The Rickety Old Shack

Mayhem — Wolf's Lair Abyss EP

album cover

Following the release of De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, in 1994, Mayhem was re-formed with ex-members Maniac (vocals) and Necrobutcher (bass), joining Hellhammer (drums) and new member Blasphemer (guitar). While the decision to carry on the Mayhem name was viewed sceptically at first, the new incarnation managed to solidify their legitimacy in fairly short order. The group released this EP, Wolf's Lair Abyss as a prelude to the next full-length album, what would end up being Grand Declaration Of War. This EP serves as notice that while the group would maintain its distinctive black metal flavour, their material would be more experimental, progressive and technical than past efforts.

Wolf's Lair Abyss serves up 4 lengthy cuts and a ~2.5 minute intro, clocking in it at just under 25 minutes in total running time. It's a very good indication of where the Mayhem's song-writing would be headed, after De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas and significant changes to the lineup. The group's production style also changed quite a bit with this recording, as Hellhammer goes all-in on triggers at this point, and the overall sound quality gets a boost. The guitars are thicker and layered, while still retaining a grimy, blackened tone. Everything is louder, meaner and more intricate than anything Mayhem had done to date. The EP even sets up Grand Declaration Of War, as the closing track, "Symbols Of Bloodswords" contains a riff that is revisted on the album's title track and "View From Nihil (Part II)."

Maniac's vocals were never my favourite, although his performance on this EP is his best in my opinion. Lacking some of the range displayed by Attila Csihar on De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, Maniac still manages a passable black metal wretch and some spoken-word passages that aren't too jarring or out-of-place. Where the instrumental aspect of the band's music had evolved and improved over time, Maniac's vocals are a throwback to Mayhem's raw, formative days. The contrast of robotic, triggered drums and Maniac's exceedingly human performance — with a strong dose of reverb — actually works well, even if it's a bit of an acquired taste. The production improvements are impressive, save for a few instances — like in some of the blasts on "Fall Of Seraphs" — where the drum triggers are overly mechnical to the point of being distracting. Aside from perhaps the Live In Leipzig release, Mayhem weren't known for overtly poor recording quality. The recording advances on this EP seem right in line with the production norms of late 90s fringe metal.

As a taster for the second act of Mayhem's career, this EP is a solid starting point. If this release intrigues you, then Grand Declaration Of War and the band's subsequent efforts should prove worth your time as well. The reformation of this already legendary group was well executed, with Wolf's Lair Abyss establishing what the new line-up would be keeping and throwing away. For those wanting another De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, you're not getting that and such a thing would never have been possible anyway, given the death of Euronymous. Mayhem, having already existed for 13 years, continues to mature and evolve. "I Am Thy Labyrinth" is a good example of that evolution, opening with a traditional whirlwind of buzzing guitars and blast beats and then slowly transitioning from fast-tempo fury to a much slower, groovier instrumental in the second half.

Whether or not Mayhem's earlier work is of any significance to you, this EP is indicative of what their new material would go on to sound like. The band's past history notwithstanding, Wolf's Lair Abyss is a very high-quality, concise release by any measure. There's no wasted time, the EP is packed full of crushing instrumentals and bad-ass riffs. This record stands on its own merits. This is another strong entry in Mayhem's discography, which should assuage the fears of anyone who might have been concerned about a drop in quality due to the changes in the band's line-up.

Summary

The recorded debut of the legendary Mayhem's second line-up, Wolf's Lair Abyss may have caused controversy at the time of its release — with purists decrying the use of the band name following the death of Euronymous. I'm personally unsure how much of a problem this was at the time, but Mayhem has gone on to enjoy continued success and respect to this day, so it seems like people got over it. This new iteration of Mayhem serves up the band's most layered and intricate material at the time, as the band embraced more technical aspects of song-writing and the recording process. A genre-defining band continues to hone their unique metal craft; this is an excellent EP and worth any black metal fan's time.

Album Information

Release date: October 31st, 1997
Record label: Misanthropy Records

Maniac — vocals
Blasphemer — guitar
Necrobutcher — bass
Hellhammer — drums

Track Listing

  1. The Vortex Void Of Inhumanity
  2. I Am Thy Labryinth
  3. Fall Of Seraphs
  4. Ancient Skin
  5. Symbols Of Bloodswords

—by Derek

Published: January 22nd, 2019.