Review Summary: Mayhem's most technical and nasty outing yet.
Many people brush this album off as 'mallcore' black metal or as Mayhem's sell out album simply due to the crisp production process, but I really beg to differ. In fact, this album could be one of their most coherent works since De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, bristling with edgy, atonal nasty riffs, ear shattering drumming, and a slightly more tolerable performance from Maniac.
In terms of the production, this is where the album is much maligned. The drums are crisp and triggered enough to call to mind a Dimmu Borgir album, while the guitars are in the middle of the mix, sawing their way through the songs with not that much noticeable menace. The bass is reasonably warm and droning, poking it's head out slightly more than other well produced album of this strain, while the background atmosphere is (still) sterile and cleaned to a point of dryness and hollowness, much like a rounder textured production of A Grand Declaration of War. The vocals are quite erratic, jumping from the back to the front from song to song- in Whore, Maniac's vocals almost overtakes all of the instruments, while in Slaughter of Dreams or Dark Night of the Soul, his voice meanders around in the background like a lost Gollum of sorts. In all, the production is noticeably more organic than the squeaky clean grating of A Grand Declaration of War, but I'm all for clean production from such a prominent underground act like this. It showcases their talents all the better, and the dectractors should just go and shoot themselves in the head.
The songwriting, as I'm sure you've all heard, was mostly done by Blasphemer, (with a little bit of contribution made by Maniac, I supposed.) He's more of a texture based song writer more than anything else, in stark contrast to Euronymous' bone chilling riff based songs. Modern Mayhem is about nastiness more than anything in contrast to the cold and feral feeling they stopped dishing out after DMDS. Blasphemer relies on circular song structures punctuated by obtuse and awkward riffs that are both mechanical and utterly mean. This is where I would like to mention that the main selling point of the album is the riffs. Damn, in my short time (five years) of being an actual metalhead, I have never heard such a huge collection of riffs that make you want to kick little children and puppies in the skull and kill some babies while you're at it. The icing on the cake is the drumming. Hellhammer is THE drummer in metal, and as fanboyish as I am currently sounding, I suspect that he has some sort of rubber based pulley mechanism in his arm that allows him to keep up those inhuman blast beats for such a long period of time. The blasting rhythms in the background give a base of sorts to the sometimes stumbling and drunken nastiness of the riffs, giving a consistancy to the songs that was severely lacking in the last album.
Now that I'm done with the good things about the album, it's time to look at the vocals, which are, in my opinion, a hit and miss. As a vocalist myself, I cannot help but notice that Maniac does NOT utilize his diaphragm properly. The man does the black metal snarl from his throat, which was probably why he wore himself out pretty damned quickly in the live shows. Consequently, the black metal rasp he is aiming for comes out rather dry and weak sounding, kind of like Stitch (from Lilo and Stitch.) having a bad case of throat cancer. The main selling point of Maniac's vocals is that they sound painful and forced, which kind of adds to the music in a raw and desperate sort of way, but not much. His work in his independent project Skitliv is much more developed if you want to see the man in a better light. His work in Mayhem pretty much consisted of himself trying to find his vocal footing, all the while pumping out renditions of the infamous 'raped cat' vocals and subsequently evolving his style into a more tolerable, albeit slightly substandard black metal rasp here.
When all is said and done, Mayhem churned out a more consistant death metal influenced album than their avant garde adventure in their last outing, all for the better ,since this definitely takes the cake for one of the most brutal and (keyword here) nasty albums of the year. This is highly recommended for any self respecting fan of Mayhem, and if you don't like the production, run back into your frozen forests and kill yourself, please. I've heard enough ridiculous accusations of Mayhem becoming 'mallcore' to last me a lifetime.