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In the aftermath of their most avant-garde release, Mayhem decided to return to their black metal roots with "Chimera". For a large part of the fanbase, this was the right and obvious choice after the strange experimentation of "Grand Declaration of War". However, this album manages to have its own fair share of otherness, leaving mixed feelings after its listening. This one is a quite brutal, intense and technical black metal album, and this is not the "brutality" of norsecore we're talking about.
First of all, the performance the band gives here is nothing short of amazing and rivals that of many death metal bands. Blasphemer's guitar skills really shine here, delivering complex and at the same time dark riffs at great speed. The bass is actually audible and manages to get the attention of the listener in songs like "Dark Night of the Soul" and "Impious Devious Leper Lord". Maniac is well, Maniac. His voice has worn out, but this actually seems to benefit the band, as his strangled-anally-raped-cat vocals are less prominent here, having been replaced by a standard rasp. Hellhammer is as always jackhammering his kit with non-stop blast beats, which get the job done but after a while become boring. Continuing with the tradition of his other albums after the band's reunion, his drums are awfully triggered (no trash-can St. Anger snare, but nonetheless very annoying drum sound).
Which brings us to the production values of "Chimera". Excellent performance needs excellent capturing too, and the band has done a very good job. The production here is one of the most clear in black metal and delivers us each instrument's sound perfectly. This, however, is what actually mortally wounds "Chimera". It fails to give the listener the passion and the atmosphere this album was meant to have. Gone is the rawness of "Deathcrush", the darkness of "De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas", the claustrophobia of "Wolf's Lair Abyss". Overproduced albums don't go hand to hand with one of the defining elements of black metal: atmosphere. This was one of the previous album's faults too, but Mayhem seem to have learned their lesson with "Ordo Ad Chao".
The songwriting here, just like the performance, is top-notch for black metal. Although Blasphemer decided to follow a circular approach in his songs, they have some quite complex parts that give the album a progressive touch that nicely manages to save it from drowning in monotony (see Darkthrone). At first glance, this is not easily perceivable, but the band (or should I say, Blasphemer alone) has done a great effort in layering many sounds one upon another. Lyrics seem to have been written by Maniac, and they are his usual misanthropic ones, but this time they seem to have matured and moved away from the "destroy Christianity" point of view to deeper and darker thoughts.
Moving to this album's failures and having already mentioned the lack of atmosphere, there is one thing that needs to be mentioned and that is a sort of "pretentiousness" that characterises this album. While the overproduced sound is contributing here, the fact is that the "new" Mayhem have tried to copy the "old" Mayhem to finally produce the longed "DMDS, Part II". The most blatant example is the song "My Death". While there is nothing wrong with this song and it's actually one of the best in this album, it is obvious that it's a failed copy of "Freezing Moon" a la "new" Mayhem. This pretentiousness flows through the album and ultimately destroys what could have been a very strong return for Mayhem.
To make a long story short, Mayhem did the right thing the wrong way. If you're looking for a "kvlt" Mayhem album, get "DMDS". If you want a "new" Mayhem album, grab "Ordo ad Chao". This doesn't make "Chimera" any less enjoyable, but it fails to come up to the standards of what the band wanted this time.