DISCLAIMER: What you are about to read is a personal account of my outlook on the rise of death and black metal. This is not from some book or anything like that. I didn’t need to talk with anyone about this. I was there the whole time, and these are MY opinions on what happened. MY memories of what went down. This is all from memory. It is loose, fast and to the point. I’m not a professional by any means, but I hope you enjoy this story. -Mike
“The nose of a mob is its imagination. By this, at any time, it can be quietly led.” -Edgar Allan Poe
Hmmm, I want to say that I will start with the year 1984. Death metal had been around since 1984/1985 depending on who you ask. Mantas, Genocide, Deathstrike, Possessed, Slaughter and others had started years earlier and wanted to make music that made Slayer sound like Wham. “Black metal” had already started with Venom and Mercyful Fate. Then Bathory and Hellhammer came along. The term “death metal” was more widely used back then. Hell, there was even a compilation called “Death Metal” that had Running Wild and Helloween on it! Although I do dig both of those bands, they are hardly death metal! But the comp did have Hellhammer as well. So there was a back and forth there for a while. Even Sodom came along and called themselves “witching metal” to start off with! hahaha. But bands jumped back and forth and it was common for bands to be called both at times. Once Massacre, Repulsion, Death, and later Xecutioner, R.A.V.A.G.E., Morbid Angel and others started getting going with demo tapes flooding the underground, death metal was really starting to spawn. My comment about Slayer was a joke. Slayer upped the ante, so to speak, on playing faster and more aggressive. Slayer was influenced by D.R.I., Cryptic Slaughter and the fast hardcore punk that was coming out. Just like those hardcore bands became influenced by Slayer and other metal bands later on. So these death metal bands took the Slayer formula and made it even more aggressive and even faster and heavier than ever before. Black metal was kind of regulated to the same bands for a while. Possessed had the imagery of a black metal band, but were total death metal/thrash. Mercyful Fate broke up and Venom and Bathory started getting a little different in their musical direction.
Flash forward to 1989. I was already a couple years deep in the metal underground, but this is when I really got into the DEEP underground scene with the tape trading and fanzines and all of that. ALL KINDS of underground bands, that played different “styles” were all in the same fanzines and on the same compilation tapes. The black metal of Samael, Beherit and Blasphemy was featured right next to the death metal of Autopsy and Nihilist. The thrash of Merciless and Sindrome was right next to the grind of Agathocles and Anarchus. Everyone seemed to get along in one, big happy underground metal family! Then over the next few years, death metal then broke as a worldwide phenomenon. Everything either had a Swedish guitar sound or was recorded at Morrisound Studios with Scott Burns producing it. And had Dan Seagrave doing the artwork on the cover. Morbid Angel became mainstream, Carcass and Obituary started getting play on MTV more often. It seemed EVERYONE was familiar with “death metal”! But then weird stuff started happening with these bands. In Sweden and Finland, some of the old death metal bands started getting more rock or gothic (or both) with their music. Opeth and Katatonia followed suit with a progressive rock or gothic rock sound. Entombed did a horrible mix of death metal and rock and roll. Therion got weirder, then went all show-tunes. In Finland Abhorrence became Amorphis and ended up having more in common with classic rock. Disgrace went punk rock. Xysma went hippie. Convulse went “death and roll” (PUKE!) There was a disconnect that started and some bands and members of the scene felt slighted. But it was felt that death metal went cheesy as fuck. Some people grew tired of all of this, and decided to form a new thing. And the leader of this new movement was Euronymous of Mayhem.
Mayhem was a band that started in 1984 and was also a huge part of the underground metal scene in the early days. They were also in the fanzines with all of the other styles of metal that was growing in the underground back then. Little by little, Euronymous became distant from this “scene” and decided that he wanted to create his own scene. In a sense, the 2nd (or 3rd depending on who you talk with ) wave of black metal was born. Sarcofago had already had the legendary “INRI” album out. And then Mayhem lead this charge with Mortuary Drape and Master’s Hammer already going, along with the above mentioned Blasphemy, Beherit, and Samael. Greece also spawned Rotting Christ, Varathron and Necromantia. Euronymous had the attitude of “FUCK ALL OF THIS TRENDY BULLSHIT!” This new sound was started with the evil simplicity of Venom and the dark sound of Bathory. The “heaviness” of the guitars were stripped to get a more eerie vibe and were tuned back up and distorted differently. It was raw and even considered uglier than death metal. The “corpse paint” of Hellhammer and Mercyful Fate front man King Diamond was used for visual effect. With Euronymous preaching the gospel, Norway became the black metal capital. Bands that were once caught up in the death metal scene and played in death metal bands like Phobia, Amputation, Old Funeral, Embryonic, Thou Shalt Suffer, and Black Death, now were caught up in this new wave of black metal and became black metal bands like Enslaved, Immortal, Emperor and Darkthrone. Darkthrone even did a death metal album at one point ( “Soulside Journey” ). Even in one of the death metal capitals, Sweden, there were bands getting “blacker”. Rabbit’s Carrot became Dissection. Members of Edge Of Sanity and Allegiance formed Marduk. Worldwide, some bands fell by the wayside. Sarcofago went thrash. Blasphemy broke up. Beherit went experimental. Samael was good for a bit, then ended up industrial. Mystifier popped up with the black metal sound. Master’s Hammer stayed active for a bit, broke up and recently reformed. Mortuary Drape has remained active for years, flying under the radar. But the black metal movement that was about to change the world and take over music, and ironically enough, become even more cheesy and trendy as death metal ever had been, was about to be born.
I myself had liked EVERYTHING that was underground back then. I tried to collect as many tapes, records, videos, shirts and other stuff of all of those bands. Regardless if they were death metal, or black metal. I played Immortal “Diabolical Full Moon Mysticism” and Impaled Nazarene “Tol Cormpt Norz Norz Norz” like crazy. I still loved Samael, Blasphemy, Beherit, Mortuary Drape, Master’s Hammer, Mystifier, Rotting Christ, Varathron and Sarcofago. But I also loved Autopsy, Morbid Angel, Entombed, Impetigo, Immolation, Dismember, Carcass, Repulsion, Carnage, and all kinds of killer death metal. I was fascinated with death metal when I first heard it. Those early bands that played death metal and those killer recordings that they did gave me chills, and also scared the shit out of me. The black metal stuff, I did love, but it was just killer music. At first, I didn’t get those chills. So yeah, I was, and always will be a “death metal guy”. At some point, that disconnect within the scene that I spoke of earlier, became hatred. And the next wave of black metal that was born around this time, rode this wave of hate.
Euronymous had his ideals about this movement and he spoke to his brethren to follow these ideals. Then the albums started coming. Burzum with the debut, “A Blaze In The Northern Sky” by Darkthrone and The Emperor/Enslaved split, were three of the first calls to battle for this wave. Once the murders and church burnings started becoming an international phenomenon, this wave of black metal then took off. “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas” by Mayhem came out in 1994. The wicked and macabre murders of band members Dead and Euronymous only sold more records for Mayhem and brought much more attention to the movement in general. Then more bands started coming out of Norway like: Dimmu Borgir, Satyricon, Gorgoroth, Gehenna, and others. On the flip side of the coin, death metal had started to become stagnant and considered dead (no pun intended). Also with the rise of black metal, the hatred that I talked about against death metal got serious. Death metal bands from Sweden were threatened by the black metal bands from Norway. Actually, it seemed that NO death metal band, world wide, was safe from the wrath of these crazy Norwegians. Some Nazi/racist ideology crept in with the black metal scene. The bands from Norway even started hating black metal bands from Sweden and Finland. Marduk and Impaled Nazarene weren’t having any of it and hated right back.
Here in Los Angeles, things were changing. I started seeing more and more kids wearing black metal shirts. I started seeing kids wearing corpse paint. These same kids would cut themselves at shows and act all grim and “kvlt” in the corner. They really looked like Robert Smith of The Cure to me. Or some sort of CC Deville/Paul Stanley hybrid. And of course these same kids would sit there and talk major shit on death metal and how lame it was and how awesome black metal was. People just gave up on death metal! And went to the black metal side. Well, being the death metal guy that I was, I took sides, and, out numbered in trendy L.A., I fought for death metal! I told these fucks that Mayhem would NEVER hold a candle to Autopsy or Repulsion!(PUN INTENDED!) I loved it when Impaled Nazarene talked shit about Norway and all those bands! I loved it when Dissection came out with some death/black/Iron Maiden hybrid, and toured with At The Gates (whose members made up another favorite death/black band Grotesque!) and Morbid Angel. I hated it when death metal got all trendy and commercial. But I hated it more when black metal broke and became even bigger. How did these little, skinny, goofy fucks in Norway think that they were so tough? ” I would kick their asses with one hand tied behind my back” I thought. But there were some KILLER albums that were black metal that I did love from that period: “Pure Holocaust” by Immortal, “Urga-Karma” by Impaled Nazarene, “Seen Through The Veils…..” by Gehenna, “Opus Nocturne” by Marduk amoung them. I was still ready to go to war for death metal and fight for it at the drop of a hat. It made me angry because people who never even listened to heavy metal were now listening to death metal. Idiots who didn’t like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, all of the sudden like Morbid Angel and Carcass. Same shit happened with black metal. They jumped straight from “grunge” or whatever alternative music they liked to black metal and thought they knew everything about everything. They could never realize how sacred that this music is to all of us true metal heads.
The lines and genres are blurred now. Everyone has grown up. Bands play a hybrid of black/death or death/black quite a bit more than they did back in those early days. I get influenced by Bathory and Venom, as well as Autopsy and Repulsion. Now there is “BLACK/THRASH”, “BLACK/CRUST”, “DEATH/CRUST” and “DEATH/THRASH” (which has been around since the early 80s itself!. Confused yet?!?!?!) There are bands mixing the symphonic black metal of newer Dimmu Borgir and Cradle Of Filth, with newer style brutal death metal ( PUKE! PUKE AND MORE PUKE!) haha. And even the people that were these hideous monsters in Norway, were really just metal heads at one point (some of them!) I seriously doubt that these guys who started this movement thought that it would be the trendy, “hot topic” fueled machine that it is now! I do know a little about these guys as well. I was actually friendly with Euronymous. I was able to get his address and phone number from my friend Justin that worked at Necropolis Records back in the day. We did write and correspond several times before I was even able to chat with him over the phone. Oystein was a nice guy and a metal head to the core! We always had a good time talking metal and horror movies. He was always curious about the killer olden bands of the L.A. scene. He did seem to drift away at some point and we stopped talking all together around the summer of 1992. One of the main warriors that was one of the main haters of all things death metal back then was Fenriz of Darkthrone. Now I talk with him about all things metal that are classic. He is a funny and cool guy that likes his classic metal music. Far from the hate filled maniac that everyone thought that he was back then. Back in 1989, I also wrote to Harald Navdal (aka Demonaz Doom Occulta) when he was in Amputation. We corresponded a few times back then and was a very cool guy that always wrote back quickly and was always into talking and trading tapes. Black Winds of Blasphemy was also a pen pal of mine. At one point I found out that he had come down to Orange County at one point to hang out with some other underground metal satanists that he made friends with. We were disappointed that we hadn’t met earlier and had a chance to trade music! Beelzeebubth of Mystifier was also a good pen pal of mine, as was Jim Mutilator of Rotting Christ, Stefan Of Varathron. I was able to interview a lot of these guys when I worked on a fanzine in those early days. A lot of these guys and even more people from the scene would also call and/or come in to Wild Rags Records here in Los Angeles to talk with Richard C., the owner of the record store and the record label. I had been going there for years and then I got a job there and worked for Richard for a while in 1992. I would talk with some of these people myself at the store. So yeah, I have always been into “black metal” as it stands. This was before “the war” though. hahahahaha.
Now, I no longer look at black metal guys with their corpse paint and laugh. I’m even friends with most of these guys. And I respect anyone that can get up on a stage and get crazy with the metal, let alone with corpse paint! And some of these bands are quite fucking good as well! Also now, EVERYTHING that is great, gives me the chills! Death, black, thrash, whatever metal. It is all great to these ears! I see it as one big metal family like it should be! And along the way, I have grown to love Craft, Deathspell Omega, Inquisition, Tsjuder, and others just as much as all my new favorite death metal bands like Cardiac Arrest, Bloodfiend, Bombs Of Hades, Axis Powers and others. Plus in my band now, I put fucking blood all over my head and wear spikes and leather. Everyone says I look “black metal” anyways! hahahahaha.
As far as bands that I respect 666% like no other in the world, as far as their conviction, how they stick to their beliefs, how they “walk the walk” so to speak, and their lack of a “sell out” mentality, Dystopia is one of them. But Cianide and Darkthrone are also on this list. With bands like this, it is about this music, but also so much more, without them even realizing it. They just do what they do and do it THEIR WAY! Funny how at the end of this story, Cianide is a death metal band, and Darkthrone is a black metal band! (OK well Darkthrone is “black/crust” now right!?! hahaha. But you get the point!)