I have been listening to Esoteric Warfare quite a bit, trying to let it sink into my brain, to let it confuse me.Other than the “MILAB” track’s great structural twists and out of body drift through chaos clouds, it is a more straight forward fair than I expected, though still incredibly engaging. While it may not be their violently rawest or most idiosyncratic/experimental release, it is in some ways the most ambitious Mayhem release of all. Whether that ambition is realized is up to the listener.
A more triumphant album marrying raw rage and esoteric philosophy with moments of inspired weirdness would be Inquisition’s masterful Obscure Verses For The Multiverse (yet now, much like most of Mayhem’s career, tragically overshadowed by recent controversy the band seemingly brought on themselves). Mayhem have spent the better part of their career being known for a relatively brief, yet massively infamous period. People can’t listen to them without thinking of it (much like how Nachtmystium’s amazing music takes a back seat to debates about if it is ok to like Blake or who really wrote what on which Nachtmystium album, for another sad example).
Mayhem should not be punished for having more self-awareness as writers and people these days than the early days of their raw as fuck, shoot from the hip, hack and slash approach (an unintentionally horrible metaphor since former members actually killed themselves or others). Esoteric Warfare doesn’t feature my favorite line-up (blasphemer/rune is the best guitarist for Mayhem ever), but it nonetheless is a killer album that seems to attempt to unify various parts of the band’s career into a palatable whole. The “fuck you” spirit remains, but it is a fairly cohesive record. The question is, is that enough?
My answer is yes.
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At some point, as much as art is sociology and Mayhem always the focus of hyper-critique, an album also should get a chance to breathe on the merits of the music alone.They are kind of like the Motorhead of Black Metal now. People should know what they stand for and to expect a long fight for those beliefs. the question will just be how any twists and turns, if ay, on their new records. Right? But you can always expect good lyrics, passion and energy.
Do the philosophical overtones of a great sounding Skrewdriver song matter? Sure as shit. I’m not giving anything nasty a free pass, but Atilla Csihar is a genius (see Sunn O)))’s recent Monoliths and Dimensions for ample proof that’s non Mayhem related if the Mayhem name somehow biases you). For me, I am lucky because Csihar’s personal character, well spoken interviews and long shadow as the best singer by far Mayhem ever had, makes it possible for me to appreciate them up and above their years of Lords of Chaos /tabloid news type days.
2014’s Mayhem are not mentally ill monsters or boogie-man. They may still be radicals, but they are radicals of thought, for self-growth. It is actually refreshing in a way that the band tempered themselves a bit and just made black metal for the love of black metal instead of it having to be . This is like trench warfare, the album incorporating all the trademarks in Mayhem’s arsenal yet united in presentation for a long fight.Thinner than they are chunky guitars whirl with rapid fire dissonance and flesh crawling truths are venemously spit.
This is a war of living a philosophy. Making a mark or at least and more importantly, living your life freely. In a world cluttered with dime-a-dozen throwaway ideologies, that’s a beautiful thing.
But let’s discuss radicalism a bit more. I always felt bad, for example, for the idiocy of black metal groups who are homophobes (even though I love Dissection). You espouse freedom and want to free yourselves of social shackles then try and ostracize or become right wing and hateful? That’s embarassingly lacking in objective scrutiny. Burning a church because the religion oppressed your ancestors is one thing, right or wrong. But cheers to Gaahl, for example, for being openly gay. Homosexuals have been more oppressed than almost anyone through history, damnation lovers. I love Watain, but their philosophy is the most intriguing part of the band, even more so than their great songs. People who fixate on the stage show and pig blood, it is so unimportant compared to the bigger messages the band espouse. Go listen to the narrations on their recent film Opus Diaboli for proof.
Anyhow, my point is…Mayhem are in a weird way like Arcade Fire. HAHAHA, lmao. I mean it, though. They are so expected or it is so demanded of them that they make grand gestures that it is hard to see them without their legacy tinting the lenses of the spectacles, so to speak. On merit alone? Esoteric Warfare is a great album, finding a happy medium on raw sounds with less proggy detours than their recent music, while still allowing for the incredible dissonant and disorienting moments like the slow detours of “Posthuman”, rattled vocals from the deathcages of a soul’s black poetry and at other times simply embracing the churning dark heart of tornado fast black metal the band can’t help but let rise up in their blood. That lunacy, like a werewolf near a full moon, will always be part of the Mayhem sound. Hellhammer is still incredibly fun and awesome to listen to, this shit will still spook you out at times if you listen to it at 2 a.m., and “Trinity” is an apt channeling of war, the dissolution of the human spirit and a fire in the face of mental slavery. What more do we really need?
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