Sound — 7
Mayhem's history is hard to get over. Their original front-man, Dead, slit his own wrists and shot himself in the head with a shotgun. Euronymous, who discovered Dead's body, collected pieces of his skull and took pictures before calling the authorities. Euronymous would later make talismans from pieces of Dead's skull and give to other musicians who he found to be "worthy." Euronymous, himself, was killed in an altercation with Varg Vikernes (Count Grishnackh) who was acting as a temporary bassist for the band - with Vikernes being in the news recently and being tried for "inciting racial hatred and glorifying war crimes." There are several church arsons attributed or linked to the band, as well as racial and neo-Nazi beliefs and statements, especially from the drummer, Hellhammer, which have helped the band's name make it into the news more than their music ever has. "Esoteric Warfare" is the band's 5th studio album, which contains 10 tracks and a runtime of approximately 47 minutes. The track "Psywar" was released as the lead single from the album in late April of 2014.
The album opens up with the track "Watchers" which uses atonal guitars and long stretched out "Aaaargh!" vocals mixed in with "demon voice" rantings. "Psywar" has Attila Csihar performing some throat singing and some fairly fairly odd twists and turns in the song structure - could you call the middle section with the sustaining notes and echo-y whispers a breakdown? I dub that a "black metal breakdown." "Trinity" starts out with that Oppenheimer quote "Now I am become Death, the Destroyer of Worlds!," then goes on to some anti-religion ranting interspersed with sounds of sirens and gunfire. "Pandaemon" is another track with some whispering going on, as well as a lot of straight up wordless screaming of "Aaaargh!," but also uses a lot of quiet/loud dynamics in the sound. "MILAB" starts out with some relatively clean and very slow guitar compared to the rest of the album, and some interesting vocals with some cleaner over-dubbing. Very briefly in this track the bass is actually the prominent instrument, with a little groove in the middle. "VI.Sec." incorporates some more throat singing pretty quick out the gate, and uses the guitar to create an interesting vibe for the song, as well. There is also a different type of vocal used which is a wilder type of screamed or screeched vocal. Again, there is a lot of stop/start going on in this track, but also the album as a whole implements quiet/loud and stop/start dynamics frequently. There are parts of "VI.Sec." where the band sounds more progressive than black metal, but the vocals and the drums come back in and remind me of what I'm listening to. The first 45 seconds or so of "Throne of Time" is more ambient than anything, and from there it does a lot of interesting things, vocally. "Corpse of Care" is taking the quiet/loud dynamics from other parts of the album to the extreme, and then goes on a spoken word jaunt in the middle space for a few measures. "Posthuman" is a very experimental track for a black metal album. Large parts of the track are basically the drums and the bass with the vocals over the top, and the guitar providing little atonal fills. The album closes out with the track "Aion Suntelia," which is a fairly drawn out track that clocks in at over 5 minutes and doesn't do anything exceptionally interesting that entire time. Despite my expectations, I felt like this album had some really worthwhile stuff in it, from a musical standpoint.
Lyrics — 9
I can't help but feel a little bit like Attila Csihar is the Mike Patton of extreme metal. He's a seriously versatile dude in the genre. You got throat singing, clean singing, spoken word, screeching, droning growling, etc. I have to give him props - not only is he competent, but he's creative in a way that black metal often lacks. As a sample of the lyrics, from the track "Psywar": "Human lab rats terrorized/ altered personas triggered/ stalked individuals irradiated/ torture, submission/ a detour to suicide/ disassociation/ sub humanization/ born behind enemy lines/ the battlefield is our mind/ phoenix from the ashes of failure/ velon bloodprime/ your souls undermine/ symbols burned inside/ psywar, pull the trigger/ psywar, kill the target." The lyrics from most of the album are in the same territory that reminds me of my angrier and depressed poetry from my teenage years, but it works for the album.
Overall Impression — 7
Okay, I've had my fill of subtle atonality and tremolo picking for a while. If I put all the things I liked about this album in one pile and all the things I didn't like in the other, then I *THINK* the things I like would make a bigger pile. I liked a lot of the experimental stuff going on with this album. I liked the variety of the vocals - from the throat singing, to the growling, to the spoken word, to the screeches. I liked that the guitars weren't over-compressed. I liked that there was a lot of use made of quiet/loud dynamics. I didn't like the drum sound after a while - something I couldn't put my finger on started getting on my nerves with the drums. I didn't like that every song seemed to go back to the same thing at some point alternating between tremolo picking and little atonal arpeggios. On the other hand, this is probably one of my favorite Mayhem albums, but this is probably mostly because it has so much about it that doesn't sound like the earlier sound that I attribute to Mayhem. My favorite tracks from the album would have to be "Posthuman," and then "Psywar."