Chris DeLine

Cedar Rapids, IA

Mayhem at Station 4 (St. Paul, MN)

Published in Blog, Culture Bully. Tags: , , , , .

Though Blackened Fest had already been off to a rocky start, a delay in the visa process prevented Marduk from joining the tour and the entire Boise date had been canceled, a most unfortunate notice greeted fans as they arrived at St. Paul’s Station 4. An initial glimpse at the notice suggested that three local bands had been added to the already stellar bill, but in taking a second glance the notice announced that all of the bands except Mayhem had left the tour (AND that three local bands had been added to the bill). Never before have I seen so many droopy eyed black metal fans at the same place at the same time.

The original lineup for Blackened Fest was to include Mayhem, Marduk, Cephalic Carnage, Cattle Decapitation and Withered. Due to a series of unfortunate circumstances* however, we were left with Mayhem, Anal Blast, Grand Demise of Civilization, and Deterioration. But in spite of all the confusion and frustration before the show, each band played to their fullest abilities regardless of the short notice, and the night concluded with a performance by Mayhem which conquered all.

Deterioration opened the show to a scattered turnout which roamed about the front of the stage—not helping the situation was it being an all ages event, so the majority of attendees were stuck on the other side of the partitioned venue away from the alcohol-free zone. The band ripped through its short opening set regardless, wasting no time in making friends in the crowd with its twisted wry humor in between songs. “This song is called AIDS,” growled vocalist Matt Preston. The band immediately geared up and dove into the most intense one second song I’d heard up until that point in time. Later, after playing “Take Her Breath Away with a Plastic Bag” and an ode to the deceased son of former professional wrestler Chris Benoit (“Crippler Crossface to Death”), Preston again took center stage. “This is AIDS 2.0, the New Strain” he said as the band nailed another one-second eruption.

All throughout Deterioration’s set guitarist Jim Kahmann and his brother, drummer Joe Kahmann, put on a dazzling display that wasn’t repeated during the rest of the night. Joe ravaged his massive kit, wailing away at his drums at an incredible speed as Jim continually delivered blistering, mesmerizing arpeggios. After performing “Plants That Kill People” the set began to wind down and Preston again approached the crowd with one last tightly wound explosion: “AIDS 3: Airborn.” Not to be outdone by the band’s crass approach to its songs’ themes, Deterioration’s music offered up a fitting introduction to the night as its explosiveness clearly livened up the crowd’s dampened spirits.

Following Deterioration, Grand Demise of Civilization took the stage—each member ominously perched in position as vocalist North Tomb IX throatily howled into the microphone, screeching orders that kicked off the set. The four-piece continuously hammered away at its songs, but unlike the previous band which adopted elements of grind into its sound, Grand Demise stayed consistently within the boundaries of black metal.

Continually snarling and posing for the crowd, guitarist Svart Onde later jumped in to blast out vocals on “The Cleansing Void.” All throughout the set the band rarely hesitated to take a break between songs, leaving the aural impact overwhelming as its booming sound roared almost continuously throughout its set.

The last band to take the stage prior to Mayhem was Anal Blast. While the band didn’t stand out musically amongst the night’s acts, in many ways the band’s frontman, Don “Lord Stomache” Decker, did. Formed in the mid-’90s, Anal Blast has seen extensive turnover amongst its members, a roster which includes the likes of the brilliant Joey Jordison (Slipknot, Ministry, et al.), and its performance leaned entirely too hard on dry scatological humor (Jordison’s Wikipedia page actually notes that the band was started as a joke, yet here we are some 15 years later…).

With songs like “Sacramenstral” and “Diuretic Orgasm,” Decker continually made stabs at both the crowd’s sense of humor as well as its sense of shock. And to a portion of the fans he was well received: various crowd members egging him on, laughing and beating him to his own jokes. But ultimately the shtick was empty—I guess there is a limit to the number of jokes about period blood one can find funny. Comparatively the difference between the humor of Anal Blast and Deterioration isn’t that much in the grand scheme of things; either you were in on the joke or you weren’t. But somehow, on this night, making light of a tragic murder-suicide came off as a little more engaging than a dude with a gunt belching out junior high shock rock.

And then it was time for Mayhem.

One of the disadvantages the three opening acts were faced with (aside from having to take the place of the entire undercard of a touring festival) was that they didn’t share the same historical impact as the headliners: no matter what, the iconic imagery and infamous legend that surround Mayhem give the band an unrivaled mystique. And while this is far from the same band that was well documented in Michael Moynihan’s Lords of Chaos—bassist Necrobutcher being the sole remaining member of the original lineup—it is the same band that has helped carry the black metal torch well into the new Millennium.

Iconography has always been present in the band’s live show; so much so that like much of black metal’s elite, it has adopted a sense of theater due to the intense landscape that Mayhem performs in. Prior to the band taking the stage, the setting was prepped with massive banners casting shadows over mock-shrunken heads and flesh which was canvased across the drum riser and spears which were scattered across the stage. The theatrical element of the performance failed to falter as the band opened over an hour’s worth of thrilling music with “Pagan Fears.”

As the band continued with “From the Dark Past” and “A Time to Die,” vocalist Attila Csihar (who also performs vocals on the majority of Sunn O)))’s recently adorned release, Monoliths & Dimensions) balanced between the barrier at the front of the stage and one of the many awkward poles that are abundant at the club while he dangled a double-sided noose over the crowd, acting as a maestro in directing the unruly pit’s aggression.

As the band broke for a brief introduction of its members, to which Necrobutcher and drummer Hellhammer received the greatest ovation, the crowd became increasingly intent in demanding a song which various fans had been shouting out all throughout the set. Responding by ripping into “Carnage,” the small pit went ballistic in an effort to join the band in its intensity; the song was easily the strongest moment of the overwhelming performance. Closing with the devastating “Pure Fucking Armageddon,” the crowd was quick to praise the band as it returned the salutation while leaving the stage. What was originally a night that began with fans in shock due to the circumstances that left the tour in chaos ended with a crowd that seemed just as shocked by the exhilarating performance that it had just witnessed.

* A series of unfortunate circumstances: Near the end of May Marduk announced that Mortuus, the band’s lead singer, had not received his visa (which was approved by the government’s Homeland Security Office). On June 6, mere days later, it was announced that the Boise, Idaho show had been canceled altogether by the show’s promoters. But apparently the drama had yet to even begin.

A report from Metal Injection’s Justina Villanueva was released yesterday which attempted to explain the circumstances that lead up to the festival falling apart,

“When a band drops a tour, it instantly voids the contract made between the booker and the promoter for each venue. In other words, what ever money that each band was originally supposed to get at the end of each show was changed when Marduk didn’t show up. Because Mayhem was the headliner, they believed that they deserved their full guaranteed money still. They didn’t realize that Cartel had to renegotiate contracts with the promoter every night. With an extra bus to pay for and Mayhem still requesting the majority of the earned cash to match their original guarantee, the tour manager was left with no money to work with. The drivers didn’t get paid and they weren’t driving until they did. The support bands weren’t making much money some nights, but were willing to hold out a couple days for cash. Unlike Mayhem, who wanted their full cash up front, every night… 

It painted the final picture of the kind of people Mayhem are. Yes, being in a band means you are running a business. But even in business there are ethics and responsibility. Neglecting to pay your way from show to show and abandoning your tourmates is not good business. And its not the kind of metal I support.”

Villanueva is a long-standing, well-respected member of the metal community and had been traveling with the tour since it started and I am not attempting to undermine her recollection of the events, but this is a representation of one side of the story. A story which we may never hear everyone’s side on. And to some degree it would appear, as an outsider looking in, that there is possibly some confusion between ethics with compassion; in such a situation where a band is being asked to take a financial hit instead of, or in addition to, their tourmates, that band’s ethics only come into question if Villaneuva’s suggestions are true in that Mayhem prevented the other bands from receiving their guarantees while demanding theirs.

Prior to the show the written announcement at the entry to the club empathized with fans, noting that management was “as pissed off as you are.” Refunds were being offered on pre-sale tickets and the door price for the event was lowered substantially. The team working the ticket table at the entry of the club was clearly upset prior to the show as they attempted to explain the situation to fans as they entered. And while Villaneuva’s detailing of the event comes from first hand experience, the band’s introduction to the show (as seen above) points to the tour’s agent as the main source of the collapse of the tour. As an outsider to the community, and to the tour, I have no idea what really happened, but I am very thankful that I had a chance to see the show and I am appreciative of Mayhem for taking the stage with such a high level of professionalism as which they displayed all throughout their performance.

[Update: Ryan Buege @ Mind Inversion has published some additional commentary on the event as well as some great photos and video clips.]

[This post was first published by Culture Bully.]