Review Summary: There’s nothing quite like infamy.
It’s a bit of a non-statement but if you’re a fan of black metal, there’s a great chance that you’ve heard of Mayhem. With a history drenched in iconic albums, ironic deaths, prison sentences and a hiatus that would see purists everywhere curl up in the foetal position, it’s hard to imagine that a band so steeped in off-stage drama would still be able to create a record so relevant in this modern day of metal. This may sound a little unfair given their sound hasn’t really
changed at a superficial level, rather it’s moved naturally, making the most of each experience holding a true testament to the black metal that influenced so many bands after the fact. Sure, I may just be pigeon-holing this slightly, but the basic logic holds true. Mayhem’s 2014 release still holds more viability than most modern acts trying to recapture the old spark of black metal in its apparent heyday.
is a no remorse, no mercy display of black metal. For most, this new Mayhem (line-up included) is a welcome, predictable sound. It goes to show that a band doesn’t need to re-invent itself after a decent break, rather Esoteric Warfare
employs a somewhat progressive nature to their traditional black metal ideals, giving more life to their music than ridiculous clichés and half-assed shoe-gaze. The ‘new’-Mayhem have avoided the modern day trends and stuck to what they know, making a record that compliments an infamous back catalogue.
As a separate record, it’s already clear that this stands above most of the modern day drivel found throughout today’s music, but how does it stack up when compared to the rest of the band’s releases? Well, it’s unlikely we’ll ever see the fabled De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas
again, but Esoteric Warfare
holds a place of its own above the likes of the more recent Chimera
and Ordo Ad Chao
making the album Mayhem desperately needed. Despite holding a pioneering name in metal, it’s hard to pin-point Mayhem’s Esoteric Warfare
down to a singular soundscape. Make no mistake, there’s nothing odd about it, it’s just an intelligent compliment to its own sound. Mayhem’s 2014 release is as minimal as it is full-on, as dissonant as it smooth (such a weird way to describe the harsh tones and shrieked vocals), but deep down it’s what Mayhem listeners’ wanted. Filled with atmospheric tension and sinister tones, Mayhem continue to define their strangle hold on metal as a whole. It may not have the same impact as it used to, but at least the group is rubbing the dust off the rusty throne.
With a run time of just over fifty minutes, Esoteric Warfare
manages to tie the listener to a single spot. Its mere presence is suffocating, full of tension and prevents a need for escape. There’s a sense of urgency, creating just enough of a need to slow things down. It’s intelligent by design, backed by a wealth of experience. It’s ironic that Mayhem’s brand of black metal is not for everyone, it sure as hell should be. For those who missed the message all those years ago, Esoteric Warfare
isn’t a bad place to start. Forget the preconceptions about black metal being raw and unlistenable. Mayhem is far from pretentious, and their 2014 release has a wealth of replay value. If you like anything ‘old-school’, the real thing will do you so much better. For Mayhem circa 2014, the chair is not as rusty as it was after removing the dust. Esoteric Warfare
presents a sound worthy of the mantle again, crushed skulls and all.