Excuse all the blood, but I have slit my wrists and my throat. I wanted to die in the woods so that a few days would pass before anyone can find me. I belong in the woods and I always have. The reason for this will not make sense to anyone. To give an explanation, I am not human, this is just a dream and soon I’ll wake up. It was too cold and the blood kept coagulating, plus my new knife is very dull. If I can’t kill myself with the knife, I will blow all the shit out of my skull. I don’t know yet. I left all my lyrics by “Let the Good Times Roll” – plus all of my money. The one who finds them gets to keep the fucking things. As a final salute, allow me to present “Life Eternal”. Do whatever the fuck you want with the fucking thing.
I didn’t decide to kill myself now, but seventeen years ago.
Per Yngve Ohlin – better known around the world as Dead – was a black metal vocalist and lyricist who attained world fame for his work with the notorious Norwegian black metal band Mayhem. Dead was born on January 16, 1969, in Stockholm, Sweden where he also grew up. As a child Dead suffered from sleep apnea and according to his own words he was constantly “on the threshold of death” because whenever he slept, no one could wake him up and he would “turn blue”. Dead also said that he wanted to die ever since he was 3.
Later when he went to school, Dead became the victim of school bullying because of his introverted and depressive tendencies. Unlike other children of his age, Dead was very shy, quiet and avoidant of any social interactions. One time when he was 10, he was beaten so severely by his bullies that they ruptured his spleen and he had to be rushed to an emergency room where he was declared clinically dead (for a few minutes). This near-death experience haunted Dead for the remainder of his life:
Something amusing happened to me once: I had internal bleeding […] until my heart had no more blood and my veins were nearly empty. Clinically speaking, I was dead. […] I saw everything in a strange blue color […] and for a moment everything was tinted with blue, then it turned white and something “warm” surrounded me. I later asked someone about these colors, [a person] who had a near-death experience and knew more about the “supernatural” than I did. He told me that I reached the first “level” of the other world, which has the color blue. The terrestrial level (where we live) has the color black. […] The next level (between worlds) is blue […] and the last level is white. No mortals can go there. If a mortal succeeds in reaching (the white level) then he stops being mortal and can’t return to [our] world anymore. […] There are more levels/colors beyond the white one, but I don’t know anything about them – only spirits and very powerful wizards can travel there. What I experienced was the white level, entering it without knowing. It was the realm of the dead, [because] I had actually died.
As a teenager, Dead developed a taste for “heavy” music – Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Motörhead, Sodom, Venom and Mercyful Fate were some of his favorite bands – and he eventually founded his own band which he named Morbid in 1986. A year later, after recording just one demo tape entitled December Moon, Dead decided to abandon the project because “it was going nowhere.”
The Mayhem Years
Looking for opportunities to continue his musical career, Dead contacted the members of Mayhem, sending them a package which contained a demo tape, a letter and a crucified mouse. Weeks later, in the spring of 1988, Dead moved to Norway and became the band’s vocalist. During his time with Mayhem, Dead’s mental state worsened considerably as he became more and more obsessed with death and dying. Reflecting his decaying mental health, Dead’s behavior degenerated as well, becoming more and more extreme, especially on stage.
Dead started wearing corpsepaint, a style of black and white makeup meant to make the wearer appear demonic and corpselike. While other musicians have utilized makeup before, like Alice Cooper and the members of KISS, Dead’s corpsepaint was different and original. According to Mayhem bassist Necrobutcher:
It wasn’t [sic] anything to do with the way KISS and Alice Cooper used makeup. Dead actually wanted to look like a corpse. He didn’t do it to look cool.”
Drummer Hellhammer claimed that Dead “was the first black metal musician to use corpsepaint”, thus being the originator of the most identifiable aspect of the black metal aesthetic.
To further shape his ghoulish image, Dead began burying his clothes days or weeks before a live performance, only digging them up hours before the show. On one occasion he even asked his band mates to bury him alive before a concert so he can look more like a corpse while on stage. In the words of Hellhammer:
Before the shows, Dead used to bury his clothes into the ground so that they could start to rot and get that grave scent. He was a corpse on a stage. Once he even asked us to bury him in the ground — he wanted his skin to become pale.
Dead also carried dead, decomposing birds with him while on tour, keeping them in plastic bags. Before a concert, he would inhale the rotting miasma so that he may perform “with the stench of death in his nostrils.” Morbid props, like mutilated pig heads impaled on pikes, adorned the stage for Mayhem performances and Dead made a habit of hurling pig heads at the crowd. He also began cutting himself, slashing his arms with hunting knives and broken bottles while singing. Dead explained in an interview that all this was meant to scare away the “posers”:
We had some impaled pig heads, and I cut my arms with a weird knife and a crushed coke bottle. […] That wasn’t brutal enough! Most of the people in there were wimps and I don‘t want them to watch our gigs! Before we began to play there was a crowd of about 300 in there, but in the second song “Necro Lust” we began to throw around those pig heads. Only 50 were left, I liked that!
[…] We wanna scare those [who] shouldn’t be at our concerts, and they will have to escape through the emergency exit with parts of their body missing, so we can have something to throw around. […] The wimps will not ever understand it [sic], and I won’t explain it to them either. But they got pissed off at our shows and that is what we want. If someone doesn’t like blood and rotten flesh thrown in their face they can FUCK OFF, and that’s exactly what they do.
In another interview, Dead talked about his ideal concert:
Pig heads, as well as other (animal) heads, is what we try to have at all gigs. […] It needs sick ideas […] as it has to suit to the place we’re playing at… For example, if we use impaled pig heads in an Islamic country we’ll surely get killed then. […] If we ever go to India, the most evil thing that we can do there is to sacrifice a “holy cow” on stage.
I want to have Transylvanian landscapes at our shows, instruments of torture that are from the 1st century, real trees from a dead forest, spotlights that are used to “paint” dark colors of dusk and later moonshine… different animal heads and human craniums hanging in meat hooks by chains from the dead trees and the heads to have huge screws in their eyes… that’s what I think would make the perfect mood.
Dead didn’t see himself as human; he saw himself as a creature from another world. He said he had many visions that his blood has frozen in his veins, that he was dead. That is the reason he took that name. He knew he would die.
In time, Dead became just as deranged off-stage as he was onstage during performances. He started to self-mutilate during rehearsals and even when he was just spending time with his band mates and friends. He kept rotting, dead birds and other small animals under his bed and barely left his room; he starved himself intentionally to become skinny and pale, to look like a corpse. Dead often told his friends that he is not human, that he is a creature from another world, that the blood in his veins is frozen or coagulated, and that he is dead.
Most of Dead’s friends were alarmed by his increasingly erratic behavior. Hellhammer described him as a “very strange personality” who suffered from crippling depression. Others, like Euronymous, the founder of Mayhem, thought Dead was insane:
I honestly think Dead is mentally insane. Which other way can you describe a guy who does not eat, in order to get starving wounds? Or who has a t-shirt with funeral announcements on it?
Years after Dead committed suicide, black metal drummer and convicted murderer Faust talked about Dead in an interview. Recollecting his memories, he said that:
He wasn’t a guy you could know very well. I think even the other guys in Mayhem didn’t know him very well. He was hard to get close to. I met him two weeks before he died. I’d met him maybe six to eight times, in all. He had lots of weird ideas. I remember Aarseth (Euronymous) was talking about him and said he did not have any humor. He did, but it was very obscure. Honestly, I don’t think he was enjoying living in this world, which of course resulted in the suicide.
Despite Dead’s insanity, depression and self-destructive behavior, none of his friends sought professional help for him. On the contrary, Euronymous became fascinated with Dead’s suicidal tendencies and precarious mental health, and started encouraging him to end his life. Dead did so on April 8, 1991. At the time he was living together with Euronymous and Hellhammer in a house located in the woods near Kråkstad. When Hellhammer went to visit his parents, Euronymous deliberately left Dead alone in the house to kill himself.
Dead slit his throat and his wrists with a knife and then shot himself in the head with a shotgun. When Euronymous returned to the house he discovered a bloody mess, and Dead’s corpse with its brain leaking out of the shattered skull. Instead of calling the police, Euronymous rushed to town to buy a camera and take pictures of the gruesome scene. He even tampered with the potential forensic evidence by rearranging the weapons and other items in order to get a “better shot”. One of these pictures was later used as the cover for Mayhem’s bootleg live album Dawn of the Black Hearts, which was released in 1995 (two years after Euronymous was murdered by the infamous Varg Vikerners of Burzum). Euronymous also collected fragments of Dead’s skull and made necklaces out of them. He gave these necklaces to other black metal musicians whom he deemed “worthy”, such as Faust of Emperor and Evil of Marduk.
Necrobutcher was the first to be receive the news of Dead’s suicide:
Øystein called me up the next day … and says, “Dead has done something really cool! He killed himself”. I thought, have you lost it? What do you mean cool? He says, “Relax, I have photos of everything”. I was in shock and grief. He was just thinking how to exploit it. So I told him, “OK. Don’t even fucking call me before you destroy those pictures”.
Dead was only 21 when he took his own life and there is a probability that – as a consequence of his traumatic childhood experience (i.e. near-death experience) – he suffered from a very rare mental illness known as the Cotard delusion. Individuals who are afflicted by this disorder tend to deny their existence and believe themselves as being already dead.
Life Eternal is the last song written by Dead before killing himself; the lyrics were written in his suicide note:
A dream of another existence
You wish to die
A dream of another world
You pray for death
To release the soul one must die
To find peace inside you must get eternal
I am a mortal, but am I human?
How beautiful life is now when my time has come
A human destiny, but nothing human inside
What will be left of me when I’m dead?
There was nothing when I lived
What you found was eternal death
No one will ever miss you
Consulted Works and Sources:
- “Interview with Dead”. Deadfrommayhem.ru. Retrieved 26 September 2017.
- “Lords of Chaos (1998): Hellhammer interview”. TheTrueMayhem.com. Retrieved 26 September 2017.
- “Morbid Magazine No. 8: Euronymous interview”. TheTrueMayhem.com. Retrieved 26 September 2017.
- “Hellhammer interviewed by Dmitry Basik (June 1998)”. Archived from the original on 19 February 2008. Retrieved 26 September 2017.
- Freyja (19 March 2010). “The ‘True’ History of Black Metal – 2 of 4”. Raginpit Magazine. Retrieved 26 September 2017.
- Campion, C. (20 February 2005). “In the Face of Death”. The Observer. Guardian Unlimited. Retrieved 26 September 2017.
- Hagen, R. (2011). Musical Style, Ideology, and Mythology in Norwegian Black Metal. Metal rules the globe: Heavy metal music around the world, 180-199.
- Patterson, D. (2013). Black Metal: Evolution of the Cult. Feral House.
- Hagen, R. (2017). The Death Archives: Mayhem 1984-94. Metal Music Studies, 3 (2), 345-348.
- Moynihan, M., & Søderlind, D. (2003). Lords of chaos: The bloody rise of the satanic metal underground. Feral House.
- Johannesson, I., & Klingberg, J. J. (2012). Blod eld död: En svensk metalhistoria. Alfabeta Bokförlag AB.