Mayhem bassist Jørn ‘Necrobutcher’ Stubberud has had a better pandemic than most. “I realised that I hadn’t had a proper holiday since 1996,” says the man who founded the black metal icons way back in 1984. “Because I my life involves travelling so much, my idea of a vacation is staying home and turning off my phone. And it’s great in the summer because everybody else has pissed off on their own vacations, so I get the supermarket to myself.”
Necrobutcher has torn himself away from the frozen pigs’ head aisle to talk up Mayhem’s new EP, Atavistic Black Disorder/Kommando. It features three songs recorded during the sessions for 2019’s Daemon album (including the previously unreleased Voces Ab Alta) but the big draw is the quartet of 70s and 80s punk covers which close it out. The band have put a blackened-crust spin on Ramones’ Commando, Rudimentary Peni’s Only Death, Discharge’s In Defence Of Our Future and Dead Kennedys’ Hellnation – the latter two effectively mini-Mayhem reunions thanks to appearances from former singers Messiah and Maniac respectively.
“We were in a studio which in the middle of fucking nowhere, so we had nothing else to do,” says Necrobutcher. “Plus we’d paid for studio time.”
What's the story behind the EP?
I think you need 42 minutes to make something on album – when we’ve written 42 minutes of music, it’s like, ‘OK, let’s leave it and go to the studio.’ That’s why there’s eight songs on every Mayhem record.
With Daemon, we suddenly had seven songs more than normal. I don’t know how – that has never happened before. It meant we could actually pick out the strongest for once. Some of those songs were left off because they were different from the rest.
With the punk covers, we suddenly had two or three extra days in the studio, so we had this idea: everybody send in two songs that they want to cover, no thinking about it, just off the top of your head. So we got 10 songs. My songs weren’t even punk – Death Strike’s The Truth and Evil Dead by Death [both appeared on as bonus tracks on a special edition of Daemon]. But some of the other guys picked punk songs, which was very strange. So we ended up recording them.
Guns N’ Roses’ The Spaghetti Incident, Slayer’s Undisputed Attitude – rock and metal bands covering punk songs don’t have a great track record…
Yeah, but we had played some of these songs live, like the Ramones song, Commando. And some of the others we’d been fucking around with in rehearsal. But because people picked them off the top of their heads, it’s very honest.
Mayhem’s original singer Billy Messiah and his replacement Maniac – who was also in the band in the late 90s and early 00s – are on the EP. How did they get involved?
So we decided which songs we wanted to do and we recorded them. I was listening back to them and I thought, “What if I ask Billy and Maniac to do a couple of songs… those guys were punk rockers, way more than they were metalheads.” When we started jamming with Maniac in ’86, ’87, we did [the Dead Kennedys’] California Uber Alles, so I was like, “Maniac could do Hellnation, and it would be really cool for the fans.” Same with Billy – I called him and he was, like, “Fuck yeah!”
Did you grow up listening to these songs?
Yeah. I was always looking for the fastest, craziest music. Extreme metal didn’t exist back then. Punk existed and metal existed, and some of the punk bands at that time were faster and crazier than the metal bands – Chaotic Discord, Extreme Noise Terror, Chaos UK, Disorder. A lot of those bands had shitloads of songs, and there were maybe one or two that were great.
Was punk an influence on Mayhem in the early days?
We were inspired by it, but not musically. It was more the expression of the music and how it was presented. Black metal wasn’t ‘approved’ back then – there was no market, no labels, no booking agents to set up tours. These bands would come over from the UK or Canada and play squats. They’d do these long tours, completely underground. And we were the underground too – we were looking for ways to get this music out. That's why we created our own record label, Posercorpse Records.
Do you miss those really early days of the band? Was it romantic?
Yeah, it was actually. When you’re young, everything is exciting. You’re exploring – underground magazines, tape trading. We went to [famous metal record store] Shades in London in the 80s. We’d be wandering around, pulling out these Venom limited editions and actually screaming like we’d found a fucking diamond.
I think it’s still there with people today. People are still looking for the newest thing or the newest, craziest artists. It’s like this thing they call trap. It’s a hip hop thing, but some of them are inspired by black metal, like this guy who calls himself Ghostemane…
He's a big fan of Mayhem...
I know! That’s how I discovered him. Someone sent me a link and said, “This guy has ripped off shitloads of your riffs, check it out.” So I checked it out. I don’t have all eight million of his album so I don’t know exactly how much he stole [laughs]. But I wasn’t angry about it – I thought it’s great that this music is still evolving and it’s inspiring people in other types of music. That means it’s still alive. Black metal was very narrow at the start, but then it broke out – it became symphonic with Dimmu Borgir, it became viking metal with Enslaved, it became this crying thing with Solstafir… it just evolved. And it’s still evolving with people like Ghostemane.
Covid permitting, you’re touring again later this year. Can we expect Messiah and Maniac to get up onstage with you?
Yeah, that would be cool. I'm sure that could be arranged. Certainly here in Norway. Maybe some places where we feel we need to give people a little bit extra.
So is that a yes or no?
OK, it’s a yes. But don’t expect them to be on the tour. That would be too much.
You’re 53 now. Can you imagine still doing this when you’re 60?
I talked to my mother the other day. She is 19 years old in her head, even though she’s really 72. I feel the same – I feel like I haven’t changed from when I was young. My body is working – I train, I eat healthily, I woke up from alcohol and all those crazy drugs years ago. I'm in better shape than ever. It’s hard to see that something will alter in seven years, but then I look at my stepfather and I think, “Do I want to be playing onstage at his age?” But then I thought that many, many years ago too.
Do you ever think of life without Mayhem?
Not really. It’s a very physical, demanding type of music, but we will continue as long as our heath lets us. Only more deaths in the band can stop us.
2022: it’s got to be better than 2020 and 2021, right?
Yes. It will be.
Atavistic Black Disorder / Kommando is out now via Century Media.