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We all know Mayhem. They have been praised and recognized for their legendary albums like De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, Deathcrush, and Live in Leipzig. They are well known for starting the Norwegian black metal scene and why the genre lives today. Well after the De Mysteriis was unleashed and after many controversial years the nearly tore the band apart, they return with some new faces and a new agenda. Despite their creation of the elite black metal scene, this album is completely experimental and different. Grand Declaration of War was the new face of Mayhem and the one stir much controversy for a long time.
As this album starts with a fade in of the guitar. A new thing here is the riffs are not standard black metal riffs at all. The complex guitar licks, guitar lines, and vague tremolo picking all layer over each other in chaotic and unrelenting fashion. The technicality and dissonance of these riffs are astounding and unsettling. Many times I would get goosebumps purely because of these harsh riffs. Also the notes and chords never seem to end in a pleasant sound. The sound is fierce and unstable. While the distortion is edgy, it lacks the gritty and overblown dirty sound distortion level of regular Black Metal.
Hellhammer still destroys on drums, but instead of traditional blast beats and double bass the entire album, he centers his style on military snare beats and technical off beat rhythms. The drumming fits well with the oddly made guitar riffs.
The bassist is usually filling in the gaps with some bass strums firing hard in the background. There are vague moments where the is a bass fill but other than that, it isn't so much going on.
A chanting whisper flows in behind the music, and Maniac steps in with some growls. Now I enjoy black metal growls as much as the next guy but I really have a hard time getting into Maniac's growls. They are more like an egg monster gargling, it gets annoying at times. However his lyrics enhance the music. I am one who usually doesn't care for lyrics and usually see them as irrelevant to the music, but here, they fit perfectly with the story the band is telling. The central concept is of a war fought which eventually destroys the Earth. A new society is made from the ashes which is devoid of Christian ideals. The first 4 songs are all of declaring war, the actual battles and the slaughtering of Priests, and the experiences of a soldier.
During these songs, we still experience the odd rhythmed technical riffs that seem to flow without any real direction like in the first song. All together these riffs continue to make a unsettling atmosphere, which translates beautifully with the war/apocalypse theme going on. In songs like "In the lies where upon you lay" Hellhammer does throw some familiar blast beats and double bass but it rarely prospers to a continuous beat, it leaves as soon as it comes, as he throws down some more of the military snare style beats along with just him going all over the place on the kit.
Maniac mixes it up with his vocals. His growls are still prevalent but he adds some new spoken vocals of straightforward declaration and force. He literally just says right out his lyrics at some points without singing them or putting any melody to them. The spoken vocals and growls intertwine much and go back and forth in crazy fashions. Many times they are layered over each other in dual vocals. The manner of these vocals are unpredictable and sporadic, which fits well with this continuous experimentation.
With View from Nihil part 1 and 2, the military feel is thoroughly enforced as Maniac sounds like he is speaking through a megaphone and stating the affects of the war. The drumming is once again of the military style, even more centered around the snare than before. With the final words of "I came not to send peace but a sword, And i...i have made war" a recorded bomb explosion disrupts the music which settles into eerie silence.
"A Bloodsword and a Colder Sun" starts with a digitally distorted whispering narration of this point in Mayhem's story. The explanation of how the world was destroyed and the surviving nations have change dramatically in the wake of their past society. Slowly but surely comes the oddest part of this album, an electronica beat based song of a most creepy atmosphere. "A Bloodsword and a Colder Sun" Part 2 relays the idea of the great silence that would insure after the world is annihilated by war. Wind rushes played backwards in a unnatural style and soft breaths echo throughout as a simple dark synth beats on with a techno drum beat. Blasphemer contributes with some odd guitar tones that echo in and out. Maniac softly speaks in an undertone and a Mr. Roboto type vocal backs him up at times. I personally find this song one of the catchiest songs on the album.
Crystalized Pain In Deconstruction gets back on track with the fast paced technically proficient black metal riffs like near the beginning. Hellhammer ditches the military drumming at this point and sticks to what he does best, blasting the hell out of his kit. Some odd groove riffs scatter among this song but are executed well with double bass hitting along behind them. Completion in science of agony (Part I of II) is a slower paced song, that is rather long. It seems at this point Maniac has inherited a interesting Industrial type vocals. The digital distortion inhumanly speaks of the new society and how science has greatly affected this new world. The bass is more prominent in this song as we hear some spaced out silence with the bass fills. Near the end the silence is kept silent with vague ambient sounds and choir chantings to be concluded with a flurry of riffs licks and is hush up in a digital whisper.
To Daimonion (Part I of III) comes in with a slightly more simpler riff that repeats for much of the song in a traditional black metal feel. The drumming is oddly punkish and is hardly extreme. Maniac using a mixture of spoken, growls, and Industrial vocals scattered about as he tells of the final ways of the people's change and how Satan is free (at least that is what I think he saying). Part II of III is simply two phrases:
"I remember the future
A new beginning of time"
then there is nearly 5 minutes of silence, perhaps to let the listener to reflect these few words. Either that or they were bored and wanted to do something weird. Part III of III is seven seconds of more silence, then goes into the final track, Completion in science of agony Part 2. This 2:14 instrumental casually drives on through on a basic edgy riff while Hellhammer double basses in unity. With a few extra strums, as if Blasphemer wanted to just play as much as he could before it ends, the song is over and so is this grand declaration of war.
I realize that many dislike this album and the experimentation of The True Mayhem and I respect that. This album is extremely artsy, bizarre and non traditional. But I know there will be some who enjoy the albums that do something new and strive for alternative ways of making music. This album was able to convey a grim and deadly story of war and chaos in way that connects to the emotions of this concept on a musical level. If you want to feel a powerful experience of war, then Grand Declaration of War does this and more.