Mayhem - _Grand Declaration of War_
(Season of Mist, 2000)
by: Paul Schwarz (8 out of 10)
Scanning backward after engaging _Grand Declaration of War_ in the old melenky stereo reveals an intro which is, reflectively, backward. From this very much black-tinged-with-the-crunch-of-death styled yet simplistic and uncharacteristically relaxed first intro begins a healthy and growing infection of influence from Canadian thrash metal oddballs Voivod. "A Grand Declaration of War" is the aptly titled second intro, and first track. This embraces more recognisable black metal atmospheres with Blasphemer juxtaposing loose relaxed riffing with beefy chugging, backed by thick, solid and fluent drum work from Hellhammer. As a militaristic rhythm establishes itself, a quietly venomous, vocally proclaiming Maniac introduces us to Mayhem's minorly-flawed two-part concept album of a sophomore release. The lyrics of the third and final initial intro "In the Lies Where Upon You Lay" begin to lose their initial power, to even grate, when the consciousness-rebellion-concept war declaration narrows its focus to Christendom, the "religion of pity". Mayhem have said words in recent interviews to the effect that the rebellion against Christianity is in some way symbolic of a larger scale rebellion towards greater personal self-awareness -- or that's how I read them in any case. My problem is that Mayhem seem articulate enough thinkers adept more than sufficiently in English to tackle less basic and overused symbolism. Krisiun, with a less firm and assured grasp of English, can acceptably settle for the second place of requiring verbal explanation for people to properly understand their wider vision; in my opinion, Mayhem could and should be getting a general point across more effectively in the lyrics themselves, rather resorting to rough metaphor. "ItLWUYL" introduces the first batch of serious riffing and speedy drumming, but this segues quickly into the lyrical proclamations described above. There are pangs of disappointment, but the brooding six minute testimony still provides many moments of vividly evocative power. First true (yes, without capitalisation) song "A Time to Die" does not back up the assured threats of the aforementioned trio of intros. And yes, since we're on the subject, _GDoW_ does have too many intro tracks. "A Time to Die" is undoubtedly intense -- especially once its second, more furious half really gets moving -- but it is ultimately primitive in arrangement and by far the most creatively redundant track on _GDoW_. "View From Nihil" learns from every one of its predecessors mistakes, dynamically juxtaposing the earlier use of proclamative lyrics over militaristic percussion, with sections of insanely fast drumming and speedy, crushing riffing. As "View From Nihil" closes, a one minute outro-of-sorts in a similar style closes off Part II (_Wolf's Lair Abyss_ has retrospectively become Part I). Part III begins with another spoken section (again using Christianity as a reference point) to introduce "A Bloodsword and a Colder Sun", the definite oddity of _GDoW_. Mimicking the atmosphere electronics of Kraftwerk and (I'm told on good authority) Skinny Puppy, Mayhem more than merely defy expectations; they positively shatter them. But the impression is still more of a band experimenting for effect, rather than pure musical value. Ultimately, the track serves little higher purpose than as an intro-of-sorts to The New Mayhem, should such a term be applicable. "Crystalised Pain in Deconstruction" contrasts sharply in continuing Blasphemer's evident love-affair with Voivod, and taking it to new heights; the classically jagged riff patterning woven into arrangements that are the most fully realised on the album. It may not have "View From Nihil"'s crushing speed and intensity, but "CPiD" digs deeper on an emotional level. "Completion in Science of Agony" goes yet more dark, atmospheric and gradual than any of its predecessors, while still embracing Mayhem's guitar-based approach. All the same, it has definite flaws. Its nine-minute length is not succinctly filled, and like some of _GDoW_'s opening few tracks it adopts the feel of an extended intro for what follows it. And "To Daimonion" is just the closer to assure that Mayhem finish up _GDoW_ with their style intact, and an element of mystery pungently lingering about them. Embracing an almost bouncy groove and lacking little or nothing in roaring power, Mayhem exuberantly chug their way through _GDoW_'s final few minutes before Maniac delivers an ambiguous final proclamation: "I remember the future. A new beginning in time", over total silence. Mayhem's admittedly massive alterations in style are not as concerted a break from the extreme music norm nor as creatively rich as those managed, for example, by The Chasm on the masterful _Procession to the Infraworld_. Mayhem seem almost confused by comparison. The proportion of their potential which is realised is comparable to Satyricon's _Nemesis Divina_. I hope Mayhem can inspire themselves to a similar turnaround in creative success as the _Rebel Extravaganza_ which followed for Satyricon. Because, interesting and occasionally rhythmically unusual though _GDoW_ may be, its (nonetheless very welcome) Voivod throwbacks and mildly effective conceptual character still leave it wheezing and panting behind the likes of Dodheimsgard's _666 International_. Their concept works well overall, though it is somewhat prosaic, and certainly surpasses black metal crisp-packet-philosophies like Gorgoroth's "The Sin of Satan is the Sign of Gorgoroth". Mayhem have not put themselves at the forefront of innovation, but they have very firmly thrown down the gauntlet at the feet of those who would have them attempting to recreate "the good old days" (i.e. _De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas_). Ultimately, it is time that will tell if the name of Mayhem retains the (un)hallowed resonance it has enjoyed in the nineties, in years to come, and I must admit, whatever my misgivings about _GDoW_, I will be curious to see where the band are in ten years.

(article published 12/8/2000)

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