Afan of the Satanic Black Metal music performed by the likes of Bathory and Venom, Oystien Aarseth (a.k.a. Euronymous; guitar) decided to promote the musical style. Along with the support of fellow minions Maniac (Real Name: Sven Erik Kristiansen; vocals), Necrobutcher (Real Name: Jorn Stubberud; bass) and Kjetil Manheim (drums), Mayhem made its first impact with their 1984 demo, Pure Fucking Armageddon, which became regarded as a classic in underground extreme Metal circles. At this time, however, the sound, satanic lyrics, chains and leather that gave the Black Metal genre its feel and appearance were fading out of fashion, not to return until the mid 1990s. Instead of joining the Hardcore Punk and Metal hordes, Euronymous decided to stick with the purest of Black Metal styles he enjoyed so much. He opened a record store in Oslow named Helvete (Norwegian for Hell) and founded the 'Deathlike Silence' label, both dedicated solely to Black Metal.
His album debut with Mayhem would be in 1987 with the 6 track seventeen and a half minute Deathcrush release. It would be in April of 1990 when Mayhem would make news again when their vocalist Per Yngve Ohlin shot himself (by a twisted state of irony he went under the stage moniker "Dead"); he had been with the band since the departure of Maniac some time earlier. Euronymous for his part rushed out to buy a camera to photograph the scene and allegedly took skull fragments from the remains of the dead singer for use on a necklace. Mayhem, however, would continue on to inspire a number of other Scandinavian bands to adopt the musical style as their own. With his philosophies, Euronymous became an outspoken and popular spokesman on extreme Metal underground subjects.
In 1993 a series of church burnings would be linked to Euronymous and his buddies in the Black Metal Circle (a.k.a. "Inner Circle"), a group who's membership included himself as well as members of Emperor, Dark Throne, Burzum, Thorns and others, all of whom were signed to his record label. However, his little cult would backfire on him when Count Grishnakh (a.k.a. Varg Vikernes) of Burzum would stab him 25 times at Euronymous' own flat in Oslow. The reasons for the murder were never made clear but rumors feature one of three issues: a woman, a dispute over money (record royalties), or some other dark sinister issue between the two. Grishnakh, the band bassist at the time and Euronymous' right-hand man, was convicted a year later and continued on with a solo career under the Burzum name from prison. Euronymous, for his part, was completely consumed by the hate and anger he expressed so often in his life, and died by it.
1992's Live In Leipzig was the only recording to feature the now departed Per Yngve Ohlin on vocals. It also saw the introduction of Hellhammer (Real Name: Jan Axel Von Blomberg). In 1994 De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, was to be Mayhem's (the band) last recording and was released posthumously featuring, as some form of evil twisted joke, Grishnakh (a.k.a. Varg Vikernes) on bass guitar while Atilla Csihar took up the vocal spot.
True to form Mayhem refused to die, and the aforementioned members were replaced with Rune Erickson (a.k.a. Blasphemer) on guitar as well as various members like Maniac and Necrobutcher returning with the only remaining member, Hellhammer, in time for the release Wolf's Lair Abyss EP in 1997. The band, however, was a shadow of their former self as they continued on with Mediolanum Capta Est (live) (1999), Grand Declaration Of War (2000), Live In Marseille (2001), U.S. Legions EP (2001) and European Legions EP (2001). Since A Grand Declaration Of War, however, an effort of returning to the style of their classic glory days with the influence of fellow sound purveyors Arcturus and Satyricon was afoot; it proved to be an oasis in their desert by being one of their most cohesive projects yet. Through their patchy history they have somehow managed to stay in business and proved it with their self-declared back to basics Chimera album in 2004.
In November 2004 it was announced that long-time vocalist Maniac had left the group, with Attila Csihar, who last sang on the aforementioned De Mysteriis album, returned for the next album, Ordo ad Chao (Latin for "Order to Chaos") in April 2007, containing a much rawer sound than the rest of the band's recent work. The album received strong reviews and was the band's highest-charting album, peaking at 12 on the Norwegian charts.
In August 2008, Blasphemer left, expressing a lack of desire to continue despite satisfaction with their accomplishments. This marked the departure of the musician credited with the bulk of the musical composition of the band's three most recent studio albums; he continued work with the Portuguese band Ava Inferi.
In October 2008, Krister Dreyer (a.k.a. Morfeus) of Dimension F3H and Limbonic Art joined the group as touring guitarist for their upcoming South America Fucking Armageddon tour.
The band toured through late 2008 and 2009 with this lineup, prior to announcing Summer 2009 dates with Silmaeth, a French musician, as a second touring guitar. In November 2009, the band was arrested in Tilburg, Netherlands, after destroying a hotel room while on tour. Norwegian guitarist Teloch of Nidingr replaced Silmaeth in February 2011, and performed with the group before departing the following year.
Esoteric Warfare would be released worldwide on May 27, 2014.
Footnote: Do not confuse this Mayhem with the U.K. outfit by the same name.