Music Reviews


Grand Declaration of War


Though Mayhem’s checkered, protracted career is marked by a scant number of official releases, to solely focus on the infamy surrounding the legendary black metal band – one suicide, one failed attempt, one murdered member, as well as purported extracurricular activities (church burnings, etc.) – would only serve to severely undercut their musical achievements: namely, where they are coming from and where they are now going. And though it’s been three long years since the release of the criminally underrated Wolf’s Lair Abyss EP and six even-longer years since the band’s masterwork, De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, Mayhem once again prefigure the future of black metal while simultaneously becoming its foremost archetype with their long-awaited new album, Grand Declaration of War.

Retaining the same lineup from Wolf’s Lair Abyss, Mayhem have finally found a consistent, unified sound – due in no small part to having no band-member turnover between records – where they can now push its boundaries even further. And push they do: as far as black metal goes, Grand Declaration of War is a heavy-handed psychedelic nightmare like no other, a windswept journey through the darkest caverns of the subconscious mind. These caverns become apparent in the album’s deliberately schizophrenic song structures, which seemingly go nowhere but, in fact, everywhere, where sunless, murky melodic motifs occasionally come to light as guitarist Blasphemer explores the doomier end of riffing (minus the downtuning, natch), the only illuminating torch being Hellhammer’s brain surgeon-precise drumming, perpetually accelerating to velocities beyond the merely mortal and, for the most part, remaining there. The sum effect is nothing short of pure, stultifying hypnosis, but one that’s jarringly violent within those perceived confines.

Whereas blackened, hypnotic atmosphere has been constant in Mayhem’s work during the greater part of the last decade, the particular brand of atmosphere found on Grand Declaration of War is a steely, post-industrial one not unlike that of Satyricon’s last album, Rebel Extravaganza. The layering of vocal tracks figures most prominently into this atmosphere, with vocalist Maniac’s Christ-crushing exhortations crackling like machinegun fire from every direction – vomit vox in one channel, propagandizing rhythm-speak in the other (and, sometimes, both fighting for air in the same channel) – while more than just the vocals are swathed in generous amounts of digital distortion (most scathing example: “A Bloodsword and a Colder Sun”). Further solidifying the apocalyptic wasteland vibe, Mayhem even experiment with quasi-gothic electronics, most notably on “IL PRINCIPE” and the intro to “Completion in Science of Agony,” where sequencer bass-lines, creepy-crawly robot voices, and a stiff yet forceful drum machine get filtered through Mayhem’s muse.

Conceivably the mark of extremely tortured genius, Grand Declaration of War should lay waste to all doubts that Mayhem is revered for their infamy and not their music. In a time when cult-underground status is at an all-time premium with those who wax nostalgic for the band’s days with Dead and Euronymous (both R.I.P.) at the helm, Mayhem will inevitably leave many bewildered and confused with this recent and grandest of declarations, but this is why the album excels on so many levels. Mayhem are now so ahead of their time, they’re standing behind everyone else.

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