Attila Csihar (Mayhem): 30 years of black metal consciousness

Some people won’t conform to the clichés you have in mind for them. Vocalist Attila Csihar from Mayhem – a band that has become a black metal reference through its music as well as its history – is one of those people. Although he shares a first name with one of the bloodiest rulers in History, Attila is the kindest, most pleasant person to ever walk the face of Earth. Eat that, prejudice! Like everyone in Mayhem, Attila Csihar is an atypical musician, and that may well be why the band and their music still hold such a fascination. After all, during our first interview, in 2007, he gave an extremely lengthy answer to a very simple, innocent question! Seven years later, the still talkative but more focused singer answer our questions once again.

Seven years – that’s how long it took for the legends of Norwegian black metal to release the follow-up to their controversial Ordo Ad Chao. It’s called Esoteric Warfare, and it’s inspired by the Cold War, esoteric and nuclear experimentations, the role of conscience in quantum physics, and aliens. As we said: atypical. And since the album also marks the band’s thirtieth anniversary, it was a good opportunity to talk about Mayhem’s history and Attila’s vision of the band.

« The whole world is turning more extreme: the movies are more extreme, the fashion is more extreme, the extreme sports are more and more famous, so there’s this huge wave of extremity. I’m just saying it’s cool to see that we were already right 30 years ago! »

Radio Metal: Seven years separate your upcoming new album from Ordo Ad Chao. What took the band so long? Does this long delay have anything to do with Blasphemer leaving the band in 2008?

Attila Csihar (vocals): Yes, absolutely, that’s the reason because he decided to depart in 2008 and that was kind of a sudden thing, kind of unforeseen. But he’s a great guitar player, we were all cool with that and, I mean, he’s one of my best friends. So of course I understood but it needed some time, it’s not just like replacing a guitar player like him or Euronymous or anyone in Mayhem [is easy], so it takes some time. Actually we were in contact with Teloch already back then, but at the time he was in Gorgoroth, so we didn’t want to interrupt or make any obstacles for any other band, especially not a brother band. So we decided to take Morpheus back then and Silmaeth from France, actually, who’s a great guitar player. But somehow, the songwriting process was not really what we liked; they had some cool stuff… But then Gorgoroth had some problems and Teloch got free again, then we decided to ask him to join us, it was the right time. All of these things, you know. Then we decided to start touring again with him, to get him in the right mood and the right chemistry and that took some time so that ended up being 7 years. Normally we need like 3 or 4 years: we tour for like 2 years and then do an album in 1 or 2 years, that’s the normal routine but this time it was a bit delayed because of that.

How would you define Teloch input on Mayhem?

Hellhammer played with him and I knew him from Gorgoroth times and even almost from before. Jan Axel Hellhammer had played with him in Nidingr, so he felt it was sure, he was very sure about the fact that Teloch was going to be the right guitar player, and it became true, actually, because I think he captured very well the Mayhem atmosphere and he’s an awesome guitar player. He’s different from the other guys we’ve had, Blasphemer or Euronymous of course, but I think he’s very unique and an excellent musician. He really got into the vibe, which was very important, to make us sound like Mayhem, that’s the whole trick. He grew up on our music too, he told me that De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas changed his life and then he started playing black metal and stuff like that, so he was pretty much into this and I think it worked out fine.

What was your state of mind when making this new album?

What we were thinking about was that Ordo was pretty complex and almost like a progressive record, and every Mayhem album is different. So we decided instead of going more progressive or more complex… I mean, Ordo was already pretty challenging for the listeners, there were no riffs repeating and stuff like that, so very very artistic, maybe a bit too far for some people. So this time we decided to step back a little bit and go back to the roots a little bit, and try to make more aggressive, more straight-forward, more punchy stuff, more fresh music. In a way it’s still connected to Ordo but it’s a different theme and it’s kind of embracing that kind of music too, it’s like an offspring of Ordo in my eyes. But the music itself embodies the older records too, at some point, I think, even I feel sometimes some Deathcrush feeling, some riffs. So straight-forward, but of course it still has the challenging songs too, so I hope people will find their interest but the most important thing was that we had to be happy with the album (chuckles), and we thought it was going to be the right way to do it like that.

The album is based on a concept dealing with the esoteric experimentations of the nuclear powers during the cold war. What pushed you towards this theme?

Yeah that’s what they say about it! I like it because I like [to think that this is what] people feel from the record. But it’s true, my first vision was this kind of 50s Cold War, a little bit like science-fiction almost, black and white blurry thing. That was my first vision when I heard the songs and when we started to work with Teloch and we sent files. I like to grab the first vision and work around it. Then I started to do some research about the whole idea and the whole period. And the second thing that came, and is also the underline of the record, is mind-control. The whole album is about the mind, the psychic and the consciousness, and the Esoteric Warfare idea is also that if you can control somebody’s mind or a group of people’s minds, then you don’t need a war (laughs)! Controlling the mind is enough. So that’s the whole mind-control idea. They had a lot of experiments around it, you know, during the Cold War, and there were also some rumors about esoteric experiments and nuclear experiments; they didn’t know what to expect. So there were some really weird stuff, like Jack Parsons’ story, it was really inspiring and very dark. And [there were] all these stories about how these secret organizations took some victims, like people went to the hospital, and they just drugged them out and made experiments on them. These things exist, if you look on YouTube, there are many people talking about that. I mean, it’s still a surrealistic record (laughs), as always, so I hope everything is not true, really! But I was leading some research and this is how I found these themes.

« We are kind of interesting personalities in the band, I must say, pretty crazy in a hard way, very crazy people (chuckles) »

The mind and the consciousness, it’s so important. If you look at hypnosis, when you can hypnotize someone and say this phone in front of you is hot, and this someone under hypnosis touches the phone, actually the phone or any object could burn him physically and make injuries on his body and stuff like that, and it’s only the mind, it’s only the consciousness that does it. It’s on so many levels, you know, even if you look at medicines: 30% of medicines are placebos. That’s very interesting (chuckles)! Look at the physics, in quantum physics, the consciousness is getting so important because they’re figuring out that the particles, not only the light but every particle, has this dual aspect: at one point they are material and at another moment they’re just a wave of possibility, so there is this quantum field from where materials pop in and out – and this is mainstream physics we are talking about, this is nothing mystical – and guess what is connected there? It’s the consciousness. So it depends on somebody’s consciousness or whether it’s connected to some consciousness. It’s almost a little bit like the Matrix movie, and this is all mainstream physics. So all the themes are about this and also a little bit the alien stuff, the extra-terrestrials, because I just had this thought that demons and the stuff they talked about during the middle-ages was just what we call today extra-terrestrial elements or beings. And so many people believe in that, half of the western population believes in extra-terrestrials, aliens, stuff like that, although nobody has seen any, just these blurry pictures; but still millions of people claim they were abducted, and I know people, close friends, who say they’ve been abducted, so it’s a very interesting phenomenon. So I’m just throwing here stuffs that were triggered in my mind about the lyrics but I don’t like to define too much, I would like the listeners to figure it out a little bit.

Ordo Ad Chao had intentionally a very under-produced sound. Since the production on Estoteric Warfare has been improved, would you say retrospectively that the under-produced sound of Ordo Ad Chao was still a good move?

I think that my philosophy about the production is that I think the production should support the music. The music should be first, so if you do one kind of music, it should have a kind of production that brings out the elements of that kind of music. So I don’t believe in this sturdy about objective sound or mix. With Ordo maybe we went a little bit too far but we wanted to make it sound like it’s from another world, it was the idea, to make it sound like another dimension or something. Maybe we went a little bit too far with that but I think it worked well with the music, more or less. I understand that it was very challenging for the audience and for us too, but this time we tried to make it a little bit more open but still organic, so it has this little bit of Ordo sound in it but much more organic or maybe more dynamic or straight-forward. But well, it is what it is, if you listen to Grand Declaration Of War, it’s a great record that has also a special production. I think Mayhem is a band whose albums all sound different anyway. I like it that way, personally.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of Mayhem, how is the band going to celebrate that?

First of all, this record, it’s kind of like the crown, although it was not exactly planned like that, but it happened to come out this year. And we might have some special shows actually, probably one in Norway but maybe other shows too where we’d like to invite guests, even like ex-members and some other special guests probably. So we are planning at least one show, but maybe more, a few shows like that.

Is there something already scheduled or are these just plans?

In Norway, yes, I think the anniversary show is in December, in Oslo, in a very cool venue. But the rest is just plans, we’ll see. But that anniversary show in Norway is more or less fixed.

« I think our music is kind of healthy, actually. Seriously! »

How do you feel about this anniversary and about those 30 years?

Oh man, that’s insane, thinking about it! 30 years, it’s unbelievable, I mean, when I was a kid, if someone came to me saying “hey this album is from a 30 year old band”, I would probably laugh my ass off (laugh), like “come on!” But the scene got also 30 years older, in our case, so it’s a little bit different. Who was the first band… Probably Venom, Black Metal, or I don’t know, this extreme metal started like in ’82 or ’83, so the scene is not much older than us! Well I’m just amazed, like when we started in the middle of the ’80s, I was on stage for the first time in ’85, it’s been a long time and so much stuff happened, so much has changed. And then, in the ’90s there was a new wave with the music, in this black metal genre. Today, we can play sometimes in big festivals, in front of big crowds, it’s not really our crowd, but still people pay attention, that’s very interesting and very amazing, it’s unbelievable. That’s one thing, and the other thing is that we were hated so much when we started playing this music, we were like the number one public enemy (laughs), and we didn’t know anything, we just followed our instinct, at least in my case. I had read a few books about occultism and stuff but back in the ’80s there was no internet, nothing, and I lived in Hungary where there was even less information, we were separated, because of the whole communist or post-communist system. So we just followed our instinct and nobody thought we were right (chuckles) and it’s very funny to look at it all today because today it looks like we were right, since the scene is still growing and so many people are getting into this music and the whole world is turning more extreme: the movies are more extreme, the fashion is more extreme, the extreme sports are more and more famous, so there’s this huge wave of extremity. I’m just saying it’s cool to see that we were already right 30 years ago!

The band is still to this day known for its sulfurous history, sometimes more than for its music in the mind of many people. Do you regret that or to the contrary do you think that this maintains a sort of dangerous kind of atmosphere around the band that attracts people?

Probably… This is a complex thing. Of course, our main profile is our music and we are musicians, but we are kind of interesting personalities in the band, I must say, pretty crazy in a hard way, very crazy people (chuckles), very different way of thinking and everybody is pretty extreme, I must say. The band’s history is very special and outstanding, so probably some people pay attention to that first, but I think it’s the music that attracts [our fans]. Some people say that we are a dangerous band because they look at the message we send to the youth, they think that we just infiltrate people’s way of thinking, that we harm the youth and stuff like that… These people are usually religious people or people who have a very conservative way of thinking, but I think they look at it the wrong way and I can’t agree with that because the way I see it, I think that we, the humans on this planet, have heard so much lies, [encountered] so much problems through our lives and [been victims of] this kind of mind control bombarding our brain; we have thoughts that are not even ours originally and that we still believe. All this stuff naturally creates a lot of [frustration] in us, and it’s a complex thing in the whole western society. People have a lot of [frustration] and they come to Mayhem shows or any extreme metal show, and they can release this [frustration], all these inner fears. And it’s why this music is popular, like horror movies too, because I think it’s one of the ways to face your own fears, and facing your own fears that’s a brave thing. Very few people like to do that actually, because as soon as you can face your own fears and your own limits, then these fears start to disappear and you begin to understand and embrace the thing. We’ve had hundreds of gigs, man, and I can hardly recall any aggressions or having seen any serious fights. These people coming to our show, they get crazy, yes: they like to pogo, they like to go crazy in the audience but they are not against each other, nobody starts to fight with another other guy. If someone falls down, the next kid is just there to help him standing up. I think people are just happy, they just all release all this shit together in a healthy way. If you look at football matches, is it better? (Chuckles) These people come out and destroy half of a city for some stupid ball game? It’s like in these discotheques, at least it’s what I have experimented in Hungary, there’s a lot more chances to get into a fight and all this shit. So I think our music is kind of healthy, actually. Seriously!

Interview conducted by phone on April, 12th 2014 by Metal’O Phil
Transcription : Judith
Questions & introduction : Spaceman

Mayhem official website : Thetruemayhem.com

Esoteric Warfare, out since May, 23rd 2014 chez Season Of Mist.

(Illustration photo : Quart.hu)

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