Hail Spirit Noir, of Greece, is in my view one of the most unique and special bands to be produced by the 2010's metal scene. Representing a clash between the worlds of black metal and psychedelic rock (with some progressive influences), in itself not unique as you can't talk about such a combination without acknowledging the existence of the perhaps better known Finnish group Oranssi Pazuzu, they still manage to produce records that don't sound like anything else I've ever come across, first with Pneuma (2012) and then with its even stronger follow-up, Oi Magoi (2014). Of course I'm only marginally familiar with the other band myself, having heard their most recent offering Värähtelijä (2016), but it's my impression that both Oranssi Pazuz and Hail Spirit Noir have quite different takes on mixing the two genres together. For my part I find Hail Spirit Noir to be the superior unit thanks to the excellent first two albums and with third release Mayhem in Blue (2016), they've now made it three for three and with an album that has claims to being their best yet.
Next to the prior album Oi Magoi, Mayhem in Blue finds Hail Spirit Noir noticeably playing in a different gear. One that has their black metal side turned up to eleven but without sacrificing any of the psychedelic flare that gives their sound that special edge. No track makes this clearer than the opening I Mean You Harm, which is a really full force black metal track from Hail Spirit Noir. Aggressive and in your face with fast, raw riffs assaulting the ears and a strong harsh vocal from frontman Theoharis. After this barrage the band are quick to show that there is still room for a softer moment on the album with the Mayhem in Blue title track. Of course a softer moment for Hail Spirit Noir involves eerie psychedelic synths and equally haunting clean vocals replacing the growls, although these are still used when the song switches back up for another bashing of black metal akin to the opener. The band have of course always been a bit too black metal for a fan of psychedelic rock who doesn't like black metal as well to get the most out of, but Mayhem in Blue more than ever feels like it's an album for the metalheads. In comparison Oi Magoi sounds more liked blackened psychedelic rock than an actual black metal album. That's how much more intense Mayhem in Blue is.
While I Mean You Harm does start the album strong and serves well to state the intent of the record, having now listened to Mayhem in Blue a few times I can't help but think that it's actually the weakest track due to being so much more straight-forward compared to the rest of the material. The forty minute album only has six tracks and one of those, Riders to Utopia, isn't actually much longer than I Mean You Harm, but like the longer ones, which includes the near eleven minute Lost in Satan's Charms, it seems to cram more into its duration. The band are very good at having a lot of different influences going on without making their music fell overblown and there are some great psychedelic melodies being served up here and while I Mean You Harm certainly doesn't lack one of its own, it's not what the track seems to be about. I do still love it though. I think it's always great to hear a different side to an artist pulled off well, but I'm also glad the track opens the album so the flow isn't disrupted later.
While I did think that Oi Magoi as a whole was a better release than Pneuma, the first album up until this point did include my favourite Hail Spirit Noir track, which was Let Your Devil Come Inside. As of Mayhem in Blue that's no longer true as its title track has displaced it. I really can't find fault with any of the following tracks of course, with their impressive instrumental work and mix of clean and harsh vocals, but there's something really special about this one song. Everything just feels right. Everything about it says this is what Hail Spirit Noir should sound like.
Hail Spirit Noir are one of a few artists who are the reason why I currently consider black metal to be the most interesting metal genre in the current scene. It's this genre where the advances seem to be being made right now, even compared to progressive metal which I honestly feel has become really quite stagnant in the last couple of years. A few decent albums here and there, but nothing that makes me sit up and say 'this artist is special', which is exactly how I feel about Hail Spirit Noir, now more true than ever with Mayhem in Blue under their belt. I had thought that this year's best black metal album was a given with a new Mare Cognitum release out, but I'll eat my hat on this one: I was wrong. Mayhem in Blue is better. Though believe it or not, compared to the two previous albums I actually did find that this one was more of a grower, especially it's last two tracks The Cannibal Tribe Came from the Sea and How to Fly in Blackness, but perhaps that's the way a masterpiece should be?