Mayhem at Turner Hall: A Review

There’s something special about seeing a band whose song names alone are enough to scare someone. Mayhem, one of the most iconic black metal bands in history, played at Turner Hall on Tuesday, Jan. 24. With songs such as “Deathcrush,” “Chainsaw Gutsfuck” and “Necrolust,” it leaves you wondering,”Am I bad person for listening to this?” Not in the slightest.

This was my first black metal show, though I’ve liked Mayhem for a couple years. I found out the hard way that asking a friend to see a black metal band with you is comparable to asking them to hold your hair back while you puke or share their fries. There will be reluctance. I’ve read that there’s a whole science behind who likes what type of music or prefers metal, but I think it comes down to a mix of personality and acceptance. No one listening to metal for the first time will hear “Deathcrush” and think, “wow, how beautiful.” There’s a learning curve.

Black metal bands like Mayhem and Darkthrone (both from Norway) really set the bar for today’s many variations of “metal,” from doom metal to death metal and even hardcore sounds. Black metal is theatrical, bleak and intense, and so much draws from religious imagery or societal themes of injustice. It really stems in rebellion and rejection of modern values. There’s the whole satanic cliche that’s always interested me, because half the time, I think it’s tongue and cheek.

Mayhem exceeded my expectations. They played a variety of songs for about 45 minutes, complete with reaper-like cloaks, candles, fog, and a church-like finish at an “altar” with a priest costume and bloody skull. Hey, I can’t say I’m drawing many profound parallels, but it was one hell of an entertaining performance. The guitar in particular was incredible and throbbing, but never hard to listen to. The vocals were so guttural and at times so shrill that the sounds themselves were truly impressive. As I suspected, this live performance only increased my love for the oddball genre. It’s not all yells and moans–it’s a science. In a way, it’s really beautiful.

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Photo courtesy Kelsea McCulloch / Pabst Theater Group

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