Mayhem, Chimera

John Wiederhorn

By John Wiederhorn

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

In the beginning, there were Mayhem and Burzum, the two core bands of the nefarious Norwegian Inner Circle. The black metal groups co-existed for a while in the early '90s, then, after a couple church burnings, a suicide and an act of cannibalism, the frontman for Burzum killed the leader of Mayhem.

To begin with, Mayhem needed to find a new guitarist and songwriter, but its greatest challenge was to rise above the tidal wave of notoriety and become recognized not for the crime, but for their musical grime. The band's eclectic 2000 concept album, A Grand Declaration of War, accomplished just that, but in the process the band lost some of their heaviness. So, with their third disc, 2004's Chimera, Mayhem scrapped some of the extraneous prog-isms and returned to the primal brutality that marked their early work like a jagged scar.

Most of the songs are rooted either in piledriver blast beats and blurring buzzsaw guitars, or slower, more insidious rhythms reminiscent of Seasons in the Abyss-era Slayer. There are plenty of thrilling frills, too — Blasphemer's atmospheric guitar runs, Hellhammer's plundering drum rolls and Maniac's mid-lyric shrieks — and unlike many black metallists, Mayhem never have to resort to campy horror-film keyboards to be sinister. If this is the sound of true evil, the Dark Lord has trained his musicians well.