ‘crazy’, but they all come together for a mess of pure, unadulterated, onslaught of their own brand of Metal. Mayhems’ debut also holds ‘clean’ sections, if you will. Mostly outlandish and unnerving sounds, they serve no purpose whatsoever but to make the album weird. Which they achieve, surprisingly. Creepy and dissonant, they give the album a crazed underlying theme next to the album’s main one of icy rage, even though some of the tracks, mainly (Weird) Manheim and the Outro, take away and distract from that.
There is only one real problem here, next to the questionable filler tracks. That of course is the length, which is only eighteen and a half minutes. Suitable for an EP, yet I only wish there were more original Mayhem songs to be heard. Out of the eight tracks, I only consider four true songs, as there exists one Venom cover (Witching Hour) and a recording of Conrad Schnitzler’s Silvester Anfang. The other two are parts of the atmospheric, creeper songs on Deathcrush. Yet other than this fault, which I find easily forgettable, the album is great.
Eighteen minutes doesn’t seem like much. And it isn’t, not compared to what a band like Mayhem would become, with their influence, respect and recognition around Black Metal’s legions. Yet I must digress, that only those interested where the legend got its start should be interested, as this isn’t as shaped and fleshed out as later albums like De Mysteriis Dom Santhanas. But if one does listen, they can reflect in retrospect; look back and see how far Mayhem have come.