Review Summary: Mayhem go through the motions, yet their craft remains unmatched.
During an interview for the promotion of Grand Declaration of War
in 2000, bassist Jorn Stubberud (aka Necrobutcher) argued that a prolonged time of absence (ca. 4 years) was mandatory, in order to fully harness a new style and realize it in detail. Of course, that album was further delayed for reasons other than music. In contrast, that is, to the first Mayhem album in 7 years and the release of Ordo Ad Chao
. The predecessor of the Esoteric Warfare
album, was/is Mayhem’s most provoking declaration to date, not only for extreme metal, but for progressive metal in general.
The album was as much of an artistic blessing as of a band lineup curse as well, as long time guitarist Rune Eriksen (aka Blasphemer) decided to quit Mayhem in 2008 on the grounds of creative saturation. His departure put the band on what appeared then as an indefinite hiatus. Apart from a proficient guitar player, Blasphemer was an apt composer as well. Hence Mayhem took their time before replacing him with Morten Iversen (aka Teloch – ex-Gorgoroth/The Konsortium/Ov Hell), because he was still a member of Gorgoroth at that time. Together with Attila, they began composing new songs around 2012; songs that see Mayhem go through the motions of intelligent black metal, yet their craft remains unmatched.
To say that a band is going through the motions is a rather negative observation. However, this is not a black-or-white assessment for Mayhem anno 2014. Along with Thorns, Satyricon and Dodheimsgard, and their respective releases during the late ‘90s/early ‘00s (see recommended albums), Mayhem played a key role in the development of intelligent black metal in the 00s with their previous three albums. Esoteric Warfare
stands somewhere in between them, on the grounds of the fantastic sound production, the mix of tendonitis-inducing and laid back/vapor-like riffing by Teloch, Hellhammer’s inhuman drumming, and the demented vocals of Attila Csihar. Regarding Attila, he sounds more “controlled” and “into the arrangements” than in Ordo Ad Chao
, in which Mayhem didn't repeat a riff, a drum beat or a vocal verse. Moreover, his lyrics form a loose, but pretty interesting concept around mind control and how it was practiced and exploited during the middle Ages and the last 150 years.
Despite being derivative, Esoteric Warfare
is worthy of praise, because it keeps alive a sound practised by merely a handful of outfits, some of them inactive or sadly disbanded. The speeding segments of the album will shape a sardonic smile in those familiar with the modern black metal of the Thorns
album, Aura Noir and the debut Mayhem album or newer outfits such The Konsortium. Their adventurous coexistence (in the vein of Ordo Ad Chao
) with the calmer, but chthonic portions brings forth the time when Ved Buens Ende were caressing the pale (sic), the avant-garde rock approach of Norway's Virus, and Thorns in their early stages (the demo tapes). That’s that, though. Mayhem put to work every attribute that assessed black metal as something more than a mere 4-channel ear raping session, and took a small step backwards on their way for a potentially ground breaking follow-up album, 3++ years from now.