A new Mayhem release is the most exciting thing to happen in metal this year. Unlike most other bands who offer refinements and (ideally) improvements on their established sound with each release, Mayhem exhausts a sound on each full-length by exhausting a theme; as the sound’s purpose is to express the theme, the sound’s purpose is fulfilled once the theme is expressed. This means the lazy reviewer can’t merely compare the new Mayhem record to prior ones and base his analysis on that without completely missing the point of the record at hand — Mayhem’s career is an anthology, not an arc.
Nonetheless, the specter of De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas lurks behind Daemon. Mayhem has been performing that record live for years now, and Daemon is their most overtly second-wave record since De Mysteriis. Superficially, one can hear “Pagan Fears” in “Malum” and “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas” in “Of Worms and Ruins.” Necrobutcher’s bass is mixed high like Varg’s was and even leads some harmonies in “The Dying False King” and “Everlasting Dying Flame” which remind of “Life Eternal” in that aspect. These similarities all are of fleeting importance. The crucial similarity between the two records is the thematic direction: for the first time since De Mysteriis, Mayhem is plumbing the depths of spiritual horror.
Naturally, this is expressed differently on both records. Where De Mysteriis was cold, worldly, curious, and terrified, Daemon is incendiary, aggressive, pained, and enraged. “Agenda Ignis” will remind you of 1349’s best material in a way, and this is because both Mayhem and 1349 are expressing “aural Hellfire,” but Mayhem is concerned chiefly with its effects. This is the key to Daemon: it’s an aural portrait of Hell from the view of a daemon. Poena sensus (pain of sense) and poena damni (pain of loss) — the pains of the damned in Hell — animate each of Daemon’s songs. Teloch’s and Ghul’s guitars play together in harmony and disharmony, flickering around each other like flames licking the night sky — the refrain of “Bad Blood” is one unforgettable example of this. Both guitars begin on low notes, and then quickly shoot tonally upwards in a burst of disharmony before dissipating and repeating the cycle, sonically putting the daemon amidst the flames — Mayhem’s aural Hellfire is thus part of their sonic portrait, not its essence as it was in early 1349.
The fiery nature of the guitar work expresses poena sensus, but what about poena damni? The pain of loss is Hell’s worst torment: the damned are endlessly miserable and enraged at God with unceasing but futile bitterness. As such, Daemon has no respite, no moment of levity, no uplifting melodicism. “Worthless Abominations Destroyed” is utterly devastating, with excellent infernal riffing and Attila’s vocals alternating between his imposing baritone, shrieks, growls, and the occasional choral singing which give a subtle Catholic flavor. “The Dying False King” hears Attila in tears yet buried by fervid riffing — Hell’s flames are terrible and merciless.
Daemon’s artistic vision is executed by musicians who are, without exception, masters of their craft. It’s produced so that every note is heard, with Hellhammer’s drums sounding more natural than normal and allowing his masterful performance to be experienced in detail. Teloch’s and Ghul’s guitars are captured clearly with no instance of interplay obscured. Attila’s vocals are exemplary, delivered with variety, passion, and creative phrasings. Their varied volume levels keep them firmly in the experience, neither overbearing nor an afterthought.
Daemon’s Hell isn’t the “party Hell” of AC/DC or 3 Inches of Blood — those use Christian concepts as a jumping-off point to tell a fun story, akin to what Marvel’s Thor does with that pagan deity. Daemon’s Hell is portrayed in earnest with no ironic detachment. A nearly flawless artistic portrayal of Hell’s pains, unceasing and unflinching — the question remains as to why the average listener would want to spend loads of time with this. Well, the average listener won’t. Mayhem full-lengths demand time, attention, and close listens, and Daemon is no exception. It tells a noble story through sound, and the imperial priestly attire of the cover’s daemon is meaningful — he may be royalty in Hell, but a servant in Heaven has none of the poena he does. Mayhem shocks by telling the truth about Hell — and the truth is more fascinating, horrifying, and enthralling than mere fiction. That this truth is told through universally excellent riffs across a thoughtfully structured album that has perfect pacing and no dips in quality beyond the threshold of triviality makes Daemon a truly excellent record.
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Century Media
Websites: mayhemofficial.bandcamp.com | thetruemayhem.com | facebook.com/mayhemofficial
Releases Worldwide: October 25th, 2019