Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Mayhem - Ordo Ad Chao (2007)

Mayhem is one of the most respected and criticized bands in all of Black Metal. No one can deny the band's influence in the birth of the Second Wave, and the Norwegian scene in particular. Yet, ever since the classic De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, the band has strayed ever farther from their path. Each time around, fans were hopeful for a return to form, yet Mayhem offered experimental sounds, instead. It was almost as if they were intentionally turning their back on the style that made them so legendary to begin with. Either that, or they simply tried to push the envelope and just failed miserably. Though Maniac was ousted and Attila returned to the fold, there was no way for Blasphemer to ever fill the shoes of Euronymous and he had proven that time and again. And so expectations were quite low in April 2007, as the band released their fourth full-length album, Ordo Ad Chao.

It begins with "A Wise Birthgiver", which gets off to a slow start. The feeling is consumed with dread and impending doom. As Attila's voice rises from the murky depths, an aura of darkness envelopes you. This intro sets the tone, perfectly, and gives hope for what is to come.

"Wall of Water" maintains the dark and gloomy feeling, and one can sense that something really has changed with the songwriting. This is much more straightforward and true to the essence of Black Metal. As things speed up, it becomes evident that the production is rather muddy and the riffs are restrained, somehow. The percussion is a bit easier to hear, but the guitar riffs seem to be in the background. However, the vocals are high enough in the mix to be heard and that is one of the most positive things about the entire album. Attila sounds possessed and gives one of his best performances, ever. As for the music, it never sticks with one tempo for too long. Rather than focusing on certain riffs, the attention is centered on maintaining a pitch-black atmosphere.

The hellish feeling continues on with "Great Work of Ages", which features a lot of faster riffs, mixed in with slow sections that are accentuated by Attila's eerie whispers. Hellhammer's drumming is a little chaotic, but works well for the material. The riffs are all over the place, at times, with no clear structure to the song. In many ways, this is what Black Metal should strive to be; to break free from the formulaic approach and to be more concerned with creating a dark and evil atmosphere.

"Deconsecrate" starts out with otherworldly screams and one has to question how this could come from a human. The answer, of course, is that Attila is hardly human. He utilizes a mix of clean and harsh vocals, creating a sinister effect. Again, the music seems to move from one idea to the next, rarely returning to a previous theme, merely taking the listener on a darkened journey through Hell. For some, this may be too much to take in, but it is all about atmosphere. That cannot be said enough.

The following song is the longest one on here, clocking in at almost ten minutes. "Illuminate Eliminate" is like some hideous beast that crawls out from the abyss to seek out human victims. It bears a feeling of dread, and the vocals add a sense of malevolence to the proceedings. The tension grows as this track slowly builds. A gloomy tremolo riff slithers among the doomed remnants of life now extinguished, as the pace soon picks up. The warmer guitar tone really works for this material as, though many would have preferred a colder sound, this helps imbue the listener with a feeling of experiencing pure Hell. The final minutes of the song sees the introduction of a mournful melody that signifies the beginning of the final descent.

"Psychic Horns" starts out with another mid-paced riff and the sorrowful sound in Attila's voice has now been replaced by pure evil. Like a spirit now fully possessed, he conveys the feeling that there is no turning back. Musically, things are more chaotic and intense, which is good to wake the listener from the trance of the previous song.

"Key to the Storms" is a shorter track that features a lot of busy drum-work, though the pace is not all that fast. In the background, one can hear faint echoes of a cold riff that hearkens back to the band's previous era. Late in the song, one gets the sense that Attila has finally lost his mind, as his ravings go beyond the farthest limits of sanity. Such is the price one must pay to enter the depths of Hell and to approach the throne of the Dark One.

The final song, "Anti", completes the journey into the mouth of the abyss, beyond the illusions of good or evil and toward the great nothingness that awaits us all. The images of Hell were but manifestations of an insane mind, at war with itself to come to grips with the ultimate truth: it is all a big nothing. As the chaotic pounding of drums joins the frenetic riffing, it becomes clear that emptiness shall consume us all. Attila's vocals personify the sound of the abyss swallowing itself, leaving nothing but a cold void.

Ordo Ad Chao is a record that should surprise many. Of course, this is not a triumphant return to the glory of De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas. However, what it is, is the band's first relevant release since then. The music, itself, is secondary to the hideously dark atmosphere that oppresses you and the brilliant vocal performance by Attila. For those who had written this band off, long ago, this one is worth checking out.