Mayhem - Order Ad Chao (Season of Mist CD)
A few years ago when I was a lot more into metal I used to waste loads of time at HMV, because there was a guy there who knew his stuff and would stock the metal section rather admirably. I mean, we're not talking underground vinyl here because it is HMV after all, but I used to take loads of flyers on the various Relapse, Nuclear Blast, Season of Mist, Candlelight, Peaceville, etc. releases that'd come in. Having fallen out of nearly all forms of metal recently, it's safe to say I've been spending money in venues other than HMV, but I recently found myself back in there once more trying to kill some time. I paid a visit to the metal section wondering if anything good had come out lately, and apparently the new Mayhem had. I was never even much of a Mayhem fan, either. "De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas" is a classic, and I was into "Live in Leipzig" and "Deathcrush" as well. You know, the black metal rites of passage. I never heard 1997's "Wolf's Lair Abyss" which is apparently pretty good, but their late 90s/00s output was pretty much a shell of what the band used to be. 2000's "Grand Declaration of War" was abysmal and 2004's "Chimera" wasn't much better. What brought me back around on "Order Ad Chao"? Same reason that brought me back around with Cryptopsy's "Once Was Not" two years ago - old lead singers rejoining the fold, yeah! I'm talking about Attila Csihar replacing Maniac, of course. Not that I really had a problem with Maniac. It certainly wasn't his presence alone that was ruining the later-day Mayhem records he performed on, that was a group effort. But really, how could I say no? Attila was great with Aborym but to hear him back again with Necrobutcher, Blasphemer, and Hellhammer...I'm game.
Nobody really needs a Mayhem history lesson at this point (you should read "Lords of Chaos" if you do, it's not perfect but I think it's the best out there) so I'll just cut to the chase: "Order Ad Chao" is a great record. It's not a classic record and "De Mysteriis" is in no danger of being dethroned, but compared to the two full-lengths that came before it, "Order" is a borderline revelation. The production is slick, but not to the point of overkill - the record retains a sludgy, somber atmosphere that remains heavy on the low-end throughout. It's a switch from all the lo-fi black metal cassettes I've been buying lately but I don't mean that in a bad way. Its density pretty much suits its dark subject matter. The music itself is quite varied: at times the band stampede through with razor-sharp riffs and bludgeoning percussion, as on the furious "Wall of Water" (possibly as close as the band get to their earlier sound) and "Great Work of Ages". "Deconsecrate" deserves special mention for not only moving with blazing speed bolstered by Hellhammer's thunderous percussion, but for showcasing Attila at the absolute height of his vocal abilities, ranging from dramatic bellowing to cord-shredding wails and back to his usual snarl. The second half of the album is a bit more spacious and seems to take cues from death and even doom metal. It starts with the near-10 minute "Illuminate Eliminate", slowly festering with atmospheric guitar noise and Attila delivering a drawn-out growled diatribe until the track's midway point eruption, capped off with more strained vocal theatrics and a slithering, near-industrial finale, not at all unlike the aforementioned Aborym. Similar in approach albeit shorter in running time, "Psychic Horns" and "Key to the Storms" sees Mayhem peppering their whirlwind attacks with more spacious and disparate digs (check out Attila puking all over the downtime in the latter track). "Anti" is the perfect closer, marrying the all-out attack with gut-wrenching tension only to break loose and wind up with a conclusion with the power to bring down buildings, or at least mine own jaw.
As much as Attila deserves all the praise he'll get for his awe-inspiring return (not to mention the fact that he delivers in every possibly manner on the record), Hellhammer's insane drumming is what keeps things constantly pulsing. Dude's played for so many bands it's almost easy to forget how great he is at what he does, and I don't know if I've ever heard him operating at a higher level either. Maybe that's what makes "Ordo Ad Chao" so good and so much better than prior attempts - for the first time in ages it sounds like Mayhem came together to make a record that absolutely kills from start to finish, agendas and drama and everything else aside. I urge anyone with a vague interest in black metal to check out "Order Ad Chao", even if you've never heard the band's older works. It may not be as essential or life-altering as some of their other records, but it'll hardly steer you wrong either.
Final word about the packaging - Season of Mist, are you kidding me? When I first grabbed the album in its plastic wrap I thought it came with a really thick booklet since it was so heavy. Only when I took it out did I discover the insane metal slipcase that houses the jewel case, which itself contains a booklet containing lyrics and the like. Totally over the top and beautifully rendered; a suitable way to celebrate both their 150th release and a new Mayhem record that really does rule.
Click here to listen to MP3 samples from the above album
(A power failureprevented me from posting this last night so it goes today, in case you were wondering about the 6/27 date)