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2000's Grand Declaration Of War signifies Maniac's tentative return to full time recording with Mayhem. The band's infamously volatile lineup is mirrored by the sheer unpredictability of this album, a composition with roots in black metal but with aspirations to something far grander.
There seems to be a climate in the black metal scene that causes key artists to transgress and produce recordings that are musically contradictory to the primitive nature of their past output. Recent avant-garde work from the likes of Arcturus, Burzum, Samael and Ulver are among the many examples of this. Mayhem could easily have traced a similar route with this piece of 'Post-Black Metal', but they can be commended for their retention of the brutal elements of their earlier works.
Much like Akercocke's latest output, they break the mould by introducing sprawling progressive elements into the nihilistic blast. While black metal is always physically demanding, this album also manages to engage the listener on a mental level. The tracks are still riddled with the standard BM rasps, but the band's inclusion of militant speeches and rousing narration conveys their intentions like never before. The military vibe of their new style is further enhanced by Hellhammer's sharp insistent drumming, tight prog-tinged riffing and occasional industrial samples.
Their disregard for traditional song structure is still present and is manifested this time around by the epic nature of the songs. This could be seen as a drawback as the music is very much album-oriented and not very accessible (puzzling stretches of silence occupy a number of tracks). However, a clinically balanced and tight production prevents its descent into a tangle of chaos.
Lyrically, the album attacks the herd mentality that the church represents, and it seems apt that Mayhem are very much going against the grain themselves with this album. Groundbreaking, sprawling nihilism for those with good attention spans.