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After the release of Grand Declaration of War, Mayhem's fans were divided into several camps: the old-schoolers who already despised the thought of a "new" Mayhem and continually bashed anything the band had done since reuniting; the ones who absolutely loved the album, and were curious as to how things would progress; and the ones who were left scratching their heads. We will never see another GDoW, and Mayhem vowed that their following album would not only be a return to their WLA style, but some new things would be brought into the mix that would make Chimera an even more intense and bleak listen. So, did it work?
You betcha. Though it definitely doesn't recapture the hazy, nauseating atmosphere of WLA, nor does it hearken back to the ritualistic pummelings of DMDS, Chimera certainly is one hell of an album. It's clear to see from the opening track that it IS a black metal album, with a few unexpected twists and turns. Mayhem continually push the degree of speed and technicality that they can acheive as a band without coming off as pretentious, and a great deal of unworldly, pitch-black atmosphere is maintained. Strange-sounding guitar arpeggios and runs constantly pop up when unexpected, but it is actually a good thing in the way of songwriting brilliance and atmosphere. This is especially prevalant in "My Death," a mid-paced, eerie journey through swooping riffs that flow in and out of the mix in disharmony and dissonance, accented by Hellhammer's rolling double bass and Maniac's layered whispers. A point comes in the song where everything morphs into a machine gun-like battery, followed by only a lone guitar line of evil-sounding chords and festering leads. Maniac ends the song in his signature clean chants, which is nothing short of paralyzing and fearful. Through the course of the song, Blasphemer continually weaves in guitar runs to add a jarring feel to the ritualistic feel of the song, and Hellhammer's drum work ebbs and flows through phases of merciless pounding and basic backbeats.
Though none of the other songs are as forgiving as "My Death," this is Chimera's best aspect. "You Must Fall" is a mind-raping descent into madness with barrages of lightning-speed blast beats, fierce vocals, and flurrying guitars, and many of the other songs follow suit. Some songs will astound with the sheer amount of insane speed while maintaining technicality in both the guitar and drum departments, but some room is left for the ominus nature of things, such as the zombie-like beginning riff of "Dark Night of the Soul," or the manic ending of "Slaughter of Dreams." As a unit, the band have stepped up their songwriting tremendously; the experimental nature has been almost totally ditched in favor of something that goes straight for the jugular. Some progressive touches still remain, as mentioned, but are never put in front of the nature of the music, which has taken a turn for the blackest road possible. The atmosphere given off certainly is darker than what the band have offered in the past, which is a huge plus.
Blasphemer does some of his most genius composing here. All of the structures are meticulously put together, and great attention is given to sonic detail and atmosphere. He deftly switches gears from mechanical, atonal tremolo riffs to flurrying power chords and various technical/experimental touches all with the utmost of skill and ease. There are startling time changes placed in the structures where least expected, and all the while, touch is not lost with the amorphous, eerie, broken chords that gave him his signature style, such as the title track. This may very well be his most impressive recording, as well as Necrobutcher's; not only can he be heard, but his filthy-sounding bass brings a bit of old-school flair to a totally contemporary sound.
The other members also bare their teeth: Hellhammer truly lives up to his name, frantically switching gears from technical fills to teeth-rattling blast beats and double bass. He doesn't really have a boring moment here, as more attention is paid to dynamics and flow than anything else. The blast beats that start "Rape Humanity With Pride" will floor you, and his stop-on-a-dime finesse goes unrivalled. Maniac also stepped his game up, offering up some slightly more ear-friendly, but more ferocious vocals. You won't find the throat-shredding shrieks like on WLA, but he sounds cleaner, fuller, and more concentrated than on previous releases. As mentioned, there are some chanted vocals and spoken word parts, but not to the extent of GDoW; these moments help to take the band into even darker territory, and only thicken the atmosphere. Lyrically, things have a bit more old-school, revolving around themes of death, misanthropy, and darkness. It's never done in a juvenile way, nor is it done in a pseudo-philosophical way.
Chimera's production is suitably clean, and the album probably would have failed had it been otherwise. With the intricacy in the arrangements, it would have been hard to find a suitable "black metal" production. However, it's not as polished as GDoW, even with the triggered drums and scorching guitar layering.
Like it or not, this is the new Mayhem; a true exploration of darkness in all its manners.
Highlights: "Rape Humanity With Pride," "My Death," "You Must Fall."