Mayhem – Esoteric Warfare

Esoteric Warfare
Release date: 6th June 2014
Black Metal
Released via Season Of Mist

Esoteric Warfare Mayhem

I feel I have to be brutally honest here: Although I do own and enjoy a fair amount of black metal records, as a genre much of it sounds pretentious and lacking in impact to me.  What everyone else hears as extreme, bears a striking resemblance in ethic to the pop industry in my mind. Everyone has to dress this way, everyone has to play this riff and this riff only, displaying any genuine talent is a cardinal sin and originality is to be spat on. Just like any other style, there are gems, but in BM there is an abundance of bumph.

Asked to name a great BM album, I’d invariably suggest something like Emperor’s Prometheus: The Discipline of Fire & Demise, Satyricon’s Age Of Nero or Evangelion by Behemoth. Purists may say these aren’t really BM albums, slating them as the turning point in selling out for these artists. I simply think they demonstrate bands reaching a stage at which they really came to grips with their identity in extreme music.

Esoteric Warfare, the fifth studio album from genre progenitors Mayhem seems unlikely to come under that heading. It opens up with the full bore, traditional intensity associated with the genre, single note guitar thrashing and constant blast beating aplenty. Thankfully, at least from my perspective, that isn’t all there is to it. By breaking up the flow of discordant white noise with intricate arpeggios and poignant moments of brief silence, a more percussive, heavier sound is achieved.

While this is undeniably Mayhem, it is tighter and more refined than any of their past efforts. The sound quality is unbelievably good to boot, offering the vocal experimentation an extremely pleasant amount of breathing space. If you’re familiar with the Japanese cinematic horror classic The Grudge, you might recognise the noise at the start of Milab, for example. This is by far my favourite track (with penultimate number Posthuman running a close second). The lyrics themselves are an improvement on what has been minimalistic up to this point, delving deeper into the album’s running themes of scientific terror and invasive evil entities.

In truth, it is well worth wading through the first (almost) half of the album to get to what is essentially the second movement, as it is more creative, more diverse, and consequently far more brutal. I hope this is intentional. A band who celebrates their 30th anniversary this year must surely have learned a thing or two about picking a running order. The concept has me considering giving the whole thing a second run from the beginning, to see if it has changed my perspective. And it has. The first few tracks seem more alive with anticipation of what is to come further along the line.

A natural and significant progression from Ordo Ad Chao, this is still a solid three-out-of-five for me – definitively middle of the scale (you might want to add a point if BM is your thing – I’ll meet you half way). I’m not going to be upset in the slightest if I listen to it in its entirety multiple times, but neither would I shed a tear if it was wiped from the face of the Earth. It could well be a grower, but I doubt it will make my top twenty. If trve/kvlt blck metal is what you’re after, this should hit you right between the eyes, but be warned – the production’s really, really good.


Paul Macmillan

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