What price can you place on history? I'm constantly amazed by how much someone will pay for an artefact based on its age or significance to some. “Live In Leipzig” is often justified as a masterpiece purely on the basis of the fact it demonstrates the archetypal MAYHEM line-up. Personally I regard it as an average performance by a band during an extraordinary time in their career.
Much has been made of the raw aspect of this recording, unsurprising considering it's a bootleg that has been legitimised due to the events that befell a short time after. Many have over-analysed the fuck ups that the band make during the course of the gig and the waxing lyrical that surrounds the DIY nature of the band getting to the location ignores that this is very much the day to day problems the majority of groups face before gaining a foothold and a following. For me, there is no allure from the circumstances and I couldn't give a grabbers grope about how true this configuration of MAYHEM is (and just what is the evidence that supports it?)
To the music then. Well forget about the presentation, this was never going to be a shiny representation of the bands prowess, for a bootleg though it could have been much worse and there can be no denying the rabid nature of the performance. What does manifest itself is the gulf of difference between “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas” and the earlier “Deathcrush” EP and “Pure Fucking Armageddon” demo. The black majesty of the DMDS songs soars over the more visceral chop of the others and, for my money, bests them. It's the fluidity of these tracks that allows them to rise above the piss poor production whereas the the likes of “Necrolust” and “Carnage” stumble in comparison.
One thing that is immediately apparent is the somewhat obvious fact that Dead's vocals are superior to Attila's in rendition of the DMDS material, I still find myself chuckling with ambivalence at times to the latter. The frozen throat growls and snarls here are cracked and contemptuous, spitting bile but maintaining a loose control over the spite. Talking of loose control, that would adequately describe the seat of the pants nature of much of the playing here, there is no doubt that MAYHEM are going for it and there are signs of them being on the verge of unravelling. Thankfully the riffs you know and love can't be diminished by the shite recording and so “Funeral Fog” and “Buried By Time And Dust” rip in like an ice storm, the latter probably carrying the crown as the most convincing and effective track on the album.
The usual suspect when it comes to live recording deficiencies are the drums, they're either shuffling about in the background or loud and proud and in your face. Happily on “Live In Leipzig” Hellhammer's efforts are captured in balance with the rest of the instrumentation, all the frantic skin abuse is fairly well captured. The bass is only contributor that suffers but for the most part only to a minimal degree, it is discernible throughout and when it needs to count, it does so. On the whole the mix is about right, there are live efforts out there that are worse, despite them being an intentional recording by the band or label.
The main point of a live album is to recreate the sense of being there. Of course being present is the best way to experience a bands performance and so in many ways a live album should be more of a memento to remind you of the occasion. Very few albums accurately represent the atmosphere of a live situation. I think this one due to its rude and honest recording does so, the lack of polish and post gig dabbling has ensured that the coarse nature of the MAYHEM sound is shown at its abrasive best and that the simple sweeping grandeur of the DMDS songs is maintained, despite the recording quality.
Ultimately “Live In Leipzig” is far from essential from a musical perspective, the performance does not strike as being exceptional either in execution or presentation. It does however give a fair depiction of a band in the process of change and on the cusp of creating something that would widen the genre, whether that counts is an individual preference. If you are wont to mark history then you may hold this album with greater esteem, for me it's the music that counts and whilst I enjoy what I hear, I am far from overwhelmed.
(Online September 16, 2007)