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Pretentious, but still kind of fun - 70%

Sierra_Nevada, May 10th, 2004

The New Mayhem – essential black metal, or prettiest-looking coaster to come along in a while? I suppose that all depends on your perspective. For my part, it is at least worthy of some attention.

The first thing you notice upon getting this disc is the slick packaging. Usually the packaging is a superfluous matter on a black metal CD, but this is obviously a special case, so I feel I should comment on it. In case mine is different from yours, let me sum it up for you – mine is a quadruple-gatefold digipak with pictures of the band members on the inside. Very slick and professional-looking. The liner notes are crap, however, as they are made of some sparkly paper composite that makes it extremely difficult to read the lyrics. An entire page is devoted to showing how cool Hellhammer’s drum setup is. *YAWN* How lame. Anyway, on to the music.

The production is amazingly clear – each instrument can be heard perfectly well, and they are all in fairly good balance with each other. However, the production is perhaps just a tad too perfect. There is no rawness to be found here – if this CD had hair, even its ass hair would be perfectly well groomed. This all lends a sort of facelessness, or at least a lackluster personality, to the music. Hellhammer’s drums don’t help, as they have an awful, triggered, clickety-click sound that only adds to the general lack of personality to be found here.

The skills of Blasphemer, Hellhammer, and Necrobutcher, however, are not in doubt. They are all amazing musicians, and they all deliver fantastic performances in their own right – but seemingly at the cost of artistic coherency. There are so many weird sounds and riffs here that the music seems as though it is trying to do a million things at once, and therefore comes off as somewhat pretentious and unfocused. Maniac’s vocals are not much to write home about, either – his dry, raspy snarl is pretty basic, but it gets the job done.

This all sounds pretty bad, true. So why a 70% rating? Because it actually sounds fairly unique. Allow me to explain. I see two basic camps in black metal right now – on one side, there are the melodic/symphonic black metal bands which are experiencing a wave of popularity right now, and there are the ultra-raw, minimalist, hypnotic black metal bands which remain violently opposed to commercialism and popularity. Against this background, Chimera seems to stake out a third camp, an avant-garde, intellectual approach to black metal. Given Hellhammer’s work with Arcturus, and Mayhem’s previous effort, this isn’t really all that surprising. The downside of this approach is that Chimera sounds fairly high-flown and pretentious, but the upside is that it actually sounds quite different than most currently-circulating black metal. This isn’t really revolutionary, and I doubt many bands are going to follow Mayhem into Chimera territory. But it’s something different, at any rate.