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Mayhem is among my favorite black metal bands. I like nearly everything they have put out. Everything except this misguided heap of hooey. When I critique a black metal release, I judge it by intrinsic value of expectations and standards held by the genre. Which means when I hear a black metal band, I expect to hear black metal music. Grand Declaration of War fails as black metal and as something else. Whatever that else is that Mayhem tried to do with this album I do not know but it failed.
The first thing I will say about GDoW is that it is one big fucking tease. I will give it a little bit of extra points for the first four and half songs or so because Blasphemer does a good job with the riffs on those songs and Maniac sounds like he should. Wolf's Lair Abyss is one of my favorite EP's of all time and this album is supposed to be an expansion of that concept I gather. So, those first few songs do provide a decent continuity to it. They are respectable to good but not great. At best, it sounded promising. I guess this is supposed to be a concept album. But guess what? I don't like concept albums in black metal either.
Because of the relative merits of the aforementioned parts in the beginning, this will rate slightly higher than it deserves. That being said, considering this line-up of Mayhem contains the talents of the very worthy guitarist Blasphemer and the great Hellhammer, this sure is one empty war chest. How this album just completely plateaus into utter drivel is so infuriating that I would just as soon to forget the band released this altogether. It stops just short of being categorized into the Cold Lake class of what-the-fuck.
Whatever message about nihilism and war the band tries to convey gets lost. It's no big deal at all. It certainly isn't "Grand." As a matter of fact, if this is about destruction and combat, then this is one war I will sit out. Oh! What an un-lovely war! I will take my interest in war metal elsewhere, thank you very much. That was my first thought as soon as the song A Bloodsword and a Colder Sun Part II of...eh I lost count. The point is, this is where the record gets really asinine. Maniac just whisper sings in a suave style backed by a Devo-like electronic arrangement that reminded me of anything but fallout of war. Crystalized Pain in Deconstruction follows shortly after it. To say it's an improvement on the prior song isn't saying much but it is a little better. By this point though, Maniac just yelps out spoken word like inanities that becomes quite annoying. How he says, "Where instruments of genetic distortion is me!" is pretty amusing. This album could use a bit more instruments of distortion and less of the electronica, true. Then there is the Daimonion series of songs. The first one is just more of a rockish type bit with Maniac singing like Mark Mothersbaugh with the raped cat screeches behind it. However, let me skip down to the worst song of the album. Well, it's not actually a song at all. That's right, except for the spoken line at the very beginning, the song is just...yep, silence. Now I have heard this kind of thing done before in some other album by somebody but here, it is just a complete debacle. It is about four full minutes of dead air. I'm sorry but that is not content. How could they have thought this was clever? Ah, that's right, this supposed to be avant-garde. If that is avant-garde, then I'm Ava Gardner and I say that pretentiousness like this has no place in black metal from here to fucking eternity.
This album goes out with a whimper too. After that non-song (actually there are two of them with the latter being a full seven seconds of nil!) that is called Daimonion, it just ends with an inconsequential guitar chord by Blasphemer that seems tacked on from a demo somewhere. It fittingly sums up what this album is: A grand declaration of...nothing. Not war. Not annihilation. Certainly not combat. Just nothing. After the first shots are fired, you will find that it was nothing more than a negligent discharge. Stand down, it was just a drill.