Interview: Attila Csihar of MAYHEM

Antihero Magazine’s Anya Svirskaya recently had the opportunity to talk with Hungarian black metal vocalist Attila Csihar of Mayhem about the extreme metal scene and the band’s De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas Tour.

ANTIHERO: Hello, how are you? Thank you for taking the time to speak, where are you calling from?

Attila: I am good. No problem…Budapest.

ANTIHERO: Oh, it must be good to be home!

Attila: Yeah, yeah. We’re going to take off for a longer tour, actually two tours, I’m just enjoying the last days, so it’s kind of shitty because I like to ride my bike and today it’s kind of rainy. Shit. But that’s okay.

ANTIHERO: I’m in New York and it’s raining here, too… Mayhem are scheduled to play in NY in December. The 2nd run of the De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas Tour. Back so soon it’s been 10 months since your last show in the area!

Attila: Yeah, it’s such a big country and our booking agent suggested this tour, different territories, apparently, and we wouldn’t mind it. We ended up like, “Okay, fuck it let’s do it like for long.” Then it’s done.

ANTIHERO: You are playing at Irving Plaza on this tour and that’s exciting to see you in a different light.

Attila: Yeah. It’s different venues. I hope it’s going to be great. It should be. It’s I think this album being played once we started to play and tour with it. We just want to finish it full on, so that’s it.

ANTIHERO: Do you have a different mindset when you’re playing this album?

Attila: A little bit. Not very much but yes, a little bit. It’s more atmospheric. It’s a different show. I got a bit different mindset before the show. It’s a bit more dark and mystical, and a bit more obscure and more atmospheric compared to the shows like we played, and we make up the songs from all the albums, that’s more violent somehow. You know? At least in parts and shit. I like it. It’s cool.

ANTIHERO: Would you say that this album holds more meaning than the other records?

Attila: Definitely. It’s very important. It’s not just for Mayhem, there’s the thing. It’s important for the whole extreme scene or even in the wider spectrum, kind of important for the whole metal scene. It’s something different. It’s still a Mayhem record, of course, it’s still us. We all know it has a bit more things to add to it, you know?

ANTIHERO: Extreme music is synonymous with Mayhem. In your opinion and in your perspective, what has been the biggest change since 1984?

Attila: For me, it’s kind of the same, at least I remain in this. From my perspective, our music, but to look at the scene, of course, back in the days it was just a few bands and there was no different era like especially in the 80s or 90s too. There was not even computer in that sense. You couldn’t record with a computer or do any stuff like that. We had demo tapes. There was no internet. A few bands, it’s hard to make a deal, especially from countries like Hungary. Even it was like the end of the whole political system shit. The album couldn’t be released.

Tormentor, my first band, that was fucking different and there were no festivals as today or anything like that, you know, especially talking about Europe. We have shit lot of festivals which is so good. Eventually, we were right because when we were kids we didn’t know. We just followed our instinct and now it’s growing. It’s got bigger and it’s more solid and well, we have these big festivals and we can still tour around. It’s still more underground and it’s definitely not mainstream music.

Somehow the world changed too. Everything got more open and more extreme. The boundaries have been pushed. To compare like an old horror movie today normally it’s like back in the days which I also like, I don’t want to say it’s better or wrong, but back in the days it’s more about the spirit or mentor message and today it’s so graphic. But that kind of shows how it evolved like everything even sports are more extreme. Everything is growing a little bit more and pushing boundaries.

ANTIHERO: There are too many sub genres.

Attila: Even covers now the Folk which I think it’s fine. It’s okay. It’s music. You don’t have to listen if you don’t like it. I don’t mind it and of course the coin has the other side back in the days that’s for sure. Then I started to play extreme metal, only the most fucked up and crazy kids were into it because that was so extreme and blah, blah, blah. It was few and everybody was a bit afraid of it and it was kind of scary. Also, like what happened in Norway, then it went the other end like it flipped over or some of us at least did that.

Anyway, it was very clear. Now it’s of course along because it’s much more bands and the whole scene is so big and it’s more accessible so it’s not so crazy anymore. Not everybody of course but still it is what it is. I don’t see it’s a bad thing because we try to keep on our way but it’s all about music and that’s okay I think. In general, music is so accessible today and bands, you hear a band you just Google it on your phone and you know all the story and you can listen to records and shit. Back in the days it was so different. I remember I saw the first picture of Bathory of Quorthon years after I was completely into the music. The same with Skinny Puppy and shit. It’s like totally different stuff. But it is what it is. It’s okay.

ANTIHERO: After touring is done are there plans to record a new Mayhem album?

Attila: We have some ideas. We will see. It’s hard to see with Mayhem. Nothing is solid and complete. It’s we always follow our instinct and motion and it’s like strong democracy in the band. It’s also like of course sometimes like that time someone is leading the ship or go running a ship. Anyway, it’s still like a democracy and they all agree on something. It’s unique. We don’t have a management and strong agenda and stuff. We completely stick to our own freedom or whatever the fuck we want to do kind of stuff.

I guess we have some creative force too. It’s still working and still we are inspiring. I have some new writes and it’s interesting. It’s something a bit different from the last thing but that’s okay I guess. We’ll see.

ANTIHERO: And it’s seems like it’s a bit more spontaneous, whether you do a tour, record or something completely different.

Attila: Yes, many times it’s spontaneous. We just like it that way I guess and I don’t think we could function in any other way anything. It’s been like that and it’s hard to say exactly what’s going to happen with this band. But one thing is for sure that we are still in a pretty okay-ship. Especially we can do this tour now. I think it’s going to be almost two months with Europe and US. There’s going to be the end of this De Mysteriis thing of course. It’s a good vibe too. We have grown for sure.

ANTIHERO: You’re also a part of Sunn O))), a band that I’ve discovered on a personal level about three years ago. I like Stoner Doom metal among other things. Somehow in my search for newer bands I discovered Sunn O))) and I’m just like. Attila from Mayhem, how did that happen? But how has being a member of Mayhem and being in a band like Sunn O))), how did it influence each other and does it from time to time?


Attila: Yes, it’s tends to discretion anyways. I’ve been involved with Sunn O))) since really like 2002 maybe. That’s kind of a long time ago. I was in Mayhem in ’90 to ’93, ’91 to ’93. But then when they started all over it was with Maniac, so I didn’t have a band. I had some other bands of course like Plasma Pool and Aborym from Italy. Then it was like in early 2000 or 2001 something like Stephen O’Malley approached me. We made an interview before so he knew me.

He approached me and at that time I was also looking for a label for some release of some of my compilation record and then he introduced me to Greg and we talked about the bands and they said they had this very experimental band. At that time, it was really like an idea. For me it was even like more experiment than music. First it reminds me more like doom and drone than metal somehow. It was very experimental and I love experimental music. Plus, I loved the name and I loved the concept.

We ended up I did a recording for them in Italy in Rome. I was there with Aborym and I made this Symptoms of Kali Yuga the first song on the way to record, the first song I recorded with them. I sang in Sanskrit and I sang from this Hindu Indian Book like 5,000 old about Kali Yuga. The Kali Yuga is not so important now but it’s like they call the Iron Age like a Dark Age whatever where we are supposed to be now. Anyway, it’s like an old scripture in Sanskrit. I knew a little about Sanskrit, so I was singing in that language… it was fucking unique.

They played first time in Europe I met the guys in Austria and that was the first show I had with them that was in 2002 maybe. I don’t know early 2000s. Then gradually in 2004 I joined back to Mayhem. Then actually I got busy with Mayhem so I hold it back a bit. I was not sure what to do. Then it was like they did some different stuff but I’ve never been totally like a member, or now more like in the last years I became a member finally but I even didn’t want to. I like this collaboration. Both side like this way.

I ended up playing most of their live shows with them because I fucking loved it. Here’s the thing. It turned out to be a perfect balance for me with Mayhem because it’s so different music but it has a lot of similarities like all the Sunn O))) guys love Mayhem and I love this experimental psychedelic thing about it. That Greg and Steve they are so great metal, really fucking cool metal heads and you can really hang out. I love those guys. Actually, that band is just fucking amazing. I don’t how to … It was a great idea but I think it came slow that we thought a lot what we were doing. Just being so crazy.

The first show I played with them it was like seven people in the audience. That was like pretty underground. But then gradually it went up. The next show was 70 in Vienna and through the years it’s beautiful actually. So much loading, loading of amplifiers in and out of venues and fucking great experiments actually on stage.

What I learned I can try so many things because it’s so free. It’s got a lot of free elements in Sunn O))) in the lives. Whatever I experienced there I can use in Mayhem and what I experience in Mayhem of course I put in Sunn O))), that’s of course. For me it’s a beautiful balance actually.

ANTIHERO: I got to see Sunn O))) last March when you did a show in Brooklyn. It’s so different, minimalistic even. And it very Loud!! It was very different from the things I’ve seen live before.

Attila: Thanks, thank you very much. For me it’s the same. Every time it’s like it’s so loud on stage as well for me. As a vocalist, it’s totally challenging. Actually, I was today at the ear specialist because I just wanted to check my ears because it is a problem. I can’t use complete ear protection in Sunn O))) because I need to hear myself as a vocalist so it’s been always a constant challenge for me but I’m trying to take care. I’m not saying I have a bit of problems but at least I’m aware of it and I hope I can handle. But here’s the thing, it’s so extremely loud and I’m in the focus of these songs. It’s like, I don’t know, for me it’s so many levels.

I wanted to say not sacrificing something but it’s just being fucking on the edge and also sing and perform these conditions it’s so beautiful and challenging and all that open-minded versions and stuff and open spaces in the set. For me it’s great. I love it. I hope I can still keep going on doing it.

ANTIHERO: I wish you all the best health-wise.

Attila: Thank you. It’s a bit of my curse because with other instruments of course the others use the ear protection otherwise you couldn’t do it every night on this level. But also, we don’t recommend it to the audience. You should bring ear plugs or some plugs in case you might need it. It’s not about to fucking burst your ear or have pain or make you pain, it’s more about the vibration of the sound. It’s a tall sound goes through your whole body and it goes through the wall, goes through everything. It’s like beautiful vibes, vibrations but you have to, I’m a little bit fucking worried sometimes about my hearings because I already have a bit of tinnitus which I can leave it if it’s not getting worse than this. It’s okay, but I’m on the edge.

ANTIHERO: Your voice is very distinct and versatile with every project that you are involved in. I read that you have taken opera lessons. What was that like and how has it helped you?

Attila: Yeah, because first when we started with Tormentor I was just going full on all the time and just as much with Sunn O))). I remember we had the lesson. After Tormentor my first band I tried different bands and stuff and then someone made the comment to go to a vocal teacher. I was like, I’m always kind of open to whatever even if it’s fucked up idea. At first it sounded fucked up, like what? But I just went there. Of course, I didn’t tell what kind of music I was playing. There was an old lady and I had a few lessons with her a couple of months I think. It was interesting. I was very young still like maybe 19 or something. But here’s the thing, that was the first time I heard about the breathing techniques. Breathing is very important and I had some exercises and shit so of course I stopped attending her but I still kept going on with some of the exercises that she show me and tried to use that in my own way.

Then it happened again like years and years after. Actually, it was around 2000 when I was supposed to play Jesus Christ Superstar and some friends asked to play a role the Caiaphas the guy who basically sentenced Jesus and stuff. But anyway, that was a vocal teacher too available so I went to see her and she was also from the opera. Then I heard again the same stuff and of course we did the scales and shit which was whatever. I even didn’t mind that but for me it was more interesting to hear the same thing about breathing and the whole techniques and stuff.

I think at some point I like experimental music like to mention stuff and maybe that’s one of the reasons I think it’s for me the voice is also kind of like an instrument. There’s so many ways to play on it and so many shades in it and so many small things. For me it’s also my philosophy about it. It’s a little bit like Oriental Martial Art when you just practice things a little bit or constantly. I don’t say I practice every day but I have time to time just practicing enlightening periods. I’m always some part of my brain always around it. I mean sometimes I find myself doing something totally different thing and I’m still controlling my breathing. It somehow became part but I think actually it’s very healthy too. If you are into Martial Arts or Yoga, it’s all about breathing. Yoga and control of breathing and different versions of breathing and stuff. I think breathing itself is very important and when you either, there’s a certain technique for the vocal breathing and I think it’s even both teachers say and I think that other teachers too either here or there. I did my researches. Now it’s not so important anymore in a way. I mean it’s good to have a teacher but you can find so much shit online too. It’s always the same. It’s always control your breathing.

Also, you have to learn to separate the parts of your muscle and body like for instance more down you go in your body it’s harder. In other words, you have to release some parts of the muscles. Well, I don’t have to go into this. It’s a little bit complex but I think it’s healthy too maybe.

ANTIHERO: The last question that I have, it’s a two-part question. Who would you like to collaborate given the chance to and what is the message to your fans?

Attila: I’d love to collaborate with someone from Skinny Puppy one day because some of that band represents an era of my life and used to be. I love their stuff. I don’t know. That would be a cool thing for me personally.

ANTIHERO: Oh, wow, that’s unexpected. I’m a Skinny Puppy fan too, so I get it. The message behind their music, the live show.

Attila: Back in the day, I was actually a fan from like mid-80s. I was lucky to discover this band at a relative early age. It surprised me how I was a metalhead, I was always addicted to that stuff. It brought me into electronic music too which is I think that was a fucking great idea. I was into metal, like Evil and Dark Metal and stuff. When I heard Skinny Puppy I was like, “Fuck so great you can do this extreme and abstract stuff, even dark and fucked up stuff with electronics.” It’s such a great idea because back in the days it was all this disco and all this shit. Whatever. Or even New Wave what I like but this was like another level to me. I don’t want to go much into it.

To my fans or our fans, you guys fucking rule. You bloods, you fucking just giving us everything and just keep going on and keep on the flame and keep research and fucking we are in the same boat and see where we going to end up. I think it’s cool where we are and what’s our interest. Just fucking love you guys in an evil way, in a fucking metal way. Fucking horns up and stay metal.

ANTIHERO: Thank you so much and I hope you have a great day.

Attila: Cheers. Thank you. Bye Anya.


Anya Svirskaya

I was born and raised in Donetsk, Ukraine and immigrated to NYC when I was eight years old. My passion for photography stems from my love of heavy metal and hard rock as well as my concert experiences. I was exposed to this music at an early age and it has been a big part of my life into adulthood. It is very rewarding and exciting to capture the small moments that musicians have on stage and get caught up in all the action in the mosh pit and take photos from that vantage point. When I am not behind my camera, I can be found teaching preschool. My love of music and photography allows me to create and plan meaningful activities for my students. I was very young when I discovered my passion and my goal is to help do the same for my students.

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