Thursday, 7 June 2012

Mayhem - A Grand Declaration of War

Track Listing:

Ok, for the uninitiated.  Mayhem is one of THE founding father bands of Norwegian Black Metal.  They started up in the late 80's/early 90's along with other bands such as Burzum, Darkthrone, Immortal, Ulver, and the like.  Their first vocalist, named "Dead", shot himself in the fucking face and Euronymous, the original guitarist and one of the "greats" of Black Metal took photos and made necklaces out of Dead's skull, which he then gave to those he considered worthy.  Anyways, couple of years later Varg Vikernes of Burzum offed Euronymous with a knife in the face and went to prison.  After numerous lineup changes mostly due to deaths we arrive at the late 90's lineup of Mayhem, Necrobutcher (the only remaining original member), Blasphemer on Guitar, Maniac on Vocals(who also actually did vocals earlier on Deathcrush), and Hellhammer on Drums.

So, in 1999, we end up with this, Grand Declaration of War, with Maniac at the creative helm. This is an album that has remained highly divisive among Mayhem fans, and Black Metal fans in general.

The album starts with what seems like a call to war, a call to war against Christianity, which seems like a great premise for a Black Metal concept album, especially one by one of the forefather bands of Black Metal.  The image of war drums and Colonel Maniac rallying the troops to war with propaganda and hatred whilst riding atop a Satanic steed is intriguing and backed by a relentless Black Metal assault, which continues for the first 5 tracks.  The savagery of the drums and guitars evoke mental imagery of hell-scorched wastelands and warfare.  At the end of track 5 we are met with the sound of an explosion, and then quietness.  So far the vocals have been wonderful, the guitars have been clear, yet not overproduced, and the drums have been precise and strongly evoking the idea of marching with the Satanic horde towards battle.

The only problems with the album so far may be a slight excess of spoken word verse vs. actual vocals and some slight over usage of certain riffs, but this is totally excusable due to the wonderful cohesion of the album so far, and the great technical work by all members of the band.

Now if the album had stopped here and was just an EP with 5 tracks I'd be giving it 6/6 as a wonderful Black Metal concept recording.  But it didn't end here...

Suddenly, from the hell-scorched wastelands and the war against the Christian menace we are transported to... a goth nightclub... with the most out of place industrial track ever.  A drum machine and heavy vocal-synthesizers, along with keyboards and electronic sounds.  It's like Maniac decided to channel Marilyn Manson halfway through the album.  Now, as I said in my Gorod review I love stuff that makes you go "What the fuck man?"........ WHEN IT STILL WORKS WITH THE ALBUM.  This track has no place anywhere within 20 miles of the Satanic warmachine we've so far encountered, and sullies the middle of the album with it's mall-goth atmosphere.

Well, after it ends, we go back to Black Metal, and decent Black Metal at that, similar to the first half of the record.  Track 8 has a similar feel to the first half of the album, and track 9 has a nice progression which seems to be leading to something a little different.  Track 10 follows up with that, then we hit Track 11, which is nothing but Maniac stating "I remember the future, a new beginning of time."  Which I thought was leading to something...but didn't.  Apparently that's the end of the album... atleast for 4:30 of fucking silence, then a 7 second track with nothing in it, then Track 13, which is just apparently a riff they forgot to put in a different song, because it just plays the one section for 2 minutes and then ends the album.  Done, nothing else, no proper ending in sight.  Apparently Maniac remembers the future (which probably doesn't mean anything, I'm not giving this guy a lot of intellectual credit), but didn't remember to finish the album.

The way this album ended makes no sense at all, NONE.  The layout of the album, track wise made no sense, NONE.  They don't even really tell you which song is which.  This is the back of the album.
By normal logic, one would assume there are 8 tracks on the album

01. A Grand Declaration of War
02. In The Lies Where Upon You Lay
03. A Time To Die
04. View From Nihil
05. Il Principe Part a) A Bloodsword and a Colder Sun
06. b)  Crystalized Pain in Deconstruction
07. c) Complettion of Science in Agony
08. d) To Daimonion

Now, this would make sense if there were 8 tracks...but there are 13.  WHAT ARE THE NAMES OF THE SONGS MAYHEM?  ARE WE SUPPOSED TO GUESS?  It seems elementary to tell your listeners what they're listening to, and Mayhem's done it before on previous albums, but apparently either no one conveyed the proper instructions to the printers or there are songs with multiple parts that aren't marked on the case.  Either way, it's confusing.

Now, here's how this album SHOULD have been layed out.
Track 1
Track 2
Track 3
Track 4
Track 8
Track 9
Track 10
Track 5

In that order, that way we'd not break the concept that the majority of the tracks hold, and end with the same riff we started with (which is on track 1 and track 5).  This would have made the album flow perfectly, and I probably would still be giving it a 5 or 5.5/6.

But folks, the fact of the matter is that they DIDN'T lay it out that way.

The weird industrial section in the middle of the album, the weird ending to the album, the lack of cohesion between parts of the album, and the excess of the spoken word verses make the album fall short of what it should have been.  Maniac's excessive dicking around with creative license seems to have butchered this masterpiece.  It's like a plastic surgeon having a supermodel on the operating table and going "Hmmm, how can we make her better," then the surgeon suddenly has an aneurysm and thinks it's a good idea to cut the big, hairy mole off her ass and stitch it into her forehead.

So yeah, I like most of the tracks off this album, but kinda hate the album as a whole, which is a hard feat to pull off, but Mayhem seems to have accomplished it.  The horrid stitching together of the whole thing kind of leaves a bad taste in your mouth that sullies the rest of what could be a great album.

They didn't do this with Deathcrush, Des Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, or even Wolf's Lair Abyss (all of which I fucking love), but apparently something tragic seems to have happened in 1999 and we have this.

I recommend this album still, for fans of Mayhem and just die-hard Black Metal fans, but I suggest skipping tracks 6, 7, 11, 12, and 13, and play song 5 at the end, because it's the ending the album should have had.

TL;DR 3.5/6

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