Truth be told, the vast majority of black metal artists are no more harmful than Vincent Price and Edgar Allan Poe were; they might be fascinated with the dark side and talk about it convincingly, but they aren't really living the evil they focus on. Mayhem, however, are another matter; the bandmembers took their obsession with evil and darkness to the extreme in the 1990s, when a murder, a suicide, an act of cannibalism, and a variety of satanic, anti-Christian activity all became part of the Norwegian headbangers' disturbing history. Not surprisingly, Mayhem are extremely controversial and have received a great deal of bad publicity in Europe, which hasn't prevented them from maintaining a loyal cult following. If anything, all that negative publicity has helped Mayhem sell albums; in some cases, people who aren't necessarily big black metal fans have bought their albums out of morbid curiosity (just as some of the people who went out and bought 2Pac Shakur's albums after his murder weren't necessarily big gangsta rap fans -- they just wanted to hear what all of the fuss was about). Mayhem's infamous history, however, shouldn't obscure the fact that they are one of the best bands in the black metal field. Personnel changes and all, Mayhem have outdone themselves with the epic Grand Declaration of War, which could arguably be described as black metal's equivalent of Queensrÿche's Operation: Mindcrime. This isn't to say that Mayhem sound anything at all like Queensrÿche, only that this conceptual album is a lot more elaborate, musical, challenging, and complex than a black metal release would ordinarily be. With Grand Declaration of War, you won't be picking out your favorite tracks; this CD must be approached as a single body of work, and to fully appreciate it, one needs to listen to it from start to finish without interruption. Grand Declaration of War won't appeal to anyone with a short attention span, but for those who can sit down and really give this CD their undivided attention, the rewards are great.
AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson