Mayhem: Meet The Band With The Wildest Story Ever Told

For the first time, a book tells the story of black metal band Mayhem from an insider’s perspective – that of bassist Necrobutcher. And it’s a story that makes Game Of Thrones look like Last Of The Summer Wine. Louis Pattison meets the author.

Even if you’ve never listened to Norwegian black metal, you probably know about the band Mayhem. You might have heard about their early singer Dead, who blew his brains out in 1991, and you’ll know about their guitarist Euronymous, who discovered Dead’s corpse and wore a piece of his skull on a necklace. You’ll know Euronymous was stabbed to death by former friend (and notorious white supremacist) Varg Vikernes of Burzum, and you’ll know the band were linked to the burning of a number of ancient Christian stave churches across Norway.

Mayhem have a backstory that’s hard to escape. But in 2016, Mayhem are an ongoing concern. They remain a fearsome live act and bassist Jørn Stubberud – better known as Necrobutcher – is about to release a book, The Death Archives: Mayhem 1984-94, telling his side of the story. A weighty collection of memoirs and photos, Stubberud describes the book as his “counter-attack” on Mayhem’s mythology. “All the documentaries made about us… they never talk to us! So I thought, ‘F**k it, if I write down what happened, there is no room for misunderstandings.’” NME met up with Stubberud on a brief UK visit.

Mayhem used to be public enemy number one in Norway. Today you were invited to lunch at London’s Norwegian Embassy. When did things change?
“Around 2008, when we won a Grammy [Norway’s Spellemann Prize]. It was like people started to be proud of us, that Mayhem had done so well over the years. It wasn’t that we had been neglected – more that they were working against us, hate campaigns in the major newspapers. But I understand we made it hard for the opinion-makers to like us because of what happened in the early ’90s. As I said at the time, the band that restarted in 1994, we had nothing to do with those things. And the people who did have anything to do with those things are either dead or in jail. I am a proud Norwegian. I love my country. And these days they give us awards, and the newspapers are more respectful.”

Despite the fact that the book is full of pictures of people getting wasted and playing with weapons, it looks like quite an innocent time…
“[Laughs] Innocent is not the right word. But they were definitely happy times. We were so enthusiastic about the band and we never stopped to think or analyse ourselves. We had no interest in chasing girls, going to discos. We were in the rehearsal space making music.”

There’s a rather dangerous-looking spiked mace in the book. Where do you get one of those?
“When you’re young and stupid and on tour, and you see an ashtray with a death’s head on it, you’re like, ‘Wow, great!’ We’d come back with candles made out of bones and medieval torture equipment. We bought the morning star in Italy. It was quite an ordeal to bring it back home. We were grilled at every border. To get it home felt like a victory. It hangs above my mantelpiece.”

There’s an anecdote in the book about the only time you met Varg Vikernes and he was wearing a full suit of armour.
“Yes, I heard him in the stairway and I thought it was someone dragging chains or something. And then, ding-dong! I opened the door, and it was like, ‘F**k, that’s what the noise was?’”

Not to suggest anyone on the scene was joking… but do you think Varg took it all too seriously?
“We all took it deadly serious at that time. But you know, it’s one thing to send death threats and another thing to actually do it. In the court case, they said he lacked that barrier that all normal people have. But he was very young at the time. You go further than you might if you were a little older or wiser. I actually understand where he came from. Euronymous defrauded him, lied to him, bossed him around. Euronymous tried to steal the limelight – you know, the church burnings. He was saying, ‘Varg is an employee of mine – he’s doing it because I told him to.’ And Varg was like, ‘It’s not him, it’s me.’”

Do you listen to current black metal?
“I’m open to all kinds of music, but I mostly listen to ’80s or ’90s music. I wake up, I’ll put on an Entombed or a Beastie Boys album. Right now I love Die Antwoord. I love the lyrics – how they were struggling for many years, how they had to borrow money from their mothers to play their rent. It feels honest, and I pick up on that sort of thing. What’s that Cypress Hill lyric? “Horny plants stinking up my whole neighbourhood…” [from ‘Dr Greenthumb’]. Larry Muggerud from Cypress Hill has a very similar story to me. When everyone else was out going to discos, I was at home growing weed and selling it to buy instruments. Something about that sort of hip-hop appeals to me.”

It’s like that Drake lyric, “Started from the bottom, now we here…”
“That’s it. The underdog thing. We were the ones that were out in the cold – and I will never forget where I came from, and the ones who held us back. You know, Mayhem were always true to ourselves. There was no period where we went soft or tried to adjust ourselves to get bigger or get in stores. People hear us and they know this is real, this is true – they’re not f**king around. But even if we had no commercial success, I’d probably still be in the rehearsal space. Because I love it.”

Jørn ‘Necrobutcher’ Stubberud’s illustrated memoir The Death Archives: Mayhem 1984-94 has been published by Ecstatic Peace Library and is available at Rough Trade.