Ohlin in 1989
|Birth name||Per Yngve Ohlin|
|Also known as||Pelle, Dead|
|Born||17 January 1969|
Österhaninge, Stockholm, Sweden
|Died||8 April 1991 (aged 22)|
|Genres||Black metal, death metal|
|Associated acts||Mayhem, Morbid|
Per Yngve Ohlin (16 January 1969 – 8 April 1991), better known by his stage name Dead and nickname Pelle, was a Swedish black metal musician, best known as the lead vocalist and lyricist of the Norwegian black metal band Mayhem from 1988 until his suicide in 1991. He also performed as vocalist of the Swedish death metal band Morbid on their demo December Moon. Dead was a popular figure of the Norwegian black metal scene. Roadrunner Records ranked him No. 48 out of 50 of The Greatest Metal Front-Men of All Time.
Dead was known for his morbid personality and obsession with death—his own and the concept in general, which gave rise to his stage name. He hoarded dead birds, wore shirts with funeral announcements printed on them, buried clothes that he only dug up just before performing in concert to smell like a rotting cadaver, and wore corpse paint, being the first in black metal to do so by some accounts. Unlike with other black metal performers, it is believed he did not do so for theatrical value but instead to present himself as a corpse on stage, which he accentuated by wounding himself with implements such as glass shards. He also liked having fans throw body parts of dead animals around at his shows.
Acquaintances described him as difficult to befriend or understand. Already intensely introverted and depressed, Dead's personality and demeanor would only become more withdrawn leading up to his death, a progression marked by such patterns as Dead harming himself offstage among friends and isolating himself in his room.
Dead committed suicide on 8 April 1991 by slitting his wrists and throat before shooting himself in the forehead with a shotgun. He left a brief suicide note, with the first sentence on the note being: "Excuse the blood". Controversially, an image from the aftermath was used as the cover of the bootleg live album Dawn of the Black Hearts. His death marked a turning point in the history of the Norwegian black metal scene which led to a wave of erratic behavior by the scene's members.
Per Ohlin (sometimes called "Pelle") was born in 1969 in Österhaninge, Sweden. As a young child, he suffered from sleep apnea. At the age of ten, he suffered internal bleeding when his spleen ruptured, after, what he alleged was, an ice skating accident. However, in the Swedish metal book Blod eld död ('Blood Fire Death', named after Swedish band Bathory's fourth album Blood Fire Death), his brother said, in an exclusive interview, that Dead was bullied in school, where one day, he was beaten so badly that his spleen ruptured. He had to be rushed to a hospital, where he was, for a time, clinically dead.
He later developed his taste for heavy music, citing bands like Black Sabbath, Kiss, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, AC/DC, Motörhead, Venom, Metallica, Bathory, Sodom and Mercyful Fate as his favorites. Though he later stated he disliked Bathory after their change in style referring to Quorthon as “a wimp”.
In early 1986, he founded the Swedish Black/Death metal group Morbid, with which he recorded a demo tape called December Moon. Shortly afterwards, he decided the band wasn't going anywhere and contacted the members of Mayhem. According to Mayhem bassist Jørn "Necrobutcher" Stubberud, he initially sent them a small package containing a demo tape, a letter detailing his ideas for the future, and a crucified mouse. Although Necrobutcher lost the package itself, he kept the tape which had Dead's contact details. Dead moved to Norway and joined the band in early 1988.
In interviews, fellow musicians often described Dead as odd and introverted. Mayhem drummer Jan Axel "Hellhammer" Blomberg described Dead as "a very strange personality […] depressed, melancholic, and dark". Likewise, Mayhem guitarist Øystein "Euronymous" Aarseth once said, "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?" Former Mayhem drummer Kjetil Manheim later likened Dead's personality to that of Marvin the Paranoid Android. Some authors have speculated that Dead may have had Cotard delusion, a very rare condition that manifests in believing one's body is not that of a living human but instead a corpse; this theory is supported by a variety of statements from Dead on the subject of his blood and body.
[Dead] 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 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.
Stian Johannsen ("Occultus"), who briefly took over as vocalist after Dead's suicide, remarked that Dead did not even possess a normal perception of himself:
"He [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."
The cover of Mayhem's Live in Leipzig contains part of Dead's suicide note: Jag är inte en människa. Det här är bara en dröm, och snart vaknar jag. (Roughly translated: I am not a human being. This is just a dream, and soon I will awake.)
For concerts, Dead went to great lengths to achieve the image and atmosphere he wished. From the beginning of his career, he was known to wear "corpse paint", which involved covering his face with black and white makeup. According to Necrobutcher, "[i]t wasn't 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". Hellhammer claimed that Dead "was the first black metal musician to use corpse paint," although Euronymous can be seen wearing corpse paint in footage from a 1986 concert in Ski. To complete his corpse-like image, Dead would bury his stage clothes and dig them up again to wear on the night of a concert. According to 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.
During one tour with Mayhem, he found a dead crow and kept it in a plastic bag. He often carried it about with him and would smell the bird before going onstage, to sing "with the stench of death in his nostrils". He also kept dead geese under his bed.
Dead would cut himself while singing onstage. During a gig in 1990, he slashed his arm with a broken bottle. Faust claims that Dead had to be taken to hospital after the gig, but arrived too late and so "it was no use to give him stitches".
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. [...] If someone doesn't like blood and rotten flesh thrown in their face they can FUCK OFF, and that's exactly what they do.
Self-harm and suicide
Excuse the blood, but I have slit my wrists and neck. It was the intention that I would die in the woods so that it would take a few days before I was possibly found. I belong in the woods and have always done so. No one will understand the reason for this anyway. To give some semblance of an explanation I'm not a human, this is just a dream and soon I will awake. It was too cold and the blood kept clotting, plus my new knife is too dull. If I don't succeed dying to the knife I will blow all the shit out of my skull. Yet I do not know. I left all my lyrics by "Let the good times roll"—plus the rest of the money. Whoever finds it gets the fucking thing. As a last salutation may I present "Life Eternal". Do whatever you want with the fucking thing. / Pelle. I didn't come up with this now, but seventeen years ago.
Dead, suicide note
In time, Dead's social situation and his fascination with death caused his mental state to worsen greatly. He would try to cut himself while with his friends, who would have to subdue him and patch him up. Although this upset many of his friends, Euronymous became fascinated with Dead's suicidal tendencies—seemingly because it fit Mayhem's image—and according to them, he encouraged Dead to kill himself. Manheim said: "I don't know if Øystein did it out of pure evil or if he was just fooling around."
By 1991, Dead, Euronymous and Hellhammer were living in a house in the woods near Kråkstad, which was used as a place for the band to rehearse. According to Hellhammer, Dead spent much of his time writing letters and drawing. He "just sat in his room and became more and more depressed". Mayhem bassist Necrobutcher said that, after living together for a while, Dead and Euronymous "got on each other's nerves a lot". Hellhammer recalls that Dead once went outside to sleep in the woods because Euronymous was playing synth music that Dead hated. Euronymous then went outside and began shooting into the air with a shotgun. Varg Vikernes of Burzum claims that Dead once stabbed Euronymous with a knife. He also claims to have sent Mayhem ammunition, including shotgun shells, as a Christmas gift, although he claimed those were not the shells Dead used to kill himself, and that he saved a special shell for his suicide.
On 8 April 1991, while left alone in the house, Dead slit his wrists and throat with a knife and then shot himself in the forehead with a shotgun. He left a brief suicide note which started by saying, "Excuse the blood...". His body was found by Euronymous, who had to climb through an open window as the doors were locked and there were no other keys to the house. Before calling the police, he went to a shop and bought a disposable camera with which he photographed the body, after re-arranging some items. In time, rumors spread that Euronymous had made a stew with bits of Dead's brain and had made necklaces with bits of his skull. The band later denied the former rumor, but confirmed that the latter was true. Moreover, Euronymous claimed to have given these necklaces to musicians he deemed worthy, which was confirmed by several other members of the scene, like Bård "Faust" Eithun, Metalion, and Morgan Håkansson.
Euronymous used Dead's suicide to foster Mayhem's "evil" image and claimed Dead had killed himself because black metal had become "trendy" and commercialized. Necrobutcher speculated that taking the pictures and forcing others to see them was a way for Euronymous to cope with the shock of seeing his friend's body. After Hellhammer developed the photos, Euronymous initially promised to destroy the pictures, but ultimately did not. He kept them in an envelope at his record shop Helvete. Euronymous sent one of the pictures to the owner of Warmaster Records in Colombia and it was used as the cover of the bootleg live album The Dawn of the Black Hearts, which was released in 1995.
The suicide caused a rift between Euronymous and some of his friends, who were disgusted by his attitude towards Dead before the suicide, and his behavior afterwards. Necrobutcher ended his friendship with Euronymous and left Mayhem. Manheim later speculated that Euronymous had wilfully left Dead alone in the house so that he would have a chance to kill himself. Dead's suicide was said to cause "a change in mentality" in the black metal scene and was the first in a string of infamous events carried out by its members.
An obituary in a Swedish newspaper stated that Dead's funeral was held at Österhaninge kyrka (Eastern Haninge Church) on Friday 26 April 1991. He was buried at Österhaninge begravningsplats (Eastern Haninge graveyard) in Stockholm.
- Morbid Rehearsal(1987) (Demo album)
- December Moon (1987) (Demo album)
- Live in Stockholm (2000) (Live album)
- Year of the Goat (2011) (Compilation album)
- Bewitched (1987) (Music video)
- Live in Leipzig (1993) (Live album)
- De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas (1994) (Lyrics)
- The Dawn of the Black Hearts (1995) (Live album)
- Freezing Moon/Carnage (1996) (Single)
- Out from the Dark (1996) (Demo album)
- Live In Zeitz (2016) (Live album)
- Live In Jessheim (2017) (Live album)
- De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas: The Dead Files (2017) (Compilation album)
- Deathcrush: The Dead Version (2018) (Compilation album)
- Live in Sarpsborg (2019) (Live album)
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