Jørn ‘Necrobutcher’ Stubberud: “Everything Was About Hate. That Was Mayhem’s Motto”
Mayhem’s story is a genuinely unbelievable one the first time you hear it. While they have the distinction of being the first Norwegian black metal band, forming in 1984, their history is also one of the most shocking and violent in the history of music. There’s the death of vocalist Per ‘Dead’ Ohlin, who died by suicide in 1991, aged just 22. There’s also the murder of guitarist and leader Øystein ‘Euronymous’ Årseth, who was fatally stabbed in August 1993 by Burzum’s Varg Vikernes. Not to mention the connection to church arson – incidents which make their name as synonymous with infamy as it is with extreme music.
Having co-founded the group with Euronymous, bassist Jørn ‘Necrobutcher’ Stubberud found himself in the eye of the storm as all of this unfolded. Musically, no band on Earth was as extreme as what he and his friends had put together, and when activity outside of the music began to impact, he was one of the people that it had real-world effects on. Even during the period after Dead’s passing, when he’d quit the band, a long shadow remained, and he was one of the major factors in it continuing after Euronymous’ funeral. It’s a band which he continues to this day, plumbing ever-darker recesses of music in increasingly difficult ways. “We challenge the fuck out of our fans!” he laughs.
As one of the few people to have genuine, first-hand documents of the time, Necrobutcher has put together a book, The Death Archives: Mayhem 1984 – 94 (first published in 2016, but now receiving a full pressing through Ecstatic Peace Library). Containing hundreds of unseen photos, and telling unheard stories of the time, it shines a revelatory light on a unique, fascinating moment in time, often the subject of much speculation, and often completely misunderstood. It showcases not just the grimness of the band’s evil imagery, but also a group of lads in their late teens simply having a laugh together. Just as the book takes a deep dive into a heady world of nostalgia, here, Necrobutcher takes us back to a time before anyone could have guessed what was going to happen in the North…
Mayhem are a band who have been surrounded by a lot of mystique. Did that make you think twice about potentially exposing too much of the truth with this book?
“No, not really. The mystique is still there – that’s what we’re all about. There are a couple of happy faces in the book, but remember, back then, when you took photos that was it. On a film of 24 photos, 10 might be out of focus, so how you look in the ones that came out okay didn’t matter. Now, you can take 1,000 pictures until you get the one you want. As for mystique, if you think about the darkness, the candles, the corpse paint, and running around in the forest in the middle of the night, that’s all there, because we were crazy people, but it also captures chilled-out moments where we’re all sat down having a beer.”
Let’s go back to the beginning. What inspired you to form a band who, at the time, were one of the most extreme-sounding on Earth?
“I don’t know – I’ve always been drawn to extreme things in life. I like extreme movies like splatter and horror movies, and extreme art. With music, the rawer, the faster, the harder, the better. So I liked the harder shit that The Rolling Stones did, especially when Keith Richards was singing, because he already had a fucked-up voice in the ‘70s. Then, I heard Lemmy, with the distorted bass and the whiskey voice – at the time, it was ’81, I think. I read some books about the Hole-In-The-Wall Gang and Kid Curry, and all the famous outlaws in the American West around the time Ace Of Spades came out, and that song proved to be the soundtrack to everything I was reading. Immediately, I went out to get a distortion pedal. After that I was still looking for more extreme stuff, and then Venom and death metal and all the different variations came out.”
How did you come to strike up a relationship with Euronymous?
“We were living in the same area, but about five kilometres apart, so we went to different high schools and didn’t know each other. But we were doing the same things independently of each other, playing music with our friends at school. His friends had a rehearsal space and wanted me to try out for this glam-rock band they had. I knew immediately that I was not going to play with them, but I felt like it was a cool thing that they wanted me to jam with them. The guy from the band said, ‘I’m sending someone down to the station to pick you up,’ and that was Øystein. We were both surprised to meet a fellow person with such similar musical interests. Nobody I knew liked Venom – everybody thought their music was too noisy and extreme – but here, I’d found a guy that liked that kind of stuff. I told him I had a band and we jammed Venom songs, and he knew all the tunes. The day after, he brought his guitar and this amp that was completely worthless and gave off feedback, and we started to jam. Quickly, we realised, ‘Okay, this is it.’ After that, we were hanging out every day for years.”
The book portrays a band for which you had a lot of ambition from pretty early on – there seems to have been a confidence about what you could do. Did you truly believe that you could do something great like Venom?
“Yeah, absolutely. We thought we were gonna be huge as fuck, no doubt about it. We were faster than most other bands, and we were rawer. When we saw pictures of Sepultura in Hawaiian shirts, we were thinking, ‘Fuck – this isn’t death metal!’ That’s when we started bringing cow and pig heads into it, all that stuff. This was gonna be death, only death, and pure fucking evil shit; no love songs, quite the opposite – everything was about hate. We were against everything. That was our motto.”
Why did you choose the name Necrobutcher?
“It’s so fucking perfect. We needed to have some cool fucking nicknames. We also liked the idea of anonymity – it disguised us in a way that criminals would do. In all our photoshoots we’d have our hair down over our faces or be covered by corpse paint. When I came up with the name Necrobutcher, I was talking to someone – I don’t remember who – but I fell out with them because they said that the grammar was incorrect and I couldn’t put the two words together. Apparently, it needed to be something like ‘Necromanticbutcher’, because my way isn’t correct English. But I decided that was why I needed to use Necrobutcher, because you’d have to be crazy to write your own name wrong! Everything is so fucking wrong with it.”
Norway wasn’t known for metal before Mayhem and black metal. What was it like back then?
“Norway was a peaceful country when I was growing up. After school, you went out, you got home in the late evening, and that was normal. But today, I don’t think parents would let their kids out after dark without a cell phone, or knowing where they are, or picking them up or driving them to practice. It’s unthinkable these days, but back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, it was innocent as fuck. They were completely different times.”
So where did your sense of rebellion and mischief come from? “You have to rebel against that, of course. What the fuck?! (crazy laughter) It was too nice! Christianity is bad stuff – those guys are lobotomised. Churches had all the power here back then, and we paid a lot of tax to the state church. They were making rules, and we had to pay for it. I was already rebelling against the idea of Christianity and I thought it was a lot of bollocks – anyone with any sense would know it’s just a stupid fairytale and that religion is a tool for control, nothing else. People are so pathetic that they still believe this shit down to the literal word – the walking on water, all that kind of stuff. That was a natural thing to rebel against, because we saw something wrong in society – wake up, this is stupid! Everyone was getting worked up about it, and we were thinking, ‘This is awesome!’ From there, the scene grew and it spiralled completely out of control – 50 churches burned up here.”
Did you want to piss people off, as well as become rock stars?
“Yeah, we wanted to be rock stars and anger people at the same time. That was natural for us, because we liked to wear dark clothes – we didn’t fit in with what was going on at the time. It was natural to go that way, and that’s the same in all kinds of societies: some people don’t fit in with the crowd, so they start subcultures, and that’s what we did. We made our own map for everything, and we were totally determined from the beginning. We knew there was no market here in Norway, so we were always thinking internationally. We started our own record label and distribution, and later on our own shop, because we had to – nobody would give us a deal, anyway. So we said, ‘Fuck you – we’ll do it ourselves. How hard can it be?’”
When Dead came from Sweden to live with you guys, he didn’t speak Norwegian and none of you spoke Swedish, meaning you had to communicate in English. That shows the dedication you had, that people were moving to come and be part of the band. What was it like when he first came to live in Norway?
“We thought it was the right thing to do, but at the time, we were still living with our parents, so we had to find somewhere for him to live. First, we put him up in our rehearsal space, which worked for a while, but he got kicked out. Then, we found a house in the forest that was abandoned, but that was without power and water, so it was okay for just the summer. But then the farmer who owned the cabin came in with a shotgun one day and asked us what the fuck we were doing. After that, we put Dead in a motel for a couple of months, and then we hired an apartment, which everyone moved into. We were looking for a house that we could also rehearse in, and I found that in the end, too. We just went with it – we were young, dumb and full of cum. We took obstacles as they came. That’s what you have to do when you’re pioneering shit – you’re building your own world.”
Mayhem were often portrayed as humourless elitists, but as seen in the book you were also just teenagers doing normal adolescent things. In retrospect, did that get forgotten by people on the outside looking in?
“We were together all the time and did a lot of normal things together: eating, drinking tea, reading magazines, ordering pizza, so that stuff is in the book, of course. Otherwise, it’d be strange to tell a story and not say what’s going on. This is what this book is also about – trying to capture the moment. Shit like what we were eating, just to completely put you in a time capsule and spice it up with all the other stuff that was going on at the time. And that’s the same with the pictures of the clothes. We’ve always been of the same style: black, full of studs, leather jackets. And some of the photos are in public places, so you can see how the different styles come and go. It’s a funny thing – I’m in style every 10 years! (laughs)”
The early days were marked by tragedy, with Dead’s suicide and Euronymous’ murder. Did it ever feel like things had gone too far to you?
“The only time I felt like that was when stuff was happening that was out of my control, like when Øystein took pictures of the body when he found Per [Dead] after he shot himself. That was over the top and out of line. Also, when some teenage girls burned up churches around where I lived, the police would call around to my parents to tell them I was a suspect in that shit. I got pissed off, and when you know that you’re being done wrong, your inner motivation to prove you’re right becomes stronger. You feel angry, and the more that comes up against you, you feel scared, then you feel like doing something about it. Since we play negative, aggressive music, that seemed the right way to channel all that stuff.”
Were you worried for your own safety, in light of all the negative attention?
“Yes, we were worried. When Euronymous was killed, we didn’t know who did it in the beginning. I didn’t know what was going on, and then I read in the paper that it was some Swedes that did it, so I was thinking, ‘Fuck, maybe they’re coming for me, too.’ I borrowed a sawn-off shotgun from a friend and had that in my bedroom just in case. I wasn’t afraid, but I didn’t want to be sat there and slain in my underwear. After that, I had so much rage in me, because I knew I was right. It’s music, it’s image – we’re not enemies of the state. We were enemies of the system, but not how they portrayed us to be.”
How difficult was it putting the band back together after Euronymous died?
“We were at ground zero after all that shit went down in ’93. We were public enemies of the state, of the press and of the people in Norway. Black metal became an even smaller thing after that – everything was fucked up and no-one would have anything to do with us. We didn’t have any gigs, and if anyone ever wrote anything about us it was always negative. We were banned from festivals and most of our friends and business associates turned their backs on us. They talked shit about us because they didn’t want to be associated with us. There were not only the musical aspects where you have a band, make music and tour, and maybe you have a flat tyre, or your guitars break, or you have writer’s block. We had all that shit happening as well as everyone working against us. That made it double shit. But with us being an aggressive type of band, that kicked us in the ass, so from ’94 when we got our shit back together with a new guitarist in place, we were in a rehearsal space for three years, all the fucking time. We needed high quality shit when we came out again, so there’d be no doubt about anything and we’d blow everybody away. And that’s what happened. Sometimes, bad needs to happen for good to come out of it; you need to know about shit to come out on top of it afterwards.”
The band’s legacy now is one of total respect in metal circles. Does it feel like you won in the end?
“Yes. It’s the dark chapter first, pulling you up through all the bullshit and having the press against you. But, as always, they shoot themselves in the foot. And in the end, after they talk so much shit about us, suddenly people from abroad, like ambassadors in Nicaragua or wherever, you ask them, ‘What do you know about Norway? And they’re like, ‘Mayhem, ice spears…’ Afterwards, we started to get GRAMMY nominations too, which we should’ve had 10 or 15 years prior, because of the quality of the music. But we never even sent in any records to the committee, so we wouldn’t be evaluated anyway. When we first got nominated, it was because a distribution company in Norway sent in nine copies to the nomination committee without telling us, so I read about it in the paper one day. After that, it became more like autopilot: you release an album and it gets sent to the awards committees and radio, which to be honest we didn’t give a fuck about, because they didn’t give a fuck about us. They shot themselves in the foot and then came limping back.”
Does being in Mayhem still feel like a constant fight?
“Yes, but I’m not ready to quit yet.”
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