With their second LP , Mayhem declare the long awaited war they were preparing for patiently so many years. It’s a war against “Christendom, (the) religion of pity”, to quote the opening lines of the record. Christianity is the enemy not only because of the natural hatred the defeated paganists in Norway share against it(according to Vikernes anyway), but because it signifies conservatism and spiritual stagnation. This war must be won at all costs and by all means possible.
This is why black metal alone is not enough. This is why Blasphemer, who came as a replacement to black metal’s most iconic figure, Euronymous, decides (as the band’s main songwriter) to take Mayhem’s music one step forward. He clearly loves techno-thrash bands like Voivod or Coroner, he has a healthy respect for former Mayhem guitar player Snorre Ruch (of Thorns fame) who revolutionized the whole black metal scene with his guitar technique, but in the end, Blasphemer manages to fuse all his influences into a very, very unique guitar/compositional style. A devilish helping hand comes from vocalist Maniac. Not only does he perform his trademark shrieks (he sounds like he is choking-a slight resemblance to Emperor’s Ihsahn), but also he whispers, he shouts and he preaches, sometimes like a neurotic enraged madman and others like a sergeant preparing his soldiers for battle (but essentially like he is obsessed with Dead Kennedys) .
“Grand Declaration of War” is so rich musically, one can’t stop discovering things; the record’s foundation is indeed black metal, but even that isn’t performed in a typical fashion. Let’s just say that the record often speeds up, but for short amounts of time, displaying in fact sonic surgical strikes. “A time to Die” for example, the albums blastbeat driven track, closes at 1:48. Needless to say that songs in here are full of odd time signature changes and weird dissonant riffs that bring to mind a blackened version of the aforementioned techno-thrash bands. As it isn’t always about black metal, everything seems to be about effectiveness in this record, about getting the job done. This explains why the title track is an immense march to the declared war .and so is ”View from Nihil pt. I” This also explains why “Completion in Science of Agony” is a Celtic Frost influenced, slow track, with a heavy scent of impending doom in the air., this explains the industrial influence in “To Daimonion pt I” and “Completion in Science of Agony pt. II”, even the trip-hop of “A bloodsword and a Colder Sun”.
All in all, this is a fantastic album. It came at a time when the scene set to explore its boundaries (Dodheimsgard, modern Satyricon, Arcturus and even with one split EP in their baggage Thorns reigned supreme at the time), and it represents a somewhat more intelligent form of black metal, ergo the “intelligent black metal” tag, because of its tendency to experiment, something that it did with success (don’t ever forget that we are talking about the most static scene within the heavy metal genre). Even if black metal fans didn’t initially appreciate it, exactly because of its experimentation, it rests that “Grand Declaration of War” is a masterpiece.