Album Review: MAYHEM Daemonic Rites

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“When you discover black metal, you discover Mayhem and the story of the band.” Thus, spoke Mare‘s Kvitrim in the 25th-anniversary box set for De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas by author Finn Håkon Rødland. In other words, Mayhem is the quintessential black metal powerhouse. Mayhem‘s forthcoming live album, Daemonic Rites, is an attempt to encapsulate the essence of the many peaks of the outfit’s thirty-nine eventful years of existence on a single mind-blowing offering. This incredibly generous 17-song scorcher is a glorious tribute to Mayhem‘s history as well as a miraculous gift to fans.

Reviewing Daemonic Rites is almost an absurdity; Daemonic Rites is a “best of the best” scenario. This record features a combination of black metal’s most legendary musicians, songwriting that has revolutionized the music world, lyrics that have inspired multitudes, and — as confirmed by Black Anvil‘s Paul Delaney — the greatest producer for the job. Yes, right upfront we must take our hats off to ex-Funeral Mist‘s Tore NecromorbusStjerna, who handled Daemonic Rites‘ production. Stjerna serves as Mayhem‘s live and studio engineer as well as their manager. This multi-talented genius preserves the rawness, atmosphere, and enormous sound of the material; much as the celebrated Eirik PyttenHundvin did on De Mysteriis, Stjerna brilliantly amplifies Mayhem‘s core identity. Stjerna succeeds in making Mayhem sound their best without over-polishing. The atmospheric elements that we hear are absolutely perfect. Stjerna‘s mix is stellar.

Through the decades and the crushing hardships that they have imposed, Mayhem has proved one of the most resilient groups and remains as tight as ever. Mayhem‘s lineup currently consists of co-founder and bassist Necrobutcher; drummer Hellhammer, who was part of the band’s golden roster; the fabled frontman Attila Csihar; as well as Shining‘s Ghul and Nidingr‘s Teloch — both phenomenal guitarists in their own right who have been with Mayhem for over a decade. Hellhammer, arguably black metal’s top skin-pounder, astounds us with his unsurpassed skill and precision. His drums firmly anchor the album. Ghul, Teloch, and Necrobutcher‘s performances are spot-on as well. In many respects, Csihar is the glue that makes Daemonic Rites a harmonious effort. Csihar flawlessly pulls off the impossible task of embodying the texts and spirits of the very different eras of Mayhem; please keep in mind that Mayhem has not only defined the genre to a large extent, but they have also expanded it time and time again through constant innovation.

Daemonic Rites is mesmerizing from beginning to end. This triumph kicks off with a haunting and otherworldly ambient intro before launching into pure ferocity on “Falsified and Hated.” The journey that we take is almost in reverse chronology all the way back to the demo Pure Fucking Armageddon (1986). “To Daimonion,” for example, is out of order. It is surrounded by three Daemon (2019) tracks. However, the insanely futuristic feel of the avant-garde Nietzschean masterpiece Grand Declaration of War (2000) makes this song, with its electronically altered vocal opening, a suitable choice to position toward the beginning. Yes, GDOW was not only far ahead of its time, but also of our age. On “To Daimonion” and Daemonic Rites‘ other Blasphemer-era selections, Blasphemer‘s ingenuity as a composer truly shines. Speaking of Blasphemer, the only full-length albums that aren’t represented on Daemonic Rites are his Spellemann / Norwegian Grammy-winning Ordo Ad Chao (2007) and Esoteric Warfare (2014), Mayhem‘s first record after his departure.

The lethal single “Voces ab Alta,” which appears on the first side of Atavistic Black Disorder / Kommando (2021), falls between ’90s tracks. This number spotlights Csihar‘s experimental vocal excellence. Csihar‘s terrifying gymnastics give way to another ambient passage, which beautifully leads to “Freezing Moon” — a soaring and transcendent midpoint. On “Freezing Moon,” Mayhem demonstrates why De Mysteriis is widely regarded as the most important black metal record. Predictably, this beloved classic serves as a definite album highlight. We learn from Rødland‘s DMDS XXV that Necrobutcher actually came up with the spellbinding opening riff, which grabs us here as if for the first time. The three other picks from De Mysteriis, are likewise remarkably gorgeous and magical. The lyrics to these songs were penned by Mayhem‘s late visionary Dead; “Life Eternal” represents his “last salutation.” De Mysteriis‘ “Buried by Time and Dust,” which ends with pleas from the audience for more, is followed by the Conrad Schnitzler composition “Silvester Anfang,” known as the opening to Deathcrush (1987). This latter piece provides an ideal segue into, yes, the youthful and energetic “Deathcrush” and the rest of the album’s reinvigorating final stretch.

Indeed, Daemonic Rites provides all the darkness, mysticism, suspense, ritualistic lunacy, and ceremonial solemnity that we expect from Mayhem. This epic victory, pregnant with meaning and artistic brilliance, is a must-hear and a must-have, of which Dead and Euronymous would be proud.

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