Album Review: Mayhem - Daemonic Rites
Reviewed by Dan Barnes
I’m going to make the assumption that anyone reading this piece will be familiar with Mayhem’s infamous history, so I won’t be opening that particular can of worms here. Rather, urge the Black Metal originators should be considered for their musical output and, in that regard, the Norwegians, while not prolific, have set a standard and largely stuck to it.
While Mayhem’s recorded output has been strong, from the genre defining debut, De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, through the Maniac-fronted Grand Declaration of War and the under-rated Chimera, to The Inbetweeners series one advertised Ordo ad Chao, and onto the later releases of Esoteric Warfare and Daemon, it is as a live band that their true power and sheer force of will derives.
With forty years under their collected belts, Mayhem have racked up a similar number of official live records and this moth sees the release of the latest in the form of Daemonic Rites through Century Media. Recorded during the band’s 2022 and 2023 tours, this sixteen-track release showcases the breadth of Mayhem’s scope from right across their storied and nefarious career.
Rather then being a pre-planned album, Daemonic Rites is instead a living document of Mayhem’s trek across the globe, using recordings where the best essences of the songs were felt. After the eerie intro gives way to the ominous echoing opening of Falsified and Hated, we are confronted with Hellhammer’s drums, reminding all why he’s challenging Frost for the position of the genre’s best percussionist, and the sawing guitars of dual players, Teloch and Ghul. A break in the mid-section shows that Mayhem isn’t only about the pummelling aggression and can quite as easily kill with kindness.
To Daimonion takes us back the Maniac-era which, after the electronica of the opening, drops into a gloriously devilish riff and gives Attila a platform to explore the eccentric - some might suggest barking-mad – side of his musical persona. Yet it also demonstrates how Mayhem have remained at the top of the Black Metal tree throughout their long and public tribulations. Mayhem know exactly how to play to their strengths. The Grand Declaration of War’s closing track is a rich and multi-flavoured banquet of a song, taking the listener through a host of feelings, even leaning into the Classic Rock at one point, without ever losing sight of the aggressive nature of the piece.
Recorded at the London show, Malum, from the Daemon album, shows Mayhem have not abandoned their roots and deliver a song every bit as abhorrent as anything in the history. It begins slow and doom-oriented, before accelerating into a full-on blast-beaten Black Metal anthem. Oozing passages elicit a diabolical mass, with Attila as High Priest. The same could be said of Voces Ab Alta from the 2021 Atavistic Black Disorder / Kommando EP – marking this as the most modern track on offer here – as Attila delivers a dark invocation over a tolling bell and the howling of the wind.
Although taken from Daemon, Bad Blood is delivered with the ferocity of anything from the past; the sheer chaotic musicality of song takes you back to the Nineties and the combination of heavy rhythms and frantic fretboard runs give the feeling that Mayhem is deconstructing the song before your ears and rebuilding right in front of you. Necrobutcher’s deep and oppressive bass leading into the solo section again reminds us that you need more than a slap of corpse paint and lo-fi recording equipment to be Trve.
Bringing back memories of a May night in Manchester is My Death, the only Chimera-sourced song in this set, and recorded at the Academy 2 show. Packed with the sort of atmosphere only Mayhem can, this blends huge, heavy slabs of sound with machine riffs, playing out the idea and wringing out every drop of its dark tone.
The second half of Daemonic Rites sees Mayhem looking to their past and giving the crowds what they came for. Freezing Moon, Pagan Fears, Life Eternal and Buried by Time and Dust, from the debut, are genre classics, without a shadow of a doubt and the band are so in-sync that any rendition is a joy to hear.
You could say the same for the encore of Deathcrush, Chainsaw Gutsfuck, Carnage and Pure Fucking Armageddon; all eight, or a combination of most, have featured on every official and not-so official Mayhem live recording out there. Safe to say that, as this is arguably the most technically competent collection of musicians assembled under the Mayhem name, these classics are played with reverence and skills they deserve.
That Mayhem even exist in 2023 is a miracle in itself and those who are unfamiliar with the details of the band in the early years of the Norwegian Black Metal explosion should check out Lords of Chaos. By that I mean Michael Moynihan and Didrik Soderlind’s book, rather than Jonas Akerlund’s film of the same name. Dayal Patterson’s Black Metal: Evolution of the Cult sees Mayhem’s contribution as being so important it dedicates four chapters to them, while Emperor, Darkthrone and Gorgoroth only manage one each.
Ultimately, Mayhem is a band of musicians and will stand or fall, live or die on their musical abilities. Daemonic Rites again proves neither time, nor dust can bury them, and they are a putrid as the day they were conceived. Hallelujah to that!