Little do people know that Mayhem, perhaps the most heralded band in extreme metal, has something of a punk background! Just recently, the Norwegian black metal titans released Atavistic Black Disorder / Kommando. The A-side of that record served as a companion to 2019’s lauded Daemon album… and the flipside had an interesting twist… Mayhem kicked out four punk covers! Discharge, Dead Kennedys, Rudimentary Peni, and the Ramones each get a spin!
To that end, Punknews’ John Gentile spoke to vocalist Attila Csihar (who is from Hungary) about his early punk history, his early band Tormentor, and buying records behind the iron curtain. You can check out the interview below.
The new release features a load of punk covers. How did you first get into punk? In Hungary, I was pretty young when I discovered punk. In the early ‘80s. I was looking for more extreme music and I found Dead Kennedys, Discharge, GBH- who I fucking love. That was more extreme somehow and we loved the straightforwardness and the aggressiveness of it. Then came venom and extreme metal, and I went into it a little more. I left that and went to the black metal, but I never forgot the punk roots.
Moreover, this is how I met a lot of friends. In Tormentor, we played extreme black thrash metal, so even the heavy metal guys hated us. We never had a good review ever, then. While we were existing, we had a lot of shows, and the negative propaganda worked pretty well. Therefore, a lot of people came to our shows from other scenes. I remember when punks and skinheads were still hanging. They were just rebels against the system- Even the drummer of tormentor came from hardcore punk scene. I still love goth, punk, industrial and stuff like that. I don’t listen to that much new punk though, to be honest.
There were a few other extreme metal bands. Sometimes with we played with heavy metal bands, and very unusual bands, and with punk bands. Nut, at the time, it was opposing scenes. They didn’t get along very well. There was no security at those shows.
Now, I think most people would agree that extreme and heavy shows are safer than in the ‘80s. People are less likely to get hurt, but maybe the art is less daring. Is more safety at shows a good thing or a bad thing? It’s both. Like everything. In Tormentor, the first shows, I couldn’t see the audience, because in the first five meters it was the same 120 people who would pogo and fight. If you wanted to see the band, you have to go up there- sometimes they would fight or even burn vinyl from shit bands. I was choking one time and I saw this guy burning all this shit. I don’t miss that. I like to enjoy the shows today. I don’t mind if people are pogoing so long as they are looking after each other. I don’t see too much violence which is good. The scenes are converging and it’s good we go side-by-side.
Do you remember the first punk record that you got? I went to the store. It was still in the old system. We had a private vinyl store. Yugoslavia was communist, but they were printing a lot vinyl. The first punk record I had was Dead Kennedys’ Plastic Surgery Disasters. I still have it. I fucking love it. It is complex and extreme. I was always asking people and store, “what is the most extreme? What is the new shit?” GBH was kicking ass. Stuff like that was really, really powerful. Tormentor even covered the Exploited. Our guitar player of Tormentor always wore a Dead Kennedys t-shirt. On any level, I think there is a connection. This is how I met my punk friends- I was a small kid, and they looked very extreme with the hair styles and the attitude, the aggression. I was amazed by Kreator, and the German thrash stuff. I loved punk, so this is how I met Tormentor’s drummer.
The Dead Kennedys play a big part on the new record. You all covered “Hellnation.” To be honest with you, I think the record was not really planned. It was connected to the Covid situation. What happened, we finished the recording of the Daemon record, and Hellhammer had some free time, and I think they got a few drinks, so they were like, “fuck it, let’s record some covers!” We didn’t know, it was just for fun. There were a few more songs, but at the end it was mostly punk songs. So, it’s like a Frankenstein record. One side is Daemon related and the other side is punk covers. I don’t mind. The good thing is I love all these bands. Discharge, Rudimentary Peni, Dead Kennedys.
The Rudi P cover is a deep cut from Echoes of Anguish! I was happy to do that song. We never even talked about Rudimentary Peni. I heard that and I was like, “cool!” I heard that band when Death Church came out and I fucking loved it. It was dark, punk in a way, but very dark. At the time, it was rare to get any music. For hours, I was looking at the graphics. Death Church also sounded like black metal to an extent. That was the shit.
Can you talk a little bit about growing up in communist Hungary? Hungary was a bit more open. Somehow, we had a little softer communist than the others. In the beginning, we were allowed behind the curtain once a year. But, it sounds fucked up today. And the other countries could never go. I was lucky my parents could take me to the West. The difference was blinding in the West! In this way, some people were having trouble getting vinyl and records. And Yugoslavian pressings were pretty cool. Those were only in private stores.
It was so expensive to have a vinyl. Especially a Western press. Today, I would say like 200 euros, 100 at least. You really had to choose which one you wanted. It was even more expensive than the West. You had to smuggle and we were piss poor compared to other countries. My family was not poor, but certainly not rich either.
There were two types of vinyl. There was one you could rent out and if you brought it back the next day, you could get back like 80%. So, you could record it and then bring it back. I would buy the best possible hi-fi deck and would make tapes from that because I could only afford a few vinyl- Bathorty, and later Skinny Puppy and I really loved them and was what I could afford. I remember, as a kid, I got Running Wild for Christmas.
What feelings did you have revisitng these songs from your youth? Well, I’m happy that people are fining it interesting. I think my covers are okay, too. Also, it shows what we you and I are talking about- that we had this connection to the punk scene. The very first time I played with Mayhem in San Francisco, in 2007 or 2008, Jello Biafra came to the show and I met him, and I couldn’t believe it. He was my hero. He hanged with us and since then we are friends. Every time he comes to Hungary or every time we play San Francisco, I invite him. We have very positive respect for him, and I can feel his respect too, so that’s amazing. But I have huge respect any way just because of my roots.