Mayhem – Grand Declaration Of War (Reissue)

It is without a second’s hesitation that Norwegian second-wave Black Metal deities Mayhem are regarded as one of the pinnacles of the style: as one of the seminal acts. Their full length debut De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas (Deathlike Silence) is rightly acclaimed as one of the very best – if not the actual best, which is my personal opinion depending on whether I’ve listened to that or In The Nightside Eclipse (Candlelight) most recently – Black Metal albums, while earlier releases Deathcrush (Posercorpse) and Live In Leipzig (Obscure Plasma) have also attained legendary status for their wild, raw nihilistic fury.

Yet history hasn’t been so kind to Grand Declaration of War. Not only did the kvlt purists denounce it upon release as not being a true Mayhem album – featuring as it did a new guitarist and songwriter Rune “Blasphemer” Eriksen replacing Euronymous and, in the absence of the enigmatic Attila Csihar, the erratic Maniac assuming vocal duties – there was also a backlash aligned to its radical stylistic change, including its very un-Black Metal album cover aesthetic. Gone were the haunting, gothic stories, replaced by a militaristic exactitude: the icy tones of creeping fog obscuring abandoned cathedrals updated by the merciless cold of death and the analysis and annihilation of the human behaviour.

In addition to suffering from Black Metal’s leading acts disassociating themselves from the styles and sounds that had brought about the explosion of their impact, the artists of the time had embraced different recording techniques in a way to further distance themselves from the lo-fi, unpolished, harrowing gems of their fledgling years. And Grand Declaration… was no different. In fact, it was probably the most extreme example, as the digital ADAT recording was so clean, precise and insular as to shun – the feral ‘A Time To Die’ aside – the trappings of Black Metal. Yet, this was too sanitary, too removed. The recording was clinical; every human element, with the exception of Maniac’s bleatings and ramblings, distilled.

As such, Grand Declaration Of War remains an underappreciated album, and incorrectly so. It may not be a “Mayhem” album, though its incumbents have become accepted over time as part of the Mayhem story, but it is a remarkably interesting one that has been fully realized by an exceptional reworking by genius producer Jamie Gomez Arellano for re-release via Season Of Mist.

What Gomez has done is to inject fertility into a sterile victim of its time. The throbbing bass of Necrobutcher is present, interesting, incisive and aides and abets the meticulously tight riffing and machine gunning of Blasphemer, whose guitar tone has added warmth, snarl and bite, all without losing any of the requisite precision, while the always martial percussion of Hellhammer has snap, dynamics and power where previously only dullness existed. Gomez has given a very interesting album indeed the sound it always deserved, presenting it in the way it merits.

For make no bones about it, Grand Declaration Of War has always been an excellent album that rages Nietzsche in the deranged narration that the savant Maniac punctuates the typewriter war-machine riffage with. The turn of the millennium for the leaders of Black Metal was an age ripe with experimentation and abandonment of convention; Arcturus, Thorns, Ved Buens Ende, Solefald and In The Woods… had torn up the rulebook, Satyricon and Gehenna were urbanizing and modernizing the field (with varying success), and in and amongst the icy peals that cascade glacial blackened chords and rip amongst staccato explosions of Grand Declaration…, elements of trip-hop and Marilyn Manson-tinged Industrial bursts flourish, discordant tangents spray shrapnel, while sprawling gloom and Doom imbues ‘Completion In Science And Agony’ with a turgid, soul-sapping menace.

I’ve always felt Grand Declaration of War to be an underrated artistic statement, hampered by the context of its release in part, and hamstrung by an unforgiving production that, while seeking to be “modern” served only to confine itself to the limitations of the sonic trends at the time. Jamie Gomez has fixed that, and provided this distinct piece of work with every chance of being rightly appreciated as the great album that it truly is.

9 / 10

STEVE TOVEY