Following the murder of Euronymous, it seemed as if Mayhem would cease to exist. The main creative force behind the band was now in his grave, and following the delayed release of De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas (which was recorded prior to his death), it would appear that Mayhem would rot there with him. This is as it should have been, for despite all of the wasted potential that now rested beneath the earth, there was simply no way for a band to continue without the one person who had given it birth and kept it alive for so many years; the one from whose mind the very concept of the musical movement had spawned. So, for a short time, Mayhem was no more. That is, until a certain greedy drummer realized how much money could be made by cashing in on the notoriety that the band had attained.
Having embraced his Hebrew bloodline, Cashhammer embarked on a mission to revive this dead entity and to breathe life into it once more. He recruited former members, Necrobutcher and Maniac, in order to lend some air of credibility to this scheme. They then picked up a kid by the name of Blasphemer, to try filling the void left behind by Euronymous. Of course, he would never be able to live up to the expectations that many had of him. After a few rehearsals to "see if it felt right", the not-so-true Mayhem began working on new material. After about two years, they finally managed to come up with enough for an E.P. This was even after using some old riffs that were laying around from years past. Quite pathetic, really. So it was in 1997 that Wolf's Lair Abyss was vomited forth.
So what of the music? After a worthless intro that has no place near anything even remotely Black Metal, the song "I Am Thy Labyrinth" uses a riff that was already ripped off once that year (by Emperor), and not even utilized half as well, sad to say. Right away, the production becomes very annoying as the drumming is far too high in the mix. Hellhammer must have gotten a big head and figured that people cared to hear his efforts moreso than even the guitar riffs. As far as the guitars go, the sound is not as cold and crisp as on the debut L.P. Then again, even an identical sound would not have saved this material. The concept was forever lost and now the band existed solely to make whatever money they could from the hard work and glorified corpses of their former bandmates.
By the time "Fall of Seraphs" begins, the listener is already drained from the overwhelming sense of disappointment and the tedious songwriting. While the music is not so bad, during the slower parts, Maniac's vocals completely ruin the atmosphere and one cannot help but laugh at his feeble attempt to emulate Attila. Remembering interviews with Euronymous that made mention of trashing many guitar riffs because they weren't dark enough, one can see that the new version of Mayhem would not be hindered by such integrity and would merely toss on anything that came to mind.
"Ancient Skin" is the most straightforward Black Metal song on here, and is the most enjoyable as a result. It maintains a rather fast pace, and does not fall into any traps of experimentation. The drumming gets a little overdone, but it is not enough to really detract from the song. The vocals are still pretty awful, but less comical. All in all, it's a shame that they utilized the type of production that they did, as this track probably could have sounded even better with more of a cold feeling.
By the time the final song begins, the entire experience seems more than a little tiring. "Symbols of Bloodswords" is composed of a mixture of generic riffs as well as some more thought-out ideas. Unfortunately, the piece could have used a bit more refinement. It's not bad and, by this point, the listener has most likely gotten used to the various defects in the album. Still, the band needed to end on a very high note to salvage the impression given by this E.P.
Wolf's Lair Abyss is probably the most competent release of post-Euronymous Mayhem, yet it still falls short in many ways. The songwriting seemed to fail in every respect to capture the same type of feeling and atmosphere that was present on the L.P. Though it was important to establish that they were not out to simply copy themselves, the previous line-up set a high standard, one which these guys failed to meet. In particular, due to the circumstances that befell the band and the expectations that their fans had for them, they owed it to everyone involved to put forth the extra effort to make something truly special and in that regard they failed. This E.P. is decent enough, on its own, but does not deserve to be labeled as a Mayhem release.