Review Summary: Imagine that – Attila returns and Mayhem put out their best release since De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas.
Mayhem is a band with an interesting history, to say the least, and after founding guitarist Euronymous’ murder, it was unclear what would come of the influential group. However, the ubiquitous metal percussionist Hellhammer has managed to keep one of the oldest black metal bands for another sixteen years, albeit with plenty of personnel changes. In that time, Mayhem have offered up releases of varying quality, none coming close to rivaling their landmark 1994 album – except one.
“Ordo ad chao” is an incorrect Latin translation meant to read “ordo ad chaos” or “order to chaos,” and that is precisely what the band delivers. One might have assumed that with Attila back, the band would rehash some of the second wave ideals that established their legacy, and how wrong they would be. With unorthodox song structures and more dissonant passages than you can shake a stick at, Ordo ad Chao is a stark departure from anything the band has attempted previously. Mayhem show they can do dissonant and avant garde black metal better than the bands that have made a career out of it.
The production and overall atmosphere of the album lends itself to the thought of being in an ancient torture chamber: dark, wet and full of despair. In fact, you can almost smell the blood and sweat. Hellhammer is quoted as saying, "the production sounds necro as ***, but that's the way we wanted it – this time. It represents Mayhem today." And “necro as ***” it is. With the most bass-heavy mix since Deathcrush, Hellhammer’s drumming and Blasphemer’s basslines unrelentingly pummel the listener into submission while the droning guitar riffs provide the backdrop for another memorable and inhuman vocal performance from Attila.
Little has been said for the technicality of this album, and make no mistake – Ordo ad Chao is extremely technical. Blasphemer serves up creative and interesting guitar riffs, often tremolo-picked at speeds rivaling 1349’s Archaon. And while the guitar passages are impressive, they serve to sculpt the atmosphere of the album and don’t command too much attention. Though Necrobutcher is credited in the album inserts, Blasphemer has claimed to have also laid down bass for Ordo ad Chao. Hellhammer outdoes himself for this release, giving what may be his best performance yet. The drumming is, at times, as fast as Frost’s but far more creative. His bludgeoning double-bass paired with insane fills and impressive cymbal work is a delight to behold. The drumming on this album almost suggests as if Hellhammer has had formal jazz training. The always unorthodox Attila is even more so on Ordo ad Chao. His vocals sounded nothing like his contemporaries in the early 90s and the vocals on this album sound nothing like anything around today. Attila conveys bleak lyrics through a wide variation of vocal styles that can only be described as pure evil. Croaks, hisses, squeals, grunts, and shrieks are utilized in almost gut-wrenching effectiveness. The sum of these rather prodigious parts yields a sinister product that can take time to fully appreciate.
This album stands in a class of one, unique as it is. The listener abandons the notion of songs in favor of the overall feel of the album. That feel has nothing to do with winter or nature – only suffering. Mayhem may be the signature second wave black metal band, but it is also a band that has never known trends and certainly not compromise. Here they remind us of that once again, presenting new ideas for a new era of black metal. Ordo ad Chao is indeed an album that may take some time for growing, but given the chance, you may find that in time you give it as many spins as DMDS.