During last night's showcase of black metal, Revenge put in a solid set of deathgrind-inflected black metal and Watain had a skeleton and goat head altar with lit candles. The band's actual performance was entertaining enough but straddled the divide between black metal and more commercial metal, to the point that its presentation, including the tasteful corpsepaint-esque look of its members' make-up didn't seem particularly menacing.
But when Mayhem took the stage last night at Summit Music Hall, its music and appearance seemed heavier and more serious. Only vocalist Attila Csihar and guitarist Teloch wore any kind of costume, which made their respective physical presence on stage stand out even more.
Csihar was initially dressed up in what looked like a quasi-military outfit; grey make-up with symbols drawn on his face; a large, gold, runic amulet/necklace and a mohawk. He looked like an undead Travis Bickle. He gestured dramatically, like some kind of Masonic mystic sending secret messages in slow motion against the backdrop of sounds and rhythms.
Even though Mayhem kicked off the show with one of its classic tracks, "Deathcrush," its performance felt less like a gaudy rock show and more like sacred performance art. Sure, some people moshed to the music, but Mayhem's rhythms and sound ideas wax so far toward the unconventional it was interesting to see people try to navigate its rhythms in their own movement.
It felt like the band was tapping into intuition in making its music, the way Werner Herzog composes his films. There was an elegance to the way Csihar fit into the music and worked with it. Necrobutcher emoted the most of anyone, but Csihar's unabashed enthusiasm gave real momentum to songs that could have floated along with jagged edges. As the bassist, Necrobutcher delineated the lines of the music sharply.
There was a dark power in the contrast between Csihar's otherworldly presence and Necrobutcher's bursts of enthusiastic movement throughout the show. It may be odd to make that observation about a band that performed a song called "Pure Fucking Armageddon" as well as selections from an album called Esoteric Warfare, but it was that tension between the two that gives Mayhem a honed refinement that makes it such an effective live band. Even when the band came back after a short intermission and Csihar wore a wizard outfit with purple trim rather than the military outfit it added to the band's mystique rather than coming off like a token gesture, a mere set change.
Bias: Mayhem is one of my favorite metal bands, all lurid stories aside. Attila Csihar is without a doubt my favorite vocalist in modern metal and heavy music generally.
Random Detail: Ran into former Monofog bassist Dave Yob, Eli Wendler of Spectral Voice and Karl Haikara of The Silver Cord at the show.
By the Way: Esoteric Warfare, Mayhem's 2014 album, is its most experimental and hypnotic album to date.
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If you'd like to contact me, Tom Murphy, on Twitter, my handle is @simianthinker.