by JERENY TACKETT
Mayhem is, to say the least, a divisive band. There is no questioning the important role they played in both the first and second waves of black metal, particularly with their now classic album De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas.
However, one can argue that they are more known for their actions outside the realm of music including but not limited to murder, suicide, arson, assault via severed animal parts, and just general criminal activity and mayhem (had to say it).
Their musical quality and sound have changed through the years due to a highly unstable line-up including at least 3 vocalists and the length of time between official full length releases. To give you some perspective on this, their first full-length, the aforementioned classic De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, was released in 1994, and their most recent full-length, Esoteric Warfare, was released in 2014. During this 20 year period the band has managed to put out only 5 full-length albums, the other 3 being 2000’s Grand Declaration of War, 2004’sChimera and the subject of this review, 2007’s Ordo ad Chao.
Between these releases have come a slew of live albums, splits, demos, and EP’s (the most notable of which is 1987’s Deathcrush, the band’s very first noteworthy release and 1997’s Wolf’s Lair Abyss). Many of these have included much of the same material along with a ton of live and rehearsal material of dubious quality.
To put it simply, Mayhem has no definitive sound. Each album has sounded different and has been released surrounded by such an apparently never-ending nebulous of low quality demo, live, and rehearsal material one has a hard time pointing to any one period of specific sound for Mayhem. Thus it has been with some understandable trepidation that fans have received each new full-length release.
De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas was a venomous and dark but well-produced black metal album that set the tone for the strong second wave of black metal music (probably the most well-known and most documented period for black metal as the genre became internationally known as much for the music as for the violent antics of some of the bands). Grand Declaration of War was a strange experimental piece of music as different from black metal itself as it was from its predecessor. Chimera was somewhat of a return to a truer black metal style and was a strong if unspectacular release. The most recent album, Esoteric Warfare is another departure with a high quality production value, featuring somewhat of a blend of black metal, progressive metal, and industrial music.
The album that, in my estimation, stands out most from these other releases is 2007’s Ordo ad Chao. This album marked the return of vocalist Attila Csihar, his first album with the band since 1994’s De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas. The first thing that stands out about Ordo ad Chao is the fact that the album begins as if had already been playing and we are joining it in progress. There is no build or intro, just a sudden rush of music that sounds as if someone unmuted a song that had already been playing for a couple of minutes.
This first short song, A Wise Birthgiver, is a mostly instrumental intro to the album and sets the stage well for what is to follow. Without going into a song by song breakdown, a general tone for the album is one of ominous dread. Each song goes through various shifts in tempo including pauses that were they to be experienced in conversation would rate as uncomfortable. The production for this album is decidedly murky, almost demo quality. One can only assume that this is a stylistic choice as the albums before and after this one featured crisp production values. Some fans complained about the production, but to say that it adds to the atmosphere of the album is an understatement. The drums and bass stand out which is unusual as guitar is almost always the focal point in black metal. Attila’s vocals are at the front of the mix as well, which adds to the strength of the album as his vocals slither and wind their way through each song like a serpent rising through the murky depths of a swamp. He alternately growls, whispers, moans, and shrieks throughout this album like a man possessed. The sinister vocals add to the already dissonant and ominous atmosphere creating cohesiveness in an album that at first glance seems to lack cohesion.
The unifying factor about the various parts and layers of Ordo ad Chao is the fact that everything about it appears to be specifically designed to make the listener feel uncomfortable. Everything from the muddy production to the dissonant tempo shifts and pauses to the ominous vocals and lyrics add to the sense of lurking dread. The album’s lyrics deal primarily with enlightenment/awakening from a world ordered by strict religions, technology, and authoritarian values. The way to this awakening as reflected in these lyrics appears to be through a figurative and literal global shift, a dichotomy perfectly depicted by the songs Psychic Horns and Wall of Water. While Wall of Water and Anti feature more apocalyptic visions of global reset, others such as Great Work of Ages,Deconsecrate and Psychic Horns speak of a more psychical enlightenment (i.e. opening the third eye) primarily through rejection of both religious control and blind belief.
Mention of the Annunaki in the final two songs, Key to the Storms and Antihint at an anti-cosmic philosophy (for more on this look up anti-cosmic and Annunaki on Wikipedia). The album’s central songIlluminate Eliminate stands apart as it speaks of a dissatisfaction and disillusionment with the status quo and lyrically can be seen as catalyst for the songs before and after it. It is also the album’s longest song at nearly 10 minutes.
Ordo ad Chao ends as it began with no outro, just a sudden stoppage of music at the end of Anti as if someone hit the mute button mid-song. Overall, Ordo ad Chao stands as Mayhem’s most defining, cohesive, and relevant album since their first groundbreaking full-length, De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas. For those fans who abandoned Mayhem as having spent their artistic load in the 1990’s, this would be an apt re-entry point.
JERENY TACKETT is a father, husband, poet, pagan, nature lover, ghost hunter, scribe, cryptozoologist, noisemaker, codebreaker, and liberal. Sometimes NSFW. Find him on Twitter @JerenyTackett.