Mayhem: Esoteric Warfare – Album Review

by Mike Lawrence on June 5, 2014


At this point most of us know about the storied and violent history of Mayhem, one of Norway’s most popular black metal bands.  I myself have written about the subjects so many times that at this point it gives me a migraine to even think about it.  However, for some reason when an album or news from Mayhem comes out, I am compelled to talk about all that went on with the band, as if it has relevance on what they are doing now.  Truly one has nothing to do with the other, so I am going to skip the headache and move on.  For those of you that are unaware of the band’s history, you can read about it briefly in our post detailing the 20th anniversary of their album De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas or in full detail in our history of black metal.

Esoteric Warfare is the fifth full length album from Mayhem and is their first new releases since 2007.  Seven years is certainly a long time to wait.  Extreme metal bands rarely move into Metallica territory with regard to gaps between albums, but that’s what we have here.  Fortunately, this is a very solid album.

This is straightforward, no frills black metal and it’s damn refreshing.  There are no hackneyed additions of thrash, death or doom metal to water things down.  Although they do experiment with some ambient and atmospheric elements, this is certainly not the blackened infused hipster metal that recent bands like Deafheaven have been turning out either.

Esoteric Warfare represents exactly what black metal is supposed to be.  The production is low-fi.  The sound is gritty and heavy and the vocals from Attila Csihar are beautifully out of tune.  Csihar flows magnificently from creepy low register harsh vocals to high pitched shrieks that brings to mind what a bird of prey sounds like when it’s  tearing apart the flesh of a meal.  The album is well written and the tracks contained within are a brilliant mix of the ultra fast and the traditionally slow.  All of this comes together from the amazing, yet crude musical work of guitarist Teloch, original bassist Necrobutcher and drummer Hellhammer.


Things begin with a bang with the over six minute song “Watcher”.  No short intro tracks here!  This is probably the best song on the album, at least for me.  It is an excellent traditional black metal song that will take you back to the early 90’s.  “Watcher” slowly fades out and immediately jumps into the blaze that is the short and fast, yet very effective single “Psywar”.  Hellhammer’s drumming here is nothing short of unbelievable.  From here things continue at an excellent break neck pace of blast beats with the songs “Trinity” and “Pandaemon”.  The fast pace then flows perfectly into the creepy and atmospheric tones of “Mylab”.  This song features amazing ominous bass lines courtesy of Necrobutcher and the album’s best mix of slow and fast pacing.

The second half of the album is where Csihar hits his stride with really eerie and out of tune shrieks on songs like “VI Sec”, “Posthuman” and “Aion Santalia”.  Having said this I wish the rest of the band had carried over more of the piss and vinegar from the beginning of the album to go along with these excellent vocals, as there is a slight drop off here musically.  Unfortunately aside from the vocals “VI Sec” did nothing for me.

Having said this, there are also some highlights on this part of the album including the well mixed and written tracks “Throne of Time” and “Posthuman”  I also really dig the weird and nightmarish end to the song ” Corpse of Care”.  Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing inherently bad about the back end of the album.  It just lacks a bit of the depth contained on the front end.

In a world where metal and even extreme metal music has become too glossy and overproduced, Mayhem’s Esoteric Warfare stands out as a gem of days past.  Fans of grainy and abrasive old school black metal should find a lot to like about the new record.  For those of you new to extreme metal, take a listen.  This is what the mood, feeling and overall sound of the music is supposed to be like.  Once again Mayhem takes no prisoners and brings an excellent black metal record into the world.  Let’s just hope we don’t have to wait another seven years for the next one.

Esoteric Warfare will be released on June 10, 2014 via Season of Mist Records.  Make sure to grab yourself a copy and give us your thoughts on the album in our comments section.

Rating: 4.2/5

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