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Tragic. - 20%

Noktorn, May 17th, 2009

While the failure of this album isn't really unexpected, it's still deeply disappointing; while cognitively I'm aware that there will never be a 'De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas' part two, I get my hopes up with every new Mayhem release that comes out. That in mind, a Mayhem release doesn't need to be 'De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas' to be good; it would just be highly encouraged. 'Ordo Ad Chao', however, is just bad all around, and is really the soundtrack to yet another one of black metal's original greats plummeting into a sea of mediocrity and self-parody, the start of which was pronounced as far back as 'Grand Declaration Of War'. On no album until this point, however, had the band managed to make an absolutely 90 degree drop in quality; there was a hint of a curve on 'Grand Declaration Of War' and a somewhat steeper one on 'Chimera', but 'Ordo Ad Chao' is just silly; it's really as though Mayhem is pulling a neo-Darkthrone and realizes that literally anything they release will sell thousands of copies, so why try at all?

I guess I might as well come out and say that, unsurprisingly, the major bright spot on this release is Attila. His performance on 'Ordo Ad Chao' doesn't quite match up to the dark majesty of 'De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas', but it comes very close at times. The man's particular style of seemingly improvised grumbling and gnashing and wailing is, as always, completely unique despite the best efforts of others in the black metal scene to clone his sound. Attila carries the album as much as he possibly can, managing to add some level of gravitas to even the most explicitly and unflinchingly boring material found on this CD. He doesn't save the album, but he truly goes down with the sinking ship in a spectacular manner, and he's worthy of commendation if just for his bravery in the face of utter horror.

Apart from him, Hellhammer's drumming is good. And that's about where my positive comments on this album end.

Hints of it were present on 'Chimera', but on 'Ordo Ad Chao', it comes out in full force: Mayhem has become uncomfortable in their own skin and are looking elsewhere in the black metal scene for artists to emulate in hopes of retaining relevance. In this case, the artist chosen is Deathspell Omega amidst a whole host of other modern bands (generally the ones affiliated with the 'orthodox' style), who for some reason have been chosen to embody Mayhem's new sound. The results, as expected, are disastrous to anyone who enjoys Mayhem for who they are versus who they attempt to ape. Gone is the exquisite sense of melody and substantial thrash and heavy metal influences of even the previous full-length, and we're left only with an extremely boring array of generally atonal, lethargic tremolo riffs which lack even the most minor motion behind them. Throughout the album one gets the distinct impression that the band simply doesn't care (with the exception of Attila, of course) and is grinding out music for the paycheck.

This album is really remarkably immature on a musical level; it's as though the band has lost any sense of progressive or novel songwriting and is falling back into the sort of riff slideshow patterns one would expect from a random one-man black metal band in eastern Europe, not a first-tier artist. It's overly primitive, and not in a good way; just a lazy, careless way that shows a band which has both run out of ideas and is completely insecure with themselves. There's nothing else that explains such a dramatic and ill-advised shift towards the style found on this album: it simply has to be a matter of fear and laziness. None of the songs manage to go anywhere or convey any atmosphere between the sort of basic darkness that anyone with a guitar and functional hands can create, and even the most complex songs come off as underdeveloped and boring.

A special place in hell, though, is reserved for this album's production, which is so bad in so many ways that it almost makes you think this album is a joke (if the songwriting alone didn't make you think that). At once too quiet and horribly clipped despite it, it's an obvious attempt to capture a 'raw' sound at a good studio, making for a paradoxically clean yet deliberately underproduced sound which captures nothing good at all. Perhaps the worst afflicted are the drums: they're a faint rumbling that very clearly clips and crackles whenever a tom fill or cymbal strike emerges. Guitars are a waffling wall of sludge without any treble, but the lack of a high-end doesn't make this sound heavy, as the dynamic range and overall tone is so compressed that even the most violent moments of this music (and there are very few) sound weak and lifeless.

'Ordo Ad Chao' is an awful album which never should have been made, but numerous people will think that Mayhem are geniuses simply because they've managed to 'keep up with the times', even though in doing so they've sacrificed everything which made them wonderful to begin with. Don't buy this; I can't even recommend one download this in good conscience because anyone who's been into black metal for two years has heard all the ideas in this release executed better elsewhere. There's probably no hope for the band after this, so I consider this a farewell to one of black metal's once great artists, who like so many others fell into the abyss, never to return.