It’s odd being given the task of “reviewing” a record that, if it were a person, would be in the age of majority. Mayhem’s Grand Declaration of War has remained a controversial record for arguably black metal’s most controversial band, and this remixed and remastered version is unlikely to change anyone’s mind on the contents. These contents were ably highlighted by Angry Metal Guy himself, and while him and I disagree on a lot, we agree on the merits of this record. I’ll admit to being surprised when he assigned this to me, given his familiarity with Grand Declaration of War and great enjoyment of it, not to mention his demonstrated ability to write a great piece on it.
By now, anyone who’s at all curious about Grand Declaration of War has heard it in its Necropolis version with the standard production. This entire review, as I understand it, is based on the question of whether the change in production is beneficial, detrimental, or both. From the outset, I will admit that, from an “objective” standard, the remastered version is superior to the Necropolis version. Necrobutcher’s bass is put higher than its ever been, showcasing some simple but effective playing. Hellhammer’s drums sound less produced, triggered, and processed. Blasphemer’s guitar tracks are more distinct, meaning that all his interplay is clear and separate, whereas on the Necropolis version his guitars would sometimes bleed together. In a word, the remaster sounds less mechanical and more modern.
The problem is, this type of modern is not what the record called for or tried to convey thematically. This is modern in the sense of luxury and quality; ear candy, in other words. The Necropolis version, which reflected exactly what Mayhem was going for when composing Grand Declaration of War, sounds modern in the sense of a mechanized Hell-scape. Like Wolf’s Lair Abyss before it, Grand Declaration of War was based on hasty Nietzschean interpretations. Mayhem railed against “weak” Christianity, effectively declared themselves “beyond good and evil” by focusing solely on strength and will, and expressed a seething contempt for man while being all too human themselves. “I remember the future – a new beginning in time;” this is the music of becoming, not being; of the miserable doctrine of eternal recurrence. It is the music of the future, a future above and in a sense alien to men. The production brilliantly aided this concept; it was cold, lacked the human touch, and yet still couldn’t escape being the product of men. Maniac’s vocals sound human, but like a man in isolation, proselytizing for himself and, if they came, those who would – or could – understand.
I appreciate that the remaster allows for more details to be heard. Hellhammer’s performance is unbelievable, especially his cymbal work. “Completion in Science of Agony” shows impressive compositional depth, with Blasphemer’s creative guitars slithering around one another with seconds-long leads. Maniac’s vocals are polished and allow his cleans to be heard louder and emphasizes their eeriness. Necrobutcher proves himself an adept bassist who never vies for the spotlight but always puts himself in the right spot. I’d never heard his cool fills in “A View from Nihil: Part 2” before, and his keeping time with Hellhammer’s kick drum under the martial beats in the title track and “A View from Nihil: Part 1” adds real heft to those moments.
Nonetheless, the remaster loses an important quality that the Necropolis version had: discomfort. This sounds safe and at times fun in a spacey, extra-terrestrial way; somewhat like an overly extreme Voivod. What Mayhem was doing on Grand Declaration of War was meant to be uninviting; Zarathustra had, and wanted, few followers. The cold, inhuman production of the Necropolis version was an instrument in its own right, another weapon in the war against weak, decadent humanity. This remaster is warm and inviting, thick and full-bodied; it beckons all types, clashing with the theme.
Ultimately, the remastered Grand Declaration of War serves as an interesting secondary source for those already familiar with the record. It allows for new details to be heard, little nuances to be amplified, and a sound ripe for musical analysis. For the full effect of Grand Declaration of War though, the old, frigid, mechanical production is part and parcel with the thematic content. Those unfamiliar would be best served to look there first and come to the remaster once you’ve “got it” and feel like hearing more of the instrumental intricacies.
DR: Necropolis: 8 | Season of Mist: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Season of Mist
Websites: thetruemayhem.com | facebook.com/mayhemofficial
Releases Worldwide: December 7th, 2018