If you’re Mayhem and your debut album, De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, becomes one of the most influential black metal albums of all time almost the instant its unleashed unto the world, it might be hard to follow that up. Indeed, it took nearly six years for the group’s proper sophomore release, Grand Declaration of War, to hit the market.

Yes, there were stopgaps here and there in that time and members of the black metal elite can thank the Horned One for that. Of course, Mayhem has never been the most prolific BM group. The outfit’s fourth LP, Ordo Ad Chao, didn’t arrive until 2007 and then another dog’s life passed by before the fifth, and most recent, Esoteric Warfare, crept into the darkened corners of record collections. Now, with the controversial Lords of Chaos film making its way onto movie screens, it seems like as good a time as any to (re)discover Mayhem, especially this set.

With Maniac on vocals, Necrobutcher on bass, Blasphemer on guitar and Hellhammer on drums, the Norwegian outfit got down to real destruction faster than you can hold your tongue and say Friedrich Nietzsche. There are a number of tricks up the collective sleeves here. For one, the album trades the low-grade sound of earlier recordings for a sonic upgrade that sounds appropriate to an international band. Sure, a demo-y, “kvlt” sound has its appeal but it can also grate. Equally, there are stylistic choices that cast Mayhem as smarter than your average gravedigger.

The sonic clarity is beyond remarkable, with the guitars cutting through the mix on the opening, titular piece, sounding not like a faraway series of strums and thrums but an up-close-and-personal view to the grand declaration at hand. Hellhammer’s drums pop with brilliance and complexity throughout, dodging the metal cliché of the instrument sounding like dirt falling on a coffin. Maniac’s growls are brutal and terrifying.

Experimentation crops up during the two-part “A Bloodsword and a Colder Sun.” It becomes a study in dynamics, with the first part being nothing more than a 33-second spoken-word introduction, and the second bordering on trip-hop, landing more on the side of Portishead than the over-the-top heaviness that would sometimes plague the genre. It becomes all the more intense and terrifying for the show of restraint. Moreover, the blasting attack of “Crystalized Pain in Deconstruction” sounds all the more brutal and uncompromising for where it sits next to these quieter, more staid pieces.

“View from Nihil” could just as easily stand alongside the more radio-ready acts of its era, standing as a piece of aural theater in its earliest moments before giving way to a barrage of pure freaking Armageddon. The nearly 10-minute “Completion in Science of Agony” is a study in doom that even manages to recall early Black Sabbath while avoiding the tired tropes that befall many of the Birmingham group’s most stalwart imitators.

Moreover, the music there sounds as though it were recorded within the confines of this decade rather than some faraway one. These are but a few of the highlights on a record that contains many a classic metal experience that has lost none of its shine since its initial release.

It’s not difficult to see why Mayhem has long held its place in the firmament in black metal. As one of the originators of this music, the collective refuses to compromise its particular vision. As a veteran act that, presumably, has seen it all, there are further sparks of originality that continue to propel it into the contemporary landscape. With the potential for Mayhem to find a new audience thanks to the aforementioned Lords of Chaos, one imagines that metal lovers will embrace this effort as much as they might embrace the band’s shocking debut.

  • Rediscover: Mayhem: Deathcrush

    Deathcrush is pure fucking chaos mitigated by some of the most talented and innovative mus…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Check Also

Hunt Sales Memorial: Get Your Shit Together

Stamped into his personality and his music is a boldness that commands respect. …