Esoteric Warfare

Written by: EW on 16/06/2014 23:23:45

Everyone must surely know the Mayhem back story by now so I’m not going to try and outline it here but suffice to say for many reading this on it probably dwarfs their knowledge of the band’s music, even their über-classic “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas”. Given that somewhat difficult past “Esoteric Warfare” marks only their fifth full length in the 30-year career of Norway’s hugely controversial Mayhem and comes seven years after the strongly diverse “Ordo ad Chao”. The timespan between each record has allowed for each LP to retain a unique identity with the differences between each present through changing line-ups, production styles and song structures but throughout all Mayhem have never ceased to be a challenging black metal act true to the genre’s fiery birth.

“Esoteric Warfare” is for the most part a hyper-speed lo-fi album with little in the way of colour to mix the palette of highly strung layered guitars, Hellhammer’s bombastic clattering and Attila Chisar’s impressive range of vocal styles. The absence of guitarist Blasphemer, the writer of much of the band’s recent era material, is keenly felt in the lack of dynamics that stretch across the whole album as the mid-level tone of his replacement Teloch just doesn’t talk with the same vengeance as his predecessor. Add to this the riffs and patterns in the album’s construction: things get off to a flying start with “PsyWar” and “Trinity” which both hurtle off the line at an impressive rate of knots but without giving the impression that they are truly heading to the level of greatness the Mayhem rests upon. By no means are they bad, but I would like to hear a bit more ingenuity in their composition, even if they are being played at 100mph as is the case. In fairness to Teloch the flattened production values, which at times remind me of Death’s “Human” in the way all instruments are squeezed together with only the odd chord notation breaking out from the breaches, offers little help in exploding these songs out from my speakers as I’d like.

“Pandaemon” marks the first significant variation in rhythm as the choppy staccato tempos first truly enter the fray before they soon loom large across the landscape. It is all very impressive how the trio of Hellhammer, Teloch and Necrobutcher (bass) curtail their explosive performances with telescopic precision before realigning with the accuracy of a Swiss watch although I would be interested to hear how this works live. While the fast moments reveal the dominance of Hellhammer’s percussion in the mix, especially his very clicky double bass drum sound, the slower turns push Attila out front and too much over Teloch in “MILAB”. Attila’s display is, as usual, theatric - I can only think of Akercocke’s Jason Mendonça as a rival to the man’s mixture of throat singing, deep growls and punishing screams, often all within the same song, which always leave the listener guessing as to how he will adapt for each upcoming section.

In “VI.Sec.” Teloch pieces together some of his tightest moments across the record as the track marks a point in which progress takes more varied turns, leading into a bleak “Throne of Time” before “Corpse of Care” and notably “Posthuman” offer breathing space from the artillery barrage to step up on the discordance which has always been threatening to break through. As the record closes off with “Aion Suntalia”, notable for the minor psychedelic pattern interwoven with the leads and Attila’s strangled screams, and the nuclear-charged power of “Watchers”, the draw closes on another difficult, yet rewarding Mayhem experience. Only comparisons to “Ordo ah Chao” are valid within this discography and I miss the greater diversity in toning and handling of the slower sections which that record brings, although “Esoteric Warfare” offers plenty for black metal fans with a penchant for speed over the more subtle atmospheres I personally prefer. This is a grey dreary landscape of thunderbolt tempos and pulsating percussion designed to decimate through any barrier of the kind Mayhem have been serving up for decades: it’s good to have them back.


Download: VI.Sec., Watchers
For The Fans Of: Marduk, Akercocke, Gorgoroth
Listen: Facebook

Release date 06.06.2014
Season of Mist Records

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