It’s been a tumultuous couple of years to be a Greek. First stricken by a debt crisis following the global economic meltdown, restrictive austerity measures soon followed along with condescendingly exact oversight from various EU institutions. The inevitable civil unrest this birthed unsettled the existing government resulting in the election of an anti-austerity party. Tensions remain, not just between Greece and the overlords of the EU but within the country: between those who support the economic freedom conferred by greater government spending and those who advocate fiscal responsibility. It’s in this turmoil that Mayhem in Blue was written. I don’t suggest that such a unique black metal and psychedelic rock fusion actively comments on Greece’s recent history but Hail Spirit Noir arose from strife to produce a couple of really good albums. Far from basing themselves in ancient Greece, a strange and psychedelic approach to Satan is adopted, spinning cheerfully macabre tales of worship and evil.
While Pneuma was black metal infused with Floydian soundscapes and Oi Magoi ran this with greater jazz influences, Mayhem in Blue is a different beast. It retains the 70s flavor but chases the rabbit even further down the hole. It’s weirder, carnival-esque, swinging. Hammond organs, flutes, and electronic sounds feature more prominently. Compositionally it’s similar but the unorthodox instrumentation is prevalent and the black metal is stretched still thinner. Moments of true blackened ferocity are few and while tremolo-picked guitars and blasting drums are present and correct, their heaviness is gentler: always meshed with keyboards or a jaunty rhythm. Clean vocals are commonplace too but used with lurching tempos and odd vowel emphasis. It’s an eccentric listen but never unsettling – more like the overly chatty guy at your post office than the one who touches your arm too much.
It’s a credit to HSN‘s compelling songwriting that their unwillingness to be predictable doesn’t degenerate into anything inconsistent or messy. Change and transitions are subtle and clever, developing drastically but incrementally. The ramping up and down of the drums is particularly nifty but the musicianship across the board contributes. Each track adds something new and there isn’t a weak link. I can hear an A Forest of Stars-style wail on “I Mean You Harm” and “Lost in Satan’s Charms” which develops the vocal repertoire, while a faux choir is used in a slow passage during the title track, fleshed out with an acoustic melody, 80s synths and broken electronic effects. Indeed, “Lost in Satan’s Charms” features banjo(?) and bell passages interwoven with a hard-hitting riff, and “The Cannibal Tribe Came from the Sea” operates around a shout-along chorus. Strangest of all is “How to Fly in Blackness” at the conclusion: soaring synths and a groovy bass-line mingle with a distant saxophone and it’s fucking cool. It’s mesmerizing like Floyd but with heavier moments and rasped vocals.
Moreover, Mayhem in Blue has that one-more-go factor in abundance. It’s weirdly addicting, like picking your nose and seeing how many people you can touch. The album’s 40 minutes are split across just 6 tracks and while this demonstrates that the songs are quite long, none drag. This duration facilitates the flourishing of their unique subtlety. I didn’t realize that “Lost in Satan’s Charms” almost hits 11 minutes until my dedicated, note-taking listen given the material’s happy pace. Limiting these tracks to 6 ensures the scope of the album is always on hand so there’s no chaff and everything is cohesive.
While I confess I’m not truly blown away – it is recognizably HSN – we’re left with what is an extremely cool album. Cool is the operative word of Mayhem in Blue. There’s an effortless talent in the compelling songwriting and fascinating embellishments that adorn the music. Despite the questionable weirdness, you’ll never question that it’s metal but more importantly, you’ll never question that it’s also very good.