Friday, June 25, 2010

The Mayhem of the Sex Pistols!

What do the Sex Pistols and Mayhem have in common? Well where do I start? In this article I intend to go into depth on this subject. Also, in the process, I will discuss how both their landmark albums have similar histories as well as having many parallels in regards to the way they were made, etc.

To begin with, both were very transgressive artists for their time. Well, in some ways, Mayhem's actions were BEYOND transgressive and downright CRIMINAL. Of course, The Sex Pistols were not without their share of criminality as well. The Sex Pistols "anarchy" and general nihilism in many ways reflected a more economic malaise that afflicted Britain at the time. Stay tuned though while I write in future blogs as far as the reasoning behind the Norwegian Black Metal movement of the early nineties, and my theories for their criminal acts (church burnings, etc). I believe there were different reasonings behind this not related to economic conditions (obviously), but the general nihilism expressed in both movements definitely had some parallels. As far as parallels between the two albums though-

In essence the parallels are as follows:

1. Both bands had one Landmark album they are known for, and their other material is lesser known (in the Sex Pistols case this is their only "official" studio album, other than various live albums and compilations, etc).  This is obvious as Never Mind the Bollocks is seen as a "punk" classic, and remains one of the best known punk albums of all time. Mayhem's De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas is the same way- Their other material is praised by many, but did not have the same impact on the scene as De Mysteriis did.

2. Both albums are culminations of their respective scenes up until that point- but while not the first examples of their burgeoning genres, they are definitely revolutionary.

The Sex Pistols were a continuation of the many 60's and 70's punk and hard rock groups that came before them. Iggy and The Stooges, MC5, Rolling Stones, The Who and others were an influence. The Ramones and the Dictators came before the Pistols, but the Pistols were almost a perfection of a lot of what had come up to that point. Mayhem's De Mysteriis was the same way- you can hear Bathory, Sarcofago, and many others, but they took the essence of many of these bands and made something new with it. One of the secret weapons of Mayhem was a little known guitarist named Snorre Ruch, who wrote some of the more dissonant and progressive riffs on the album. Previously (and later on), he played with a band called Thorns, where he used many progressive chord progressions, but I digress..

3. Both albums are more accessible than many of their peers' albums, while not being a sellout or an attempt at commercialization.

The Sex Pistols album was controversial among some later punk critics (and probably some of the band themselves) because it is actually (especially for a "Punk" album) a decently produced record. There are overdubs galore with guitars, and while the album's production was not on the par of other bands of the day such as say, Fleetwood Mac, it almost had a "classic rock" vibe contained within its grooves. The production of the record is bright, punchy and distinct, and adds to the pure rock power that it contains. As far as commercialization, well there is some controversy regarding this. (In some ways, Malcolm Mclaren wanted the Sex Pistols to be big, but we won't go into this for the sake of brevity)..

Mayhem's De Mysteriis is the same way for their respective genre. The album was pretty well produced for the time. Remember, this is the time when the black metal bands were trying to be the anti-thesis of many of the commercially "slick" produced Death Metal bands coming around at the time. But more importantly, the album was much better produced than their black metal peers releasing records.  De Mysteriis sounded very different than say, Darkthrone, and had a clear and cutting mid ranged production compared to many of their fellow Norwegian peers. The guitars are clear, and not muddy, and they have mid-ranged sound. The drums sound cavernous and loud, and the bass is audible as well.

4. Both bands participated in anti-social and transgressive acts.

In the Sex Pistols case, it was usually more relegated to publicity stunts (the Bill Grundy incident) and an unprecedented amount of controversial lyrics for the time. Bashing the British Queen, provocatively using curse words on a record (for the time this was pretty rare unless it was a Richard Pryor comedy lp or something), as well as just a general disdain for authority fueled their shows and tours.

In Mayhem's case, of course it went ten steps further. Church burnings (mainly the result of their "replacement" bass player, and I'll get to that in a minute), controversial interviews, pronouncements of "devil worship" (not just "satanism") as well as many other controversial acts and statements fueled their publicity (As a side note I will go into my opinions on Christianity, Satanism, and Black Metal in future blogs so definitely check back on this).

5. Both bands had stores as their "base of operations".

Malcolm Mclaren's (the Sex Pistols manager and one of the founders though not a band member) shop "Sex" was an S and M shop in London which specialized in "taboo" clothing as well as pushing the boundaries. And this is where the band had met and were customers at from time to time (basically one of the stores that had pushed the early Punk movement in Great Britian).

On the same note, Euronymous's shop "Helvete" in Oslo Norway was the basis of many of the Black Metal bands coming up at that time. Euronymous being the guitarist and fouding member of Mayhem. Helvete was a record store which sold a lot of obscure and underground black and death metal.

6. Both bands had a "replacement" bass player who helped the (initial) demise of the group.

7. Both bassists (likely) murdered someone.

8. Both bassists (had) and still have a cult following among many fans. 

Sid Vicious had joined and did a few of the bass tracks on Never Mind the Bollocks, but only wrote a few parts of the songs (mainly Holidays in the Sun). He had been a replacement bass player for departed bassist Glen Matlock, who had been a founding member and songwriter. Glenn had been rumored to be kicked out for "liking the Beatles" but recently that has been exposed as a myth by recent interviews. Sid Vicious was a drug addict who gained notoriety for a lot of his on stage as well as off stage behavior. He also had solo albums (where he sings and plays some bass with other musicians) as well as having a general cult following in the Punk community (especially after his death). He is seen for having brought a lot of the nihilistic attitude to the Pistols, despite having a limited technical expertise.

Varg Vikernes in Mayhem was also a replacement bassist. "Necrobutcher" had recently departed the group after Mayhem's previous singer's suicide (and the callous handling of the matter by fellow members prompted him to leave). Varg also had a "solo" gig that he was known for, but unlike Vicious it was seen as a lot more groundbreaking for the respective style of music. Burzum is still respected today, with a new album bringing a spotlight on Vikernes. Vikernes was controversial from the beginning because of some of his proclamations involving his ideas on race and politics. He later was arrested for church burning, and while Euronymous had outwardly expressed pleasure at the acts, there was inside casternation from Euronymous as far as who was getting notoriety in the "scene" (there are many books about the subject of the early nineties black metal movement- I will give a history and my opinions in future blogs, but as stated before this blog is about the parallels between the two bands their genres). We don't know exactly what transpired, but Vikernes eventually was arrested for the murder of Euronymous, and sent to prison (until recently as a matter of fact).

Sid Vicious was alleged to have been involved with the murder of his girlfriend, Nancy Spungen. Unlike Vikernes though, Sid died- he died of a drug overdose a few days after making bail.

So that about sums it up. I believe both albums are important because they are some of the greatest examples of their respective styles. Mayhem's dark atmosphere and dissonant heavy riffing making it one of Black Metal's all time classics, and The Sex Pistols Never Mind the Bollocks being a nuclear bomb that ignited (and inspired) a wave of followers to come in the punk scene. They both were an influence on future bands, and Mayhem's Euronymous being what Malcolm Mclaren was to the Pistols and the Punk scene- a progneitor of an entire movement to follow.


I recommend both these albums as they are two of my all time favorites:

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