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Ugly, obscure, but a capsized experiment - 55%

c_zar, December 10th, 2012

Though I am a long-standing champion of Blasphemer-era Mayhem as THE worthwhile incarnation of the band, I cannot fully recommend their latest platter Ordo Ad Chao.

Unquestionably their ugliest record since Deathcrush, the production of Ordo Ad Chao sucks and unfortunately obscures what made the last three Mayhem releases great: Blasphemer’s riffs. Wolf’s Lair Abyss stands as the best produced of the Blasphemer-era- that thing sounds rich, sharp but also dirty and evil- but even the too-clear triggered sonics of Grand Declaration of War and the pristine darkness of Chimera (both fucking brilliant albums) better suit the barbed wire and alien logic of Blasphemer’s songwriting than the murky, drum-and-vocal-dominated mix of Ordo Ad Chao.

I’ll not spend all of my review on this superficial choice, but not in recent memory can I recall an album so injured by its production— it’s like getting a Dio album with the vocals barely audible. Not cool & creepy like all those lo-fi bands I like (Horna, Moonblood, Clandestine Blaze, etc.) Ordo Ad Chao sounds like a badly mixed club show. I mean seriously, parts of “Wall of Water” & “Great Work of Ages” sound like the drummer and singer are rehearsing before the guitarist even arrived. Drum legend Hellhammer is in fine form (love that purposely klutzy drum fill at 4:15 in “Wall of Water”), but any time he blastbeats, his snare hits covers up everything else—giving the proceedings a slightly industrial vibe.

On Ordo Ad Chao we have the return of Attila Csihar to the microphone and the results are mixed. Although he is a unique vocalist- and in many ways superior to Maniac (see Attila’s career highlight work for Keep of Kalessin)- his persona oddly pushes the world of Mayhem in an infantile direction. While Maniac’s work on Chimera was unspectacular compared to his daring Grand Declaration efforts, he never distracted from the material; Attila’s antics distract as often as they enhance Ordo. Though I prefer the quality of Atilla’s screeching voice to Maniac’s, his performance here varies from creepy to playful, that latter an unwanted element in Mayhem music. Also distracting is the outrageously flanged bass guitar, which is cool for a moment…but after forty BWOWS! loses its charm (as it continually covers up guitar).

A bigger issue with this album- in direct opposition to the minimalist Chimera- is that the songs are overworked, too intellectual and contain superfluous parts; see also Emperor’s Prometheus. While every single song displays moments of Blasphemer’s songwriting brilliance, every song has a section (or two or three or more) that is sub-par, doesn’t flow or seems just plain irrelevant. The first minute of “Deconsecrate,” the last portion of “Great Work of Ages” a shitload of the middle of “Illuminate Eliminate” should simply not be.

Unfocused, badly mixed, erratic, but occasionally brilliant, the new Mayhem features an ugly sound that works against the backbone of the band: the riffing constructs of visionary guitarist Blasphemer. I wanted to love this album like the last three- all of which are completely different experiences- but I don’t.