When a band with Mayhem‘s pedigree puts out a new album, there’s going to be a lot of attention and a lot of scrutiny, especially since they don’t release them very often (it has been more than seven years since their last full-length).

Mayhem were at the center of the ‘90s Norwegian black metal scene, with its church burnings and other controversies. Vocalist Dead committed suicide in 1991, and the murder of guitarist Euronymous by former member Varg Vikernes in 1993 drew worldwide attention.

Necrobutcher (bass) and Hellhammer (drums) were in Mayhem in the early days, and are still in the band. Attila Cshihar did the vocals for 1994‘s seminal ‘De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas,’ left the band, then rejoined in 2004.

Their latest album 'Esoteric Warfare’ is the first for guitarist Teloch, a veteran of the scene who has played with Gorgoroth, 1349 and others.

One of the interesting things about ‘Esoteric Warfare’ is that most of it was written by Teloch, the newest member. He originally wrote several songs that were recorded, but then scrapped. He started from scratch, writing another batch of tracks that became ‘Esoteric Warfare.’

The album is not immediately accessible. It’s one of those that requires multiple listens to figure out exactly what Mayhem are doing. When all is said and done, it is worth the effort to delve deep into the intricacies and details of the music.

‘Esoteric Warfare’ is filled with ebbs and flows. That’s evident from the opening track ‘Watchers.’ It’s a slow build into typical black metal insanity, but then becomes slow and sparse in the middle before blasting off again.

Csihar’s vocals are an unmistakable part of Mayhem’s sound. He has a unique style that utilizes a wide range of vocal styles ranging from typical black metal rasps to throaty growls and spoken word sections. The dynamics of the music coupled with the dynamics of the vocals makes for a roller coaster ride.

In addition to the tempo contrasts, there’s also a combination of melody and dissonance. Some parts are downright catchy with clever riffs, while others are cacophonous, dense and oppressive. Mayhem do that especially well on ‘Pandaemon,’ the album’s shortest song at just under three minutes.

They follow that with ‘Milab,’ which has a trippy beginning and parts that are almost progressive in nature. One of the album highlights is the penultimate song ‘Posthuman,’ which runs the gamut from mellow to extreme to groovy and back again.

Even though they have been in existence for 30 years, ‘Esoteric Warfare’ is only Mayhem’s fifth studio album.  Their early releases are legendary, and 2007‘s ‘Ordo Ad Chao’ was really strong. ‘Esoteric Warfare’ continues the momentum of that album while adding in some twists and turns for a new generation of fans.