Mayhem — Esoteric Warfare
In the 7 years between the release of the band's previous effort, Ordo Ad Chao (review), Mayhem underwent another significant change in line-up. This time, the band lost long-standing guitarist and chief song-writer, Blasphemer, replacing him with a pair of guitarists in Ghul and Teloch. The group would spend considerable amounts of time writing and recording this new line-up's debut, even scrapping an entire album's worth of material in the process. Ultimately the band would produce Esoteric Warfare as the fifth full-length LP under the Mayhem name, in its third incarnation.
Opting for a less progressive song-writing approach than on Ordo Ad Chao, Mayhem crafted the tracks on this new album with the intention of actually repeating a riff here and there, and keeping the tracks a little shorter and more straight-forward. The material is still far from basic, but the overly technical aspect of the last record was reined-in while still allowing the tracks to establish a mood and feel in between savage, aural thrashings. There are still dour, doomy passages and moments of respite, but they're more concise. The material still drifts effortlessly between blast-beat driven flurries and sinister atmospherics, but with more of a premium placed on the aggressive elements of the band's black metal foundation. The production isn't quite as dirty as Ordo Ad Chao, nor is it as pristine and clear as Chimera (review), sitting somewhere in between the two.
Esoteric Warfare is the weakest offering in Mayhem's discography, moreso because of the quality of past efforts than any flaws inherent to the album itself. While still a very brutal, hard-hitting record, Esoteric Warfare doesn't feel nearly as forward-thinking as the group's past efforts. The changes in the song-writing department are evident, even if the material still sounds very much like a Mayhem record. Hellhammer and Attila turn in quality performances, and sound as good as ever on the drums and mic, respectively. The new guitarists tonally have everything right, and none of the riffing or structures feel obviously out-of-place; everything is speedy, intense, bringing the expectedly buzzing wall of sound to bear on the listener. In the past, each record would feature new quirks and nuances to the band's material, whereas Esoteric Warfare feels more like a band holding their ground and hewing closer to past work than looking to continue evolving.
The band's lyrical direction also continues to shift further away from the Satanic and religious, diving fully into the world of the occult and conspiracy theories. I actually stopped the album and had to re-listen to the passage in "Posthuman" where Attila talks about Chemtrails multiple times, to be sure I wasn't in the throes of a fever dream. It's the sort of thing you don't even really notice until the third or fourth listening, as the vocals are largely grim, ominous and largely unintelligable. Seeing a band that got its start in the era of church burnings and sundry murders progress from The Satanic Bible to Coast 2 Coast AM as sources of inspiration is the sort of thing that only makes sense in our twisted, modern era... Honestly, I appreciate the change-up for the sake of variety, and it doesn't detract from the material in any way.
Overall, this is still a good record. Esoteric Warfare doesn't stack up that well against the rest of Mayhem's material, but their past albums consist of an improbably high-quality string of releases. This record has a lot of merit, with tracks like "Psywar" and "Posthuman" still hitting hard and demonstrating that the band hasn't regressed so much as stayed still. For a band that has been in existence, in one form or another, since the mid-80s, Mayhem are still going strong. Far from a bad album, this LP did leave less of an impression on me than previous efforts but it's still well worth a listen. I also think this LP bodes well, overall, for whatever the band does next as the new line-up gels as a unit through touring and performing together.
A new album and, yes, a new members in the Mayhem line-up. Replacing band's guitarist and main song-writer, Blasphemer, are two relative unknowns who do well to keep the band's distinctive sound alive. Esoteric Warfare is a competent album, worth black metal fans' time and attention, even if it is found somewhat lacking in comparison to the group's past efforts. Every now and then, a band that has been around for over 30 years is going to drop a record that is merely "okay" — it happens eventually. That's still no reason to write-off the album, as it's still a strong, modern black metal effort in its own right.
Release date: June 6th, 2014
Record label: Season Of Mist
Attila Csihar — vocals
Ghul — guitar
Teloch — guitar
Necrobutcher — bass
Hellhammer — drums
- Throne Of Time
- Corpse Of Care
- Aion Suntelia
Published: February 11th, 2019.