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Suicide, Murder, church burnings…when one considers that such extreme events have influenced the productive process of the Norwegian Black Metal outfit Mayhem  since pretty much day one, seven years without releasing any new material suddenly seems pretty banal.

It was actually the departure of long term guitarist Blasphemer which deprived the Oslo ensemble from creating an immediate successor to 2007’s impressive “Ordo Ad Chao” but, the long and arduous process which followed led to the introduction of not one, but two new guitar players into the fold and the creation of a stunning new album entitled “Esoteric Warfare”.

The first thing that one observes when listening to these ten new composition is how naturally they sit next to the material featured in the band’s previous studio album -  a testament to the band’s ability to keep a steady course for their ship, regardless of the problems and  extreme circumstances involved.

Having said that, “Esoteric Warfare” is indeed a step forward for the Norwegian blacksters, featuring material that is as much technically challenging and rhythmically varied as it is enjoyable and easy to relate to.

Newly instated guitarists Teloch and Charles Hedger have created a great number of high velocity riffs and quality dark harmonies that are quite fitting for this album but it is really Attila Csihar’s otherworldly vocals and Alex “Hellhammer” Blomberg’s intense but technically proficient drumming that will impress the listener and add much value to this collection of high velocity material.

Rhythmically intensive and atmospheric in equal terms, opening track “Watchers” incorporates every single element we ever loved about the music of Mayhem while the three and a half Punk-infused ditto “PsyWar” blasts its way through in no time with style and finesse.

Intensity may well be an important element behind the creation of “Trinity”, however, the addition of ‘battle’ samples add an interesting dimension to this song, while “Pandaemon” finds Attila exploring the full range of his impressive vocals in terms of delivery. The first truly special song of the album is, however, “MILAB” – a song characterised by the coldness of its atmosphere and its thematic intelligence.

Pushing perceptions of what Black Metal in the year 2014 should sound like, “VI Sec”, “Throne Of Time” and “Corpse Of Care” are full of pleasant surprises, while the sheer intensity and bleakness of “Posthuman” brings goose bumps to one’s body.

It is a bit of a shame that the closing composition “Aion Suntalia” is not as overwhelming as its glorious predecessor but Blomberg’s immense pounding and Csihar’s low register utterings will offer a fitting conclusion to this unique listening experience.

When you are a leading entity in a style of music that’s as influential and relevant as Black Metal, you know that all it takes is one wrong step and a myriad of usurpers will rush to steal your crown.

I am not sure if that’s ever going to happen to a band like Mayhem but one thing that I do know is that this is not going to be either the time or the place! “Esoteric Warfare” is a monster of an album whose quality ought to convince all pretenders that any attempt to out-stage this Metal institution will truly be in vain.

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