I’d been just getting into black metal when I was recommended this album, and given Mayhem’s reputation of being one of the most important black metal bands, I thought that this debut full-length would be the best place to start with them. Well the fact is this album is very overrated because of one factor that is very important for me. The vocals are terrible throughout most of this album.
When opener Funeral Fog starts you hear heavy black metal riffs, played in a blur. Nothing unusual for this genre of metal there. Then, when the song slows a bit you can actually hear that the album has a lot better production that you’ll find on many black metal albums, and I thought that I was going to love the album. I was wrong. As soon as vocalist Attila starts singing I actually cringed. The man sounds ill, like he’s about to throw up or something. Most of the time he isn’t even growling, it’s more like he’s moaning because he has stomach cramps or something equally horrible. He sounds that bad. On the album’s title track he even tries to sing cleanly, but it just comes out as what sounds like a very poor chanting, that just sounds like another form of moaning in great pain. Well it’s certainly painful to my ears. The only song on this album that I can safely that he doesn’t mess up is Buried by Time and Dust, which as De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas shortest song doesn’t exactly count for as much as you may think.
What makes this album bearable despite some of the worst vocals I’ve ever heard on an album is the fact that the actual songs are very good. The riffs are good and when the occasional solo comes along it’s very well played. The lyrics are fitting to this type of metal and the actual music is pretty good and fitting to this style. It’s really is a shame about the vocals otherwise this really would be a classic album but as it is I don’t get the hype at all. I guess that it would have been better if Dead had lived long enough to record it, but sadly that couldn’t be the case. I don’t blame the rest of the band, since they didn’t ask Dead to commit suicide. What I do blame them for is the fact that they could have found someone better than Attila to sing on this album. Dead died in 1991, and this didn’t come to out until 1994. They had the time, even before Varg murdered Euronymous.
Now this may come as some surprise but I don’t actually think that Buried by Time and Dust is the best song that De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas has to offer. No, that is Freezing Moon, which while it does have it’s awful vocal moments, is possibly the best song that Mayhem have ever done. This and Buried by Time and Dust are the best of what De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas gives the listener, followed closely by Pagan Fears. Life Eternal is okay but it does have it’s moments where I want to hit the skip button. Funeral Fog would sound better vocal-less because the music is really strong. The title track is useless. Cursed in Eternity and From the Dark Past are middle of the road because of the bad vocals.
I personally don't think overall this album is worth its reputation on a musical front, but I do admit that its only really those vocals that are the weak link and as it is the album is worth a generally positive score, it just doesn't quite get up into the masterpiece or even the solid levels. No, I think this is renowned mainly for the band's infamous reputation (Dead's suicide, Euronymous's murder etc). The only thing that is classic about this album is that it is a classic example of a missed chance.
(Originally written for Heavy Metal Haven, scoring 6.8/10)