Summary: A surprisingly good comeback from utter tragedy.
'The year is 1993. In the city of Oslo, Norway, it is the dead of night as a car drives up to an apartment building. In the car are two men, one of them is Blackthorn (a.k.a. Snorre Westvold) of the black metal band Thorns. The other man, with long black hair and all black clothes, exits the car and heads toward the apartment building. Burzum frontman Varg Vikernes then proceeds up to the apartment of former band mate Oystein Aarseth, better known as Euronymous. The rest of the story is history.
Fast forward two years. After the murder of Mayhem mastermind Euronymous, the band was thrown into limbo as many people questioned whether the band would even continue to exist. However, in 1995 drummer Hellhammer decided to reform Mayhem and continue on the path they had already begun to pave, making furious old-school Black Metal. The resulting reform brought in two previous members and one new one. Former bassist Necrobutcher and former vocalist Maniac were brought together with Hellhammer and new guitarist Blasphemer (Rune Erickson) to try and re-establish Mayhem’s name in the black metal scene, even after all of the tragedy the band had suffered in the previous years.
With 1997 rolling around, Mayhem released their first EP since their reformation. Entitled Wolf’s Lair Abyss, it brought with it some definite qualities of classic Mayhem material along with some newer touches, undoubtedly influenced by the increasing technical aspects of the genre. Aside from the intro, each track is certainly full of raw, unforgiving black metal played at an almost inhuman pace at some points. Also, though, there is some variance in terms of some backing vocals and slower breaks from the chaos. While Mayhem had previously been full throttle black metal for the entire runtime of the album, their newer material was certainly a bit more laid back, although still heavy as heavy can be.
Their innovation as a band is notable right as the album begins, with the strange intro “The Vortex Void Of Inhumanity”. Certainly not a good song by any means, it does sort of set the tone of bleakness and harshness which is present in everything from the drums to the vocals. Filled with strange electronics and distortion, it is awkward and mesmerizing at the same time. There are some vocals, which aren’t necessarily coherent, but they are present nonetheless to sort of drag you into the album. From that point on though, you are thrust into a wall of unyielding black metal which Mayhem is so widely known for.
With more melody and flow in this album then their previous attempts, it adds much more order and structure while still maintaining the “Pure Norwegian Black Metal” aspect of the music. However, Mayhem does have some tricks which they pull off to their advantage. As soon as the first vocals enter in “I Am Thy Labyrinth” you will notice the awesome screeches of Maniac along with some drawn out singing in the background, something which certainly wasn’t present before this EP was conceived. Also with the vocals, there is a bit of clean singing at the beginning of the last track “Symbols Of Bloodswords”, which is as refreshing as it is surprising. It gives the listener a break from the extremely cold screeching which makes up the rest of the vocals.You can also count on the instruments to lay down some downright heavy sections throughout the album. On more than one occasion during each track the instruments speed up to an almost insane pace, with the cymbals and drums absolutely slamming down in the background while the guitars, bass and vocals frantically attempt to keep up. It’s the stuff like this which reminds me of the Mayhem you will hear on Deathcrush and De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas. The guitars usually are there to make an interesting, albeit heavy and not too melodic, riff which drives the songs forward in an impromptu structure and order. The vocals are reminiscent of Wrest from the U.S. black metal band Leviathan in terms of their pitch and overall eeriness, and I absolutely love them.
There isn’t much that Mayhem really missed on this EP, and I wouldn’t say it’s really that bad at all. I wish it was a bit longer, but seeing as this is an EP I wouldn’t expect it to be over 30 minutes. The production on this album, very surprisingly, is extremely good for the genre and for an EP, something which absolutely shocked me considering the horrible production on their earlier material such as Deathcrush. Some may not like the new things which Mayhem has added, like the bizarre effects in the intro, the new vocalist, the clean singing, but that’s something I’m willing to embrace.
Given the extremely good quality of this EP, I was surprised to see that Mayhem’s following albums Grand Declaration Of War, Chimera, and Ordo Ab Chao were of such low quality and filled with songs which were so utterly disappointing. Maybe if Mayhem had continued to embrace their roots as a band, and go back to the sound which made them good in the first place, they could take those newer influences and slowly work their way in. For now, however, Mayhem still seems to be lost in that limbo they were in when Euronymous was killed.'