Mayhem – Esoteric Warfare (Season of Mist)Thursday, 12th June 2014
It’s not too often that Norwegian black metal pioneers Mayhem release new material to the masses, but as has been the trend in the band’s recent history, when they do decide to unloose an unholy horde of dismal cuts, they make it count. But how exactly can this group follow up 2007’s nihilistic masterpiece Ordo Ad Chao? Simply put, Esoteric Warfare is the answer.
The dense, disorienting, grime-in-the-ear-canal production of Ordo is replaced with a sharper presentation, immediately indicating that Mayhem, as they’re wont to do, won’t rest on the laurels of past glories. The cleaner production, though, makes Esoteric a much more visceral assault on the listener. Teloch’s guitar riffs in “Watchers” and “PsyWar” are katana-sharp, and Hellhammer’s relentless blasts and double-bass are nearly seizure-inducing, victimizing the listener via an unbridled attack rather than making him a languid drone of despair as the previous album did. Attila’s dual-layered vocals on the former track add a new dimension to Mayhem’s aural repertoire, and the wanton chaos of these tracks is offset by the avant-garde experimentalism of “MILAB” and “VI.Sec” (both reminiscent of Ordo’s “Illuminate Eliminate”) and the low-key, atmospheric arrangements of “Posthuman,” an unorthodox number whose lack of brutality by no means undercuts its sinister presentation, similar in approach to Grand Declaration of War.
The album’s only weakness, and the reason it falls just shy of Ordo’s majesty, is the track order. The fastest and heaviest offerings are loaded on the front end of the album with the more progressive explorations pulling up the rear, which can cause each half of the record to border on monotony during the first listen. Resultantly the album closes on more of a whimper than a bang, which is unfortunate as the second half’s “Corpse of Care” ends with what may be the group’s most vicious passage since “Buried By Time & Dust” and would make a punishing closer. Seems like a missed opportunity.
This one gripe aside, Mayhem are still at the top of their game and, after 30 years of pure fucking Armageddon, show no sign of entertaining the idea of mercy.