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Mayhem - "Esoteric Warfare" (CD)

Mayhem - "Esoteric Warfare" CD cover image

"Esoteric Warfare" track listing:

1. Watcher
2. Psywar
3. Trinity
4. Pandaemon
5. Milab
6. VI.Sec.
7. Throne of Time
8. Corpse of Care
9. Posthuman
10. Aion Suntelia

Reviewed by on June 20, 2014

"Csihar is a witch's stew of voices--when stirring the cauldron, you never know what will rise to the surface. His voice isn't just defined by what rises to the surface, but also what lurks below."

Mayhem puts the "true" into true Norwegian black metal. True was an adjective used to separate from bands playing a style that wasn't really black metal, at least that is what fallen guitarist Euronymous claimed. The Mayhem that emerged thirty years ago is hardly the Mayhem of today. Bassist Necrobutcher is the only member from the "Pure Fucking Armageddon" days, and the raw sound of that demo and the "Deathcrush" EP were left behind a good twenty years ago. However, three of the members from "De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas," a defining album for black metal, are still in place on "Esoteric Warfare."

Fans expecting Mayhem to stay true to the formula of "De Mysteriis" will be disappointed, which shouldn't come as a surprise since "De Mysteriis" front man Attila Csihar already dashed those hopes on his return seven years ago with "Ordo ad Chao." Attila remains one of the most unique vocalists in black metal, and is the focal point on "Esoteric Warfare."

Csihar is a witch's stew of voices--when stirring the cauldron, you never know what will rise to the surface. His voice isn't just defined by what rises to the surface, but also what lurks below. In one instance, such as heard on "MILAB" and "Throne of Time," he presents a distant, dreaming quality. The next, as evidenced around the forty-five second mark on "Watchers," he is voluminous in his goblin shrieks, but tones it down to a whisper a minute later. He even belts out a yell reminiscent of "De Mysteriis" on "Throne of Time." He finds a guttural register during "Corpse of Care" that is more akin with death metal than black metal.

Teloch from Nidingr steps in for Blasphemer on guitar. Although gone are the days of icy, high-end notes, Teloch's guitar play is one of the most striking features of the album. The death metal vocals mentioned on "Corpse of Care" are more numerous in Teloch's guitar sound. From buzz saw riffs of "Watchers" to ringing distortion during stall points to the chugging, top string bewitching on "Trinity," his chords have a hefty chunkiness not found in traditional, second wave black metal. However, there is a dissonant, top-string quality to many of the band's frequent stop and starts that is truly Norwegian black metal.

Attila is able to get creative with his voice, in a ghoulish narrative sort of way, during stop-and-start passages. While these parts find the band at a cerebral and experimental peak, as heard in the ethereal "Aion Suntalia," these parts also deflate their energy. In the case of "VI Sec," the band doesn't reach its stride until two-and-a-half minutes into the song. Hellhammer's blasts seem even faster during frequent slow downs, and just like Attila, he too uses these parts for creative rolls and fills, but still the band loses its oomph.

A lot can change in twenty years, so it seems futile to expect a band to remain true to a certain formula. Mayhem has revisited the pause points time and again since the "Grand Declaration of War" album. That being said, there are plenty of catchy parts on "Esoteric Warfare" in all aspects of the album. I just wish they could find a "happy" medium between the raw, icy sounds of early Mayhem with modern, chunky, experimental Mayhem.

Highs: Teloch's buzz saw riffs are brutal, while Attila's vocals add a strange experimental aspect to the album.

Lows: All the pause points zap the band's energy.

Bottom line: A decent album, but don't expect to be awed like with Mayhem's early works.

Rated 3 out of 5 skulls
3 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)