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Mayhem: Grand Declaration Of War (2018) album review

Black metal pioneers Mayhem bring their most contentious album back from the cold

Mayhem – Grand Declaration Of War

Whatever anyone thinks of the decision to resurrect Mayhem following Euronymous’s death, it must be noted that the band did anything but cash in on past glories. 2000’s Grand Declaration Of War, the first post-reformation full-length, proved bold, original and uncompromising, and remains one of black metal’s most contentious opuses, even 18 years later. 

A truly ‘love it or hate it’ affair, it was thoroughly slated upon arrival by some fans and critics, while receiving ‘album of the month’ status elsewhere. Notably, some have migrated from the ‘pro’ camp over the years, arguing that it has become dated, in particular because of its ultra-clinical production. It is this element that has been overhauled in the rerelease, with the very capable Jaime Gomez Arellano, a producer known for his warm and analogue approach, giving the album a much more balanced and organic sound. He’s done a superb job, and has likely made the record more accessible to many listeners. 

Nevertheless, this should be understood as a companion to, and not a replacement for, the original; Grand Declaration… represented a futuristic, post-human vision, and to consign the insanely cold, digital sound (‘lifeless’, in the best possible sense) to the dustbin, is missing the point. 

In any case, this is an extraordinary testament to the unique creative partnership of songwriter/guitarist Blasphemer and lyricist/vocalist Maniac. The latter is in his element, throwing almost absurdly grandiose spoken proclamations in alongside his inhuman screams. Likewise, Blasphemer’s hateful, dissonant guitar-work and ever-twisting song structures are both visceral and cerebral, the songs only revealing their logic with repeated listens. 

It’s easy to see why so many people struggle with this concept album and write it off as style over substance – but they are wrong. It’s not for everyone, but this is one of extreme metal’s most complete and immersive sonic journeys.

Grand Declaration Of War is available to buy now on CD, vinyl and cassette.