Interview by Tilo Lopez
Norwegian black metal legends Mayhem are currently in the midst of a North American headline tour wherein they are performing their 1994 debut full-length ‘De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas’ in its entirety, along with support acts Inquisition and Black Anvil. As part of this run, they performed to a packed house at the Observatory Orange County in Santa Ana, California last Tuesday February 7th 2017. Black metal fanatics, many of whom first gravitated to the genre because of the early works of bands like Mayhem, turned up to the gig and raised hell as one of their favorite bands revisited their dark past. After a successful show, vocalist Attila Csihar spoke to Metal Assault about all things Mayhem and more. Get to know him in this candid, no-holds-barred chat.
First and foremost, thank you for giving me a few minutes of your time to speak with your fans in the United States and around the world. How are you doing tonight? That was an incredible show.
Pretty good and chill, you know, it’s after the show, and I felt a really good vibe in the room. Imagine manifesting those moments. It’s been a great fucking tour so far. I’m having the afterglow of the show, as they say …
What has been the most surprising thing that has happened on this tour so far?
The most surprising? Apart from the shows being so good, I had some fucked up experiences, I broke my phone last night, at the San Francisco gig. I recently lost my wallet. I was totally sober. It was fucking strange, I came out of a restaurant, then went to a bank, I got back to the tour camp. My wallet is missing. I called both places and nothing. That’s just how life is, and it could’ve been worse. Thankfully I was in a good mood, and it was kind of like a punch. It’s not the end of the world… but I wish it could be.
So, what made you want to come out and perform ‘De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas’ for the fans?
There is no reason. It was offered to us to play the record at a festival in Sweden, so we thought, “Fuck, why not? Let’s do it”, but that was just a one-time show. Then we released a live recording in DVD. People were more interested. Then we decided it was a good time to do it. So it wasn’t planned. It was very Mayhem-ish. It was chaotic, and natural. I really like playing it. It’s deep and atmospheric. We have a good line-up. It’s just cool, and it’s happening.
Can you tell us a little bit about you? Your real name? Your beginnings and you came to play music?
My stage name and real name is Attila Csihar and it’s funny because my stage name for Tormentor was “Mayhem”. I am from Budapest, Hungary. I was always picky with music, since my childhood. One of the nephews in my family introduced me to heavy metal when I was like 10 years old. I played my first show with Tormentor when I was 15. Then we kind of became a successful band in Hungary within the extreme metal scene. Up until I was 18 during my high school years, I was in Tormentor. Then in ’91 I got in contact with Mayhem.
While you fronted Tormentor, was there anyone in Norway, in the metal scene, or anyone in the band that recognized your earlier work? How did your collaboration with Mayhem came to be?
You know we had the band Tormentor from 1985-1990. We recorded this demo first in the cheapest shit you can imagine, a four-track titled ‘The 7th Day of Doom’. Then we were approached by a state label, an old music distribution system behind the iron curtain, behind the old political communist system in Hungary. It was at the end of that era. So someone from a state label, because there were no private labels, approached us… because we were kind of infamous, we had great crowds. I had about 900 people in the crowd when I was 18. Today it’s kinda of the same thing for me but now it is wider. That’s a huge difference, of course. But anyways, the state label came, we did our recording ‘Anno Domini’ in an OK studio but then it was not possible to release, so we just got a fucking cassette. So at the end, fans were asking “what the fuck is going on with that shit” then it was clear it was just not happening, so we just started making copies. We recorded a tape for our fans, we started to play live, and it was under hard conditions. The tape started to spread. I remember the first time I heard from someone in Mexico that wanted to put us on a compilation. I was surprised, this was around 1990. As for Mayhem, what happened is, someone traded a tape with Euronymous and the guys in Norway, and I later found out someone in Hungary did the trade. They were hooked on the stuff, and when they looked for a vocalist, they asked me because apparently I was one of the popular vocalist at the time.
What were some of your influences growing up as a musician? Was black metal a “scene” in Hungary?
For me, it was of course early ’80s heavy metal, then I started listening to punk, the pre-hardcore stuff like GBH and The Exploited. Then I was looking for more extreme music, even Dead Kennedys, they were fucking killer. Then I heard about Venom when I was like 13 years old, that’s when ‘Black Metal’ came out. But in Hungary we are little less fucked up than the rest of the countries. There were a few private record stores where you could find the extreme music, and sometimes the shops recorded your tapes. There is one record shop there I used to go as kid, it’s owned by the same owner, he’s still there, he’s now old. Go to Budapest, you are welcome, if you wanna party, it’s good shit. The thing is, I heard Venom and I was blown away. Then I picked up some Judas Priest, I liked their futuristic sound, and of course Rob Halford. Maiden too, of course, and other bands of that style. In terms of black metal, I picked up some Bathory – that was life changing. Venom was cool but Bathory was obscure, dark and evil. It was fucking awesome! Celtic Frost really influenced me. They always experimented with their music. When I got famous in Hungary, I was a lot around different people and got introduced to more and more. I was looking for music dealing with darkness. Talking about the ambient stuff, I listened to Current 93 from the UK, they were fucking brilliant. I recommend you check out some of their earlier stuff, start with ‘Dogs Blood Rising’ or ‘Nature Unveiled’ – it’s dark shit. I like electronic music dealing with dark themes, like Skinny Puppy, Front Line Assembly… I got all these influences. I was always open with music, but it had to have the themes dealing with darkness. I want to recommend something less usual – listen to Uriah Heep’s ‘Look at Yourself’, it’s a great record, from the year I was born (laughs). If you are into the old beautiful rock, they are amazing.
There’s a lot of history discussed when talking about Mayhem, how do you fit into that story?
For me, it’s all about music and my personal magic. After all that shit happened with early Mayhem, I lost contact with the band, I had no more communication with the guys, I was living in Hungary. Then I heard about the killings. I didn’t believe it, then I read about it, it was a “what the fuck” moment. It’s hard to put it in words but I was pretty shocked. I tried making sense of it. I thought everyone was on vacation. Then at the same time, my other band Plasma Pool stopped playing because of some bullshit, as someone was involved with the mob. Those were dark years. I didn’t hear from anyone. Luckily I was invited by a contact in Italy and started making music again, some pre-industrial stuff. The years passed by. Then I met the Mayhem guys again and the rest is history. I just make music, and apart from metal which is my life, I am open to projects, may be doing more electronic stuff. But I am restricted because I am a vocalist.
Did you have contact with Jon (Rest in Power) from Dissection before they covered Tormentor’s ‘Elizabeth Bathory’ track? It’s fucking evil and I know he was a fan of yours.
You know, we first met when he got out of jail. I didn’t know him in the ’90s. I heard that they did the cover and that was interesting. Immediately when Jon and I met, we became friends. It’s interesting how time and space falls into certain shapes sometimes. The day Dissection played in Budapest, my friend and I organized that show for him. I was booking shows for a few years just to understand that side of the business. It was interesting to me. This was around 2004 for the ‘Maha Kali’ tour, I played ‘Elizabeth Bathory’ and ‘Freezing Moon’ with them, and it was fucking cool. We had a great time! You can find some of the footage on Youtube. I saw Jon frequently after, when I was touring with Mayhem. I saw them at Wacken, then some fucked up shit happened at Inferno in Norway. We were supposed to play Tormentor’s cover, then they shut down the PA, they turned the lights on us. They didn’t want us to play our last song. So the Dissection guys come out and start playing on the backline, I was singing without a mic. Check it out on Youtube, it’s funny as fuck.
Considering all the fucked up shit that is happening in the United States, what are your thoughts coming back in to the country?
Me and politics man, I don’t like to bring it into the music. These two things have to be separate. I got my personal views. I don’t know man. I like this country. I love coming here. Donald Trump seems like something else, could be an idiot, I don’t know. I will tell you though, these are just my own personal thoughts and do not reflect the band. I have a lot of friends in the Middle East, and I travel there a lot. I look into the ancient heritages of mankind, messages, hieroglyphics, they speak to me. It is really sad. Syria is gone, Iraq? Gone. Now I can’t go to the Baghdad Museum, and it was my dream for 20 years to visit. Its fucking GONE now. All I can say is, money talks. Look at the wars, look at this shit. Money is evil and power. I just hope your president knows what he is doing. I don’t know man. Left or Right? Does it really matter? It’s all the same shit at a fundamental level.
Any words of wisdom for bands currently touring and making music around the world?
My advise is, do your stuff. Listen to your instincts, your inner voice, emotions, and feelings. Stick to it. Push it through. Be true to your vision and work for it. Don’t give a shit about what people think. Don’t give up. Just go for it.
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Mayhem remaining North American tour dates:
02/11/2017 – Dallas, TX @ Trees
02/13/2017 – Atlanta, GA @ Masquerade
02/14/2017 – Wilmington, NC @ Thorne Theater
02/15/2017 – Washington, DC @ The Howard Theater
02/16/2017 – Philadelphia, PA @ Theater of the Living Arts
02/17/2017 – Poughkeepsie, NY @ The Chance Theater
02/18/2017 – Boston, MA @ Royale
02/19/2017 – New York, NY @ Gramercy Theater