(This is TheMadIsraeli’s review of the new album by Mayhem, which is out now via Century Media Records.)
Mayhem is one of Black Metal’s most storied names. They were pioneers — a lot of modern stylistic conventions of black metal are owed to them, and you can hear their influence even today in much of what you listen to. A lot of my personal favorite black metal is definitely influenced by Mayhem in significant ways, and I’m a huge fan of the band’s diverse yet admittedly hit-or-miss discography.
Although not all of their albums have hit the mark, they’ve never failed to live up to the inherently rebellious ethos of black metal, always trying something different and attempting (sometimes desperately) not to pander to expectations from release to release. Mayhem have also often displayed a leaning toward more eccentric quirks, and kind of a flare for technical guitar work before a lot of other bands of their era did that.
So it may seem peculiar that my two favorite Mayhem records are Grand Declaration Of War and Esoteric Warfare, both which pursued really weird or chaotic tangents from black metal convention. Grand Declaration… was almost a spoken-word recording with black metal accompaniment, and Esoteric Warfare seems to explore every extreme metal style in a black metal framework with a lot of interesting noise elements, and it really spoke to me.
The running thread I’m trying to communicate here is that I like weird-nonsense-Mayhem the best out of all their work. When they throw caution to the winds and obviously just write something as blasphemous, bleak, and unhinged as they feel like, that’s when the band are at their best.
So that brings us to Daemon, which definitely falls under the weird-Mayhem category within their body of work, and it does so in a way I’m all about. While the intense, more involved riffs and atmospherically bleak canvasses of sound that were present in Esoteric Warfare are still here, the melodies, rhythms, and some of the ornate elements in the music find the band hitting what might be the peak of black metal purpose. Daemon is musical anti-liturgy. It’s almost like Eastern Orthodox black metal in how ritualistic it all is. I’ve always dug that ritualistic, almost tribal/primitive, vibe in black metal to begin with, but Mayhem channel it here with a proper atmosphere of ancient rites, summonings, and long-forgotten hollowed-out catacombs in musical form.
The guitar work on this album is psychotic and hypnotic, and the melodic progressions eat themselves like an ouroboros, drifting in and out of the organized and recognizable into the mangled and inhuman, and back again. This consistently morphing quality defines Daemon on the guitar front. A lot of it is memorable and captivating; some of it is just fucking weird and ugly and feels like a violation of your senses. It’s all done with a sort of majesty though, an ancient power that overwhelms.
I suppose the mix of this record helps as well. This album SOUNDS like it was recorded in an underground chapel of the sacred, or the blasphemous (or both), containing forgotten knowledge of ancient faiths, truths, and magicks now forbidden to humankind. This kind of production style often doesn’t fit fast, technical music, but somehow Mayhem managed to find just the right sound to make the doom-tier dragging numbers resonate equally against tomes of carnage like the opener “The Dying False King’, “Agenda Ignis”, “Worthless Abominations Destroyed”, and others. The borderline doom songs also tend to be the highlights, with “Daemon Spawn” being the star of the show.
All in all, I’d quantify Daemon as Mayhem’s own take and approach to an occult style of black metal. The result is an album that is so overpowering, so horrifying and soul-punishing to listen to, that it compels coming back to it — to stare at its twisted marvels. It’s fucking sick, and it’s definitely going to be one of black metal’s premiere exports this year.