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VERSUS: De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas vs. A Blaze in The Northern Sky
Welcome to another edition of Versus, the series where we look at two albums in heavy metal history and compare them to each other and see which one was the better record.
For this edition of Versus, we are summoning Satan and making churches nervous and checking their insurance policies, as we are doing a special black metal edition of Versus. Focusing on two bands, that were some of the most influential bands in the second wave of black metal. Bands that left their influence on the scene from their offstage actions, their iconic imagery and album artwork, and music that would lay the groundwork for a lasting legacy in not only Norwegian black metal, but black metal as a whole.
In this corner, we have the infamous band Mayhem with their 1994 debut De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas. Translated to “The Mysteries of The Lord Satan”, this record has been cited as one of the most influential records in the genre of black metal. With the music being played by the two band members, guitarist Øystein “Euronymous” Aarseth and drummer Jan Axel “Hellhammer” Blomberg. The band hired two people to join the band to record the band’s debut. First, vocalist Attila Csihar, who replaced original vocalist Per "Dead" Ohlin who committed suicide in 1991 before the recording of the album. Then adding bassist Varg “Count Grishnackh” Vikernes. Vikernes' bass playing credit was removed on behalf of the family of Euronymous after Vikernes was convicted of brutally murdering Euronymous in 1993.
The album opens with “Funeral Fog”, opening with Buzzsaw sounding tremolo guitar playing, and driving blast beats with bass playing in the background of the drums. The album showcases the cliché black metal sound of a demo/rough mix sounding production value. The vocals of Csihar, who is one of the most unique vocalists in black metal, delivers such a wide and eclectic range throughout this song. Ranging from a weird goblin like interpretation fused with a Dave Mustaine from Megadeth snarl, on top of, including Tibetan throat singing in the delivery throughout the song. Drums punch hard in the mix when the tom fills hit, and is almost a blueprint of what black metal is and would sound like going forward.
Following that track is my favorite track from the band “Freezing Moon”. Booming drums on the toms start the song with ominous and brooding guitars. Building a demonic atmosphere and tone with a simple and slow drum section throughout the intro. The vocals finally kick in at the two-minute mark where Csihar’s vocals are mixed better than the album opener, and showcase his dynamic voice much better. Also, continuing with a more diverse vocal range and creativity along to the music. The song even includes a guitar solo by Euronymous shredding through a mountain of distortion and feedback walls. An iconic track in the black metal genre and when you listen to it, you can hear why it was so influential in the genre.
Tracks like “Pagan Fears” & “Cursed to Eternity” continue the band’s pummeling version of black metal. Drums shine and are plentiful in the record. With consistent blast beats, and echoing drum fills adding to the reverbed guitars by Euronymous, the band began to realize they were making something special with this release. This was a defining record, in not only black metal, but metal as a whole. I wonder what could have been if original vocalist Dead was still in the band since his vocals were a signature of the band at the time until his death. Also, if Euronymous was still alive, and if this lineup could have continued what they would have sounded like.
In this opposite corner, we have one of the longest running black metal bands from that scene, fellow Norwegianers Darkthrone with their second album, 1992’s A Blaze in The Northern Sky. This record would be the band’s first foray into black metal, changing from the death metal sound the band had on their 1991 debut Soulside Journey. The band, Ted “Nocturno Culto” Skjellum and Gylve “Fenriz” Nagell, is still going strong, and have changed metal genres since this release, up to their current and 19th album released, 2022's Astral Fortress. With the release of A Blaze in The Northern Sky, the band would continue their interpretation of black metal with this release and the next two releases dubbed by fans as “The Unholy Trilogy” with 1993’s Under A Funeral Moon & 1994’s Transylvanian Hunger. With these releases, they were an influential group of records that helped ignite and create the black metal sound we know today.
Opening with “Kathaarian Life Code”, a ten-and-a-half-minute journey of unholiness. The song starts with ambience and atmosphere, chanting, booming drum parts and snarling vocal bits by Nocturno Culto. A vocal delivery, that almost sounds like he is being choked while snarling, before the music kicks in. The blast beat proto-black metal sound, with tremolo guitar playing hitting the listener hard, breaking the ambience and atmosphere. With vocals in a cavernous amount of reverb, the anguish and shrieking in the vocals delivers the traditional black metal sound that is a trademark and is an audio adventure throughout all ten minutes worth.
The next track, and my favorite track off the record, is “In the Shadow of The Horns”. This song is the DEFINITION of lo-fi production, or the stereotype of black metal and I love it. Vocals and guitars are drenched in reverb with over-saturated distorted guitars, with some actual chugging at the 1:50 mark is a nice mix-up to the song. Guitar playing is prominent on the track, with the drums toned down in the mix, compared to the previous song. The song also has a reminiscent sound of Venom, one of the prominent figures in the first wave of black metal and musically can be heard throughout certain parts of the album. The song ends with an interesting, almost avant-garde move by adding clean/acoustic guitars and synths over the blast beats and distorted guitar section, almost adding a dungeon synth sound to the track before closing the track out in traditional black metal style.
Songs like “Where Cold Winds Blow” continue the universal black metal sound to the song, and showcase more of the raw production style. The album’s title track has a strong opening with driving guitars and impressive fast-paced drumming from Fenriz, with continued traits of Venom showcased again on this record. The band would later embrace a Venom-esque sound on their later records. The album closes with the song “The Pagan Winter” which has guitars covered in reverb and delay, adding to the slower, mid-tempo track in the middle before speeding back up to match the vocals with shrieking and gutturals that are enhanced by the reverb. Closing out the record with that demonic feel that the band was aiming for. Showcasing, why they are one of the torchbearers of the black metal genre.
So, after all the demons have been summoned, and the corpse paint has been rubbed off, which band had the better record? For this battle, I would go with Mayhem’s debut De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas. This album has SO much influence on the black metal scene, a fast paced and chaotic album. With strong guitars and insane drumming, it is a standout record. My only gripe with the record is I love Attila Csihar’s vocals on a lot of his other projects like his work with Sunn O))) & Tormentor, and I think his vocals on this debut could have been more refined and the delivery could have been executed better in certain parts. Darkthrone still is an amazing band, and this record and Transylvanian Hunger are in my top 5 of go-to black metal albums. Their discography, and genre-juggling, is an impressive act of musicianship and diversity. They are still a band to check out for black metal and deserves all the credit they get for being an influence in the black metal scene.
Do you agree with my decision? Who do you think should have won this battle? Leave your comments in the comments section below and your suggestions who you think should step in the ring next. I’m Justin, your friendly neighborhood metalhead, for This Day in Metal and this has been Versus.