Mayhem’s De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas album is the cornerstone of Norwegian black metal. We talk to producer Eirik ‘Pytten’ Hundvin about his unique philosophy and the making of this genre‑defining album.
‘True’ Norwegian black metal is sometimes referred to as the nation’s biggest export. For the uninitiated, black metal is not only an elitist art form, but a lifestyle. Despite its brutality, this extreme subgenre is culturally sophisticated, and imbued with poetry, spirituality, philosophy and mythology.
Eirik ‘Pytten’ Hundvin is widely regarded as the most influential producer and engineer within the genre. Pytten has co‑created revolutionary albums with many of the movement’s greatest spearheads, such as the True Mayhem, Emperor, Immortal, Enslaved and Gorgoroth. Many other groups, including the revered Tsjuder, take Pytten’s canonical masterpieces into the studio as reference material. Pytten himself is semi‑retired and rarely collaborates with black metallers any more, though he still works with other forms of music. However, “as a side gig” he continues to assist the veteran black metal artists who form the band Deathcult. He’s also as an accomplished musician himself, who plays with Elektrisk Regn and the Rolling Clones.
Pytten received his initiation into the metal community in 1990, when a former classmate phoned him to ask if he would be willing to work with his son Tore Bratseth’s band Old Funeral, a pioneering black/death act whose line‑up featured several future icons during their lifespan. The result was Old Funeral’s groundbreaking second demo, Abduction Of Limbs. Not only was this Pytten’s very first experience with extreme metal, but it was also the band’s “first serious recording situation... I did bring them into the studio to set up for a session where we all could find out what to do and how to do it in the best way, so that the music and sound would come out better than the band expected. And very important, I had to carefully adjust my recording ways by trying, watching, and listening for their reactions.
“I kept my mouth shut and eyes and ears open. They were the experts on the music and the sound. I used my expertise in recording.”
Although Pytten’s approach has changed a bit, he has remained careful not to hinder the creativity of emerging artists. His principal advice to bands going into the studio for the first time is to have their instruments in good shape: “Keep your tools sharp. No dirty strings. Keep your drums as good as you are able to. I hate toms that are more useful as buckets for carrying water.”
Pytten’s work with Old Funeral drew related outfit Amputation to work with him, and soon other trailblazing acts were flocking to Pytten’s studio. “It struck me quite early that a lot of these people were not that much older than my own kids. So, it was easy to get along with them... No matter what they brought to me, I really respected what they were working on, what they were creating. In a way, they needed musical guidance. They needed the security of knowing they were accepted to work in the studio, because to be in the studio, and especially for the singer, is to be really exposed. It can make you bloody nervous.
“Singing in the studio is, in my opinion, a very private situation, maybe the most private. With this in mind, I always try to create a suitable and comfortable atmosphere for the singer. This goes for all styles of music. Not a cozy one, but safe, no hardship...” Pytten aims to promote “communication that is friendly but demanding when needed. I give people time to set their lair, whichever way they want it, literally creating their working environment.”
Eirik ‘Pytten’ Hundvin: I’m trying to find the right time to say ‘This is the moment!’
Pytten emphasises that knowing when to stop doing takes is key “because you will sometimes have a low‑low‑low valley you have to go into. Then, maybe‑maybe‑maybe you manage to get up again. So, I’m trying to find the right time to say: ‘This is the moment!’”