Mayhem – Wolf’s Lair Abyss (1997)
I usually don’t do reviews of EPs and other short-form works on this blog, but Wolf’s Lair Abyss is, from an information/trivia stance, densely packed enough that it’s worthy of discussion. It has a storied history (if not as macabre as its predecessors) and an important role in the development of the “new” Mayhem’s sound (although they might’ve benefited from naming the band after this EP). The key here, I suppose, is that 3 out of the 4 members performing were in previous incarnations of the band – “Maniac” and “Necrobutcher”, in particular, were founding members.
Despite this common lineage, the sound of Wolf’s Lair Abyss is substantially closer to the influential, Dead-lead sound that this band explored on its first full length than the primitive battering of Deathcrush. Some limited similarities to the early lineup remain – for instance, the vocals are generally more aggressive, but there are a few passages where the vocalist imitates the “operatic” style of Atilla Csihar. Furthermore, the production is significantly more abrasive than on De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, especially on the second half of the album, which was most likely recorded in another session. Compared to the earliest work, it’s obviously much more polished, but this was definitely a more aggressive, direct turn for the band when it came out.
The real novelty here is the odd, rhythmically erratic, semi-technical way songs are constructed, probably the main contribution of the band’s new guitarist (Rune Eriksen/”Blasphemer”) on his first studio recording. Each repetition of any given musical idea on this album is likely to throw in a new rhythmic embellishment that removes consistency from the time signatures – add to this frequent actual tempo changes, and you have what is one rhythmically bizarre album. There are several passages of more “normal” sounding (i.e less rhythmically complex) music on this album, generally allowing the guitarist to work through chord progressions; the fourth song, “Ancient Skin” is primarily constructed from such and allegedly composed of riffs Euronymous wrote for earlier Mayhem material prior to the unfortunate incident in 1993. There’s also some conceptual continuity with 2000’s Grand Declaration of War, as the final song here fades out with the introductory riff of the first song on that album, but that album is an incoherent mess and best ignored.
Given that this is a transition album, and given that I am not particularly fond of its successor, you might get the impression that I’m opposed to Blasphemer’s contributions. This would be misleading – I feel that, when moderated they enhance much of the material on this album – “Fall of Seraphs” is probably the best example of how the melodic, “phrasal” style on De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas can be effectively merged with Blasphemer’s personal style. Most musicians seem to work better in groups, but I digress. Wolf’s Lair Abyss can stand up on its own merits.
Highlights: “Fall of Seraphs”, “Ancient Skin”