When it comes to Mayhem, how far is it possible to separate the controversy from the music? Every note is infused with all the black malicious intent and scaly, stygian darkness of their origins – embodied in those grainy 90s’ shots of the band when they were corpse-pale, hateful youths, their empty eyes like black holes exuding an air of total soul-chilling nihilism.
With the latest album, 'Daemon', about to be released, the metal world was recently rocked by Necrobutcher’s statement that he was ready to kill Euronymous himself before Varg beat him to it – a slightly cringeworthy confession that could be seen as attention-seeking bullshit, a shameless promotional plug or just the pressure of attempting to maintain all that wicked allure despite the passage of the years.
Uneasy lies the head that wears the ultimate black metal crown, perhaps. Yet he needn’t have bothered, Mayhem’s 'Daemon' is set to cause a stir anyway – not for any associated scandal or strife but because it is actually really bloody good. Like their fellow dark masters Darkthrone proved with recent triumph 'Old Star', Mayhem have emerged from that sticky morass of infamy and juvenile excess as older, wiser and much more accomplished professional musicians. Necrobutcher and his crazed cohorts are still the undisputed Gods of Thunder, but with more control over the lightning bolts and a focus on precision and artistry rather than raw aesthetic.
Guitarist Teloch states, ‘Mayhem has never released two albums that sound the same’ and 'Daemon', though bred from the hoar-frosted majesty of its dark predecessors, is truly a singular beast, taking the uniquely Mayhem sound to uncharted territories of murky madness. Deep and beautiful and wild,'Daemon' is rich with innovation, abundant with dark fantasia and rivulets of untethered classical melody, unfolding like Clive Barker’s puzzle box into ever more complex layers offering all manner of exquisite hedonistic agonies. Opening track, 'The Dying False King', the title a story in itself, begins with the familiar, Mayhem cacophony of fast tempos and insane, whipped up beats, before descending into cavernous, echoing vocals and thudding, majestic notes that add lashings of darkest drama, reaching a denouement with chilling operatic vocals dripping with pathos. 'Agenda Ignis' and 'Bad Blood' bring in some sepulchral tones that slither like desperate mutant creatures beneath the lurching percussion and solos that soar like a murder of crows scattering across shattered hell-scapes, while the crashing opening beats of 'Malum' hail needle-sharp quivers of shivering distortion tempered with heavy, gloom-laden chords. 'Falsified and Hated' is cold and bitter and malignant, reverberating with an under-layer of malevolent, demonic snarls and some Burzum-type ambience, while 'Daemon Spawn’s' teeming dissonance swarms like a horde of bugs over fetid, diseased open wounds. Although pre-released as a single, 'Of Worms and Ruins' does not showcase the best of the album but captures the definitive, manic quality that characterises Mayhem’s earlier output and bears all the rotting hallmarks of their visionary style. The album concludes with 'Invoke the Oath', a kind of chimerical day-mare that invites resemblance with Dimmu Borgir’s fancy-drenched offerings.
Despite being packed with imaginative structures and an air of general nefariousness, the tracks are short and sharp, and like a brief candle, the carefully crafted illusory nightmare is snuffed out too soon. So, it is with all the sweat-soaked relief of an eleventh-hour reprieve that the bonus tracks arrive, almost better than what’s gone before. 'Everlasting Dying Flame' and 'Black Glass Communion' allow Mayhem to break into fresh, more melodic dark pastures and the result alternates between frantic percussion and enveloping, velveteen luxuries of sound as new patterns, highly original in nature, emerge.
Necrobutcher has no reason to feel insecure. With their latest malignant masterstroke, Mayhem have re-conquered the scene to maintain their throne as Norway’s most bad-ass malcontents. Intense and unforgettable, fans are in for a heady ride into metal’s ever-beating, always bleeding heart of darkness.
'Daemon' is out 25th October via Century Media