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Whether a person loves or loathes this release, there's no denying that it shattered barriers, for better or worse. Mayhem transcended not only their physical past, but also their musical past on this album. Maybe that was the point, though. "Wolf's Lair Abyss" showed us that Mayhem was an entirely new band, and most took to that EP rather fondly. But maybe we didn't get the message clearly enough; GDoW is Mayhem's proud proclamation of rising above the hordes of "kvlt" black metal to forge something entirely their own that not only set them apart from the rest of BM, but seemed to spawn a revolution.
The song structures and writing methods on this album are incredibly unpredictable and amorphous. Strange, dissonant guitars swoop in and out of the mix, and are often layered to create a certain apocalyptic ambience. Blasphemer and Hellhammer coincide perfectly to create jagged, unorthodox time signatures and rhythms, as on "Crystallized Pain in Deconstruction" or the middle section of "In the Lies Where upon You Lay." It's safe to say that Mayhem use a very technical approach here, even on the simpler songs; For instance, while the second half of, "View From Nihil, Part I" may seem to be a straight barrage of blast beats, there are a ton of nuances in the guitar rhythms that make it a challenging listen. I truly believe that Blasphemer composed his most challenging material on this album, both listening-wise and playing-wise.
However, the avant-garde nature of the album doesn't stop with just the structures of the songs. There is a high use of electronics here, whether it be the unsettling vocal effects, weird guitar splices and harmonies, or even ominus trip-hop beats. (The latter of which caught a lot of flack from reviewers.) Mayhem have been one of the few bands to correctly utilize these things to work to the advantage of the music, since it aids in creating a war-like, post-apocalypse atmosphere that permeates the whole album. Songs like "Completion in the Science of Agony" offer startling, eerie soundscapes with high experimentation while maintaining a degree of brutality. The experimental nature of the album goes even further with Maniac's lyrics and vocal performance. He still uses the gut-wrenching scream that he's become so infamous for, but there are just as many sections on the album that use spoken-word dialogues, synthesized vocals, and and a semi-yell, as seen on "View From Nihil." Lyrically, it may be a bit on the pretentious side, but lives up to the album's name by making references to modern technology and warfare.
GDoW's production is damn near flawless. Blasphemer's guitar tone is icy and seething, but maintains a good amount of clarity; Necrobutcher's bass lines are finally audible on songs such as "To Daimonion"; and Hellhammer's drums, even with being totally triggered, are flawless. HH's technical prowess is rivalled by few, as seen on the ripping "A Time to Die" or "In the Lies Where Upon You Lay." The mixing job here is incredibly clean without coming off as sparkly or over-produced, which I think was essential in putting forth the aesthetic of the album.
Overall, GDoW is a bit stuck-up and self-indulgent; but if you broke the mold of an entire genre, wouldn't you be the same way? Fans of experimental metal and tech-death alike will enjoy this album, or maybe just people looking for a challenging listen.
Favorite tracks: "In the Lies Where Upon You Lay", "A Time to Die", "To Daimonion."