Fuck Me Jesus(demo - 1991 / re-released: Osmose - 1995)
A first stab at extreme music from these most extreme of Swedish artists, and it is surprisingly death metal, not black metal. Then again, most Norwegian black metal pioneers started with death metal as well, and I always saw this band as their Swedish counterpart. That said, this is death metal of the blackened, gritty, down-tuned, grinding and atmospheric type. It's sick-sounding stuff and has ripping raw energy to spare. After an intro of sounds from the movie 'The Exorcist' (the title of this album should be enough of a clue as to which scene they chose), the guitars kick in with surprising crunch and low-end warmth for a black metal band. The songs alternate between brutal blasting death-grind, atmospheric death metal and slow doomy crunch, almost turning this into doomdeath. The drumming shifts tempo together with the guitars, blasting one minute and slowing down the next. Vocals (by Andreas Axelsson, who would stay only as far as the debut album) are not-quite raspy black metal yells, opting instead for a lower timbre and sounding more like a powerful high-pitched scratchy growl rather than a rasp. They are full of power and malice though and damn good. A keyboard outro completes this short 13 minute raw release that leaves nothing but a too-short and mediocre impression. Although the sound is powerfully raw, the compositions are problematic, wandering between styles instead of building power and flow. For hardcore fans and collectors only.
Dark Endless(No Fashion - 1992)
Pretty much the same raw blackened death-doom style as in the demo, only the music suffers from a weaker production here (which is surprising given that it was done by Dan Swanö). The sound is relatively clean but lacking oomph. The guitars have lost a lot of the booming crunch and the vocals sound weaker. The sound quality may have had everything to do with it, but I do believe the vocalist doesn't give us as much power here, using a touch more fry than belt. So not only do we have mediocre composition this time, but a lot of the power is lost as well. This 30 minute release contains the three tracks off the demo plus five new ones. The new songs use relatively less of the doomier elements but still remain uninteresting most of the time due to the unstructured changes in rhythm, and the lack of bridges and flow. You get into some powerful and really fast teeth-grinding blast beats, and then it suddenly shifts to a completely irrelevant second slow riff, and it does this repeatedly. There are short glimpses here of the future Marduk sound however, with their interest in harsh blasting extreme black metal and grim melody growing. There are some dark and strong moments, but overall, it is mostly uninteresting.
Those of the Unlight(Osmose - 1993)
Enter black metal, a few insane blast beats, Gravf on vocals, much improved composition and power, and we now have a release to roll our eyes to and feed our black souls with. The only disappointment with this release is the somewhat thin production that kills a lot of the punch behind the music. Otherwise, the songs flow here with dynamic malice and power, a relenting sound that stops for a while before speeding up again to crush all non-believers. The composition has improved in leaps and bounds, writing riffs that flow from one to another, and building nicely from Swedish-style melodic but grim black metal to blasting harshness, and back. Blast beats sometimes build up to insane, even faster brutality, and plenty of slower sections here make for a surprisingly dynamic sound without losing the flow and power. A variety of different guitar sounds and much more interesting drumming all add to the overall sound. The vocals are harsher raspy screams here and often packed with screaming anguish. One standout track is 'Echoes from the Past', clocking at 7 minutes, of which 5 are a subdued and beautiful melody played with undistorted guitar and keyboards. This is followed by the album closer 'Stone Stands It's Silent Vigil' which is also a doomier track, ending the album on a more subdued note. 'Wolves' is a slow, pounding and grim track, and nicely done as well. The rest are all superb, dynamic, powerful black metal. An interesting, underrated and strongly recommended release, especially for those who like raw and brutal guitar black metal. This one is a unique entry in their oeuvre that manages to create a blend of earlier doomier Marduk and future blasting albums, making it a very interesting as well as an enjoyably dynamic album indeed.
Opus Nocturne(Osmose - 1994)
Sheer holocaust speed and intensity is the name of the game this time, and the slightly fuller and clearer production helps this immensely. This time, many tracks and sections go for what I call a wall-of-sound effect: Unrelenting and brutal, the music too intense to move you, instead you can only sit still and bathe yourself in the surrounding hellfire that comes out of your speakers. This effect is not always as pure or unrelenting though as with, say, Immortal or Emperor, since the songs do change in intensity and speed, adding scattered but very welcome dynamism. I found the previous release tighter and more dynamically interesting, but this is definitely darker and more intense. So, for some, the previous album may be preferable even though most deem this one to be their best. But it actually depends on your mood and what you are looking for: Dynamic grim compositions to perk your ear (previous release), versus increased grim blasting darkness to drown in. The latter is a delirious and consistent state of intensity, and the former can seem more harsh and involving since the intensity takes breathers and does more with the compositions. So I enjoy each of these styles for what they are. But enough general discussion and back to this album... The drumming (by a new drummer) is a ferocious, insanely fast, often changing and precise work of chaos that makes it hard to believe it wasn't sped up in the studio. Vocals are equally harsh and ferocious, yet some songs are practically carried by the interesting and dominant drumming. The guitars spew out precise and gripping speedy riffs with traces of dark melodies. Standouts: 'Materialized in Stone' - a slower Bathory-esque anthem, and 'Opus Nocturne' with its spoken clean vocals and atmospheric melody. There are also two 7-minute epics with a lot going on in them musically and atmospherically. A great album.
Heaven Shall Burn... When We are Gathered(Osmose - 1996)
Enter Legion (Erik Hagstedt) on vocals, but his delivery isn't that different from the two previous albums, belting out ferocious raspy screams. The more important change is the approach to song-writing and the increased obsession with unrelenting blast and speed. Add to this an improved but flawed production sound (courtesy of Peter Tägtgren), which on the one hand is much fuller, cleaner and louder with a booming sound, but on the other hand, the mix drowns the hi-hats and other similar ranges in the sound, which is problematic for the blasting machine-gun drumming, reducing it to flatter and fewer dimensions. The primary problem is in the composition, however, featuring mostly primal, constantly blasting, simplistic tracks of ferocious energy which are so lacking in dynamism or musical structure, your ears tune out soon enough. On some tracks, a good riff is repeated ad nauseam, and, on most tracks, the blasting just keeps going with the same machine-gun drumming for many minutes at a time. In other words, the music has a more intense and dominating sound but unfortunately it suffers from uninteresting and one-dimensional composition this time. What happened to the fascinating drumming and the dynamic flow from the previous album? The 'wall-of-sound' is more complete here, but when there is nothing within the walls to play with, it merely becomes noise. It does get interesting at times and some riffs are quite good, but there is just too much repetition and blasting that makes the song stay in the same place. Even when the guitars do something more interesting, what is the point of changing the riff and telling a musical story if the drummer just blasts the whole song at the same pace like a machine? The mix also places the drums up front way too much, and this, combined with the compositional issues, make this a much more drum-driven (blast-driven) album than say, Panzer Division Marduk, which is guitar-driven. Which explains why I love that release and am indifferent to this one. It's not all bad though: The energy is great, there are good riffs, and there are scattered haunting guitar textures amidst the duller sections, but it lacks musical or atmospheric interest beyond the pounding. 'Dracul Va Domni Din Nou In Transilvania' stands out in its slower pace, but because of the simplistic composition it suffers the most. The first two songs have some good sections, 'Glorification' makes some interesting use of a Mussorgsky theme, and the last track 'Legion' is by far the best with a dark ferocity, but everything in between is weak. To summarize, this is not a waste of time, but I personally would choose the two previous albums or, for unrelenting ferocity, 'Panzer Division Marduk' over this one any day, and therefore the album suffers when compared to their other releases. Not recommended.
Glorification - EP(Osmose - 1996)
This EP contains a remix of 'Glorification of the Black God' (from Heaven Shall Burn) and four covers. There isn't much improvement with the remix but it is among the better tracks from that album. "Total Desaster" (Destruction) is a hammer-smashing, 80's style, NWOBHM sounding, romping but simple song, delivered with gusto by Marduk. Then we have two Piledriver covers ("Sodomize the Dead" & "Sex With Satan") that are similar in sound - heavy, pounding and simple fun, conveyed with spitting glee and malice. The last cover is "The Return of Darkness and Evil" (Bathory) - another one in the same style more or less but with a much too mechanical, noisy and uninteresting interpretation. So, overall, a little interest and fun with three tracks, but nothing extraordinary.
Live in Germania(Osmose - 1997)
Not being a big fan of live albums, I may be the wrong person to review this but this one is quite good for a live album, due to several reasons. This will sound strange, but the most worthy tracks here in my opinion are the five taken from Heaven Shall Burn, due to the improved drum mixing. This is ironic since the recording is of a poorer quality and less sharp than the studio, and yet I disliked the mix on the studio album so much that I prefer the more balanced sound on this one despite the overall poorer quality. The energy from the live setting also helps. There are also some slower tracks that really shine when played aggressively live. These factors make this release tempting even for me. On the other hand the other tracks gain a little from the increased energy but lose a lot from the lack of a clear and sharp sound and less tight instrumental playing. Overall, however, this contains a moderately good blend of clarity and raw ripping energy from the live set. The vocals are strong, the bass is surprisingly audible, the drumming is almost as insane as with the studio albums, but the guitars and drums can get, inevitably, slightly drowned at times. Also included in this 60 minute album are: three tracks from 'Opus Nocturne', two from 'Those of the Unlight', the Destruction cover, and even one track off the demo that is much improved here. For Marduk fans that enjoy the electricity from live albums, this should prove a worthy purchase.
Here's No Peace EP(Osmose - 1997)
A remake of two songs off of Dark Endless ('Still Fucking Dead' and 'Within the Abyss') with the intro played separately on guitar as 'Here's No Peace'. The sound quality has improved greatly as well as the aggression, and they play with their current competence with their instruments and vocals. Better, but the songs remain mediocre or uninteresting.
Nightwing(Osmose - 1998)
On this album we start hearing a repetition of Marduk's previous styles, except that this is a collection of almost everything that is good about Marduk so far and an incredibly intense album. In this sense it's almost like a best of Marduk, except with new tracks. It's all here: Dynamic composition, ferocious brutal speed, dark atmosphere, powerful black metal, and grim minimal melody. The sound is so full, I thought at first that they started using keyboards, but it's all done with guitars. The production has topped out and is now perfect - everything clear, full and perfectly mixed. The composition is both unrelentingly intense and dynamic and the speed is insane yet more controlled this time. Which all makes this sound like their best album you say? Perhaps, but at times it seems that the riffs and arrangements were slightly more interesting on Opus Nocturne or Those of the Unlight. With such power, great riffs and clear production though, it is impossible to say no, and Marduk manage to squeeze the maximum power out of this style of music. The impressive drumming goes back to takes breaths and changing dynamically with the riffing rather than just blasting monotonously. Legion's vocals seem more guttural here, adding more power to his harsh scratchy croaks and screams. Standouts: The slower, pounding, Bathory-inspired and medieval-sounding 'Dreams of Blood and Iron', followed surprisingly by another mid-paced track 'Dracole Wayda', effectively continuing the heavy atmosphere but at a different pace, slowly picking things up for the next blasting track that takes off and leaves everything behind in the dust. There are also two epic seven-minute powerful tracks with a full sound and dynamic flow of dark music. And finally, a re-recording of 'Deme Quaden Thyrane' from Opus Nocturne, adding much more power to this slower but atmospheric track that builds up to a ferocious blast. The album ends with a short primitive marching song of death. This is a superb album - one of their best (if not the best), and highly recommended to fans of this style.
Panzer Division Marduk(Osmose - 1999)
Shaking their fists and roaring defiance to all powers that be, Marduk erupt into the rawest, simplest, purest, most brutal and powerful blackened music yet. Absent are dark melodies, heavy and slow sections, and any traces of dark romanticism that was present in some of their previous releases (and in the black metal scene in general); this is blitzkrieg metal to be played while obliterating the enemy en masse. It is a return to basics, and a ferocious restatement of focused mission set to the backdrop of total war. This album will shake off anyone hopping onto the romantic black metal bandwagon with a flick of its tail, and speed off to more worthy challenges with rabid hostility. With a theme of war as its subject and a few war-sound samples as intros, this release races at the speed of blast 100% of the time, with well placed breathers in the middle to regain your breath and eardrums before diving right back into the massacre. The music consists of racing, simple dark riffs, stunning drumming (even though it's almost all blast beats), yet the composition is so tight and the conviction so powerful that I was converted immediately. Raw and minimal it is, but somehow the music never gets boring. Quite the opposite in fact, the sound grabs you into a whirlwind of blackened malice until you feel you can bring down lightning bolts with your fists. Compared to 'Heaven Shall Burn' (which I barely enjoyed), this one embraces the unrelenting blasting war-metal instead of trying to hold on to older melodic Marduk and adds much more dynamic guitar lines to keep things moving. In other words, composition as well as mixing wise, it is much more guitar-driven than that album, which made all the difference to me. It is a focused beast inspired by basics and working creatively within the narrow restraints that it set itself. And, given its simpler approach, it knows not to wear out its welcome with a mere 30-minute running time that leaves you panting. Actually, the album leaves you with a downright scary recording of super intense war bombardment and destruction, which makes for better metal than metal. Many fans dropped out with this album, proving themselves unworthy, using the pejorative term 'norsecore' (meaning mindless grinding fast black metal, misappropriating the word 'core' as usual), but there is nothing pejorative I have to say about this focused beast. It is a driven album from start to finish; a blitzkrieg in musical form. Highly recommended!
Infernal Eternal (live)(Blooddawn - 2000)
After the one-two punch of their two most powerful albums, out comes a double-live album. Compared to Live in Germania, the sound is much, much improved, blasting, booming, and with a pretty good mix for a live recording. The energy is there in droves, countered, as usual for energetic live settings, by a lack of sharpness and focus. But if you enjoy live recordings, this will be right up your alley. The instrumental playing is superb as always, although the vocals have a very hard time keeping up that level of intensity with 100% power as in the studio recordings and they crack or fall apart all the time, though he valiantly keeps going with gusto. There are five tracks from Panzer, a selection of tracks from every album, and even three from Dark Endless. Also included is a Celtic Frost cover. Overlap with 'Live in Germania' is minimal. Altogether a good live album if you like them live, raw and energetic. Personally, I prefer the studio versions for most bands and it's rare that I go for live albums (though it does happen).
La Grande Danse Macabre(Blooddawn - 2001)
Where does one go after the blitzkrieg that was Panzer Division Marduk? Evidently, you go slow... and mix it up. Not the most inspired direction, it must be admitted. And the tracks here do indeed lack inspiration. It alternates between lackluster doom, mid-paced simple pounding blackened metal, and the blasting beats. But the slow-n-fast approach is neither here nor there, and the riffs seem to lack inspiration this time. It's a 'treading water' album, to my ears. Alternatively, it's an album that tries to take the next step after Panzer, only it doesn't know where it's going yet. The slow parts/tracks don't do anything interesting in general, they're not drowning in sorrow like good doom metal, nor do they contain the gothic melodies of classic doom. They just pound away slowly. The faster tracks are OK but generic-sounding this time, i.e. the same old blasting Marduk without that super-conviction of Panzer or the darker atmospherics of earlier albums. Two 7-8 minute tracks don't ever seem to take off the ground, pounding away and changing its riffs but never achieving lift-off, the vocals seem to be slightly and gradually losing a bit of power, although they have plenty of sneering raspy power left so this is only relative, and the 'blasphemous' song titles seem to be becoming increasingly juvenile ('Jesus Christ Sodomized', 'Death Sex Ejaculation' and 'Funeral Bitch'). In short, not a terrible album, but a very weak release nevertheless.
World Funeral(Blooddawn - 2003)
The previous release demonstrated that the new elemental sound of Marduk does not lend well to slow tracks. This is as opposed to the earlier Marduk that still used more romantic, melodic or atmospheric black metal sounds (romantic in the historical sense, as demonstrated clearly when Marduk borrowed some Mussorgsky). Early Marduk was more musically rich compared to this new sound. In other words, raw, primitive, non-atmospheric, non-melodic, in-your-face black metal simply isn't interesting when performed slowly, not unless you have extra strong compositional skills that is, or know how to write doom metal. This release, unfortunately, repeats the alternating album structure of fast and slow (sometimes two tracks at a time), and for every fast, ripping, raw, war-black-metal, there is a plodding slow one that does almost nothing for the ears and spirit. The energy and compositions feel slightly better than 'La Grande Danse Macabre', with more intensity and a slightly more interesting darker sound to the tracks, but this is only a subtle improvement. However, the truth is that even many of the faster tracks have that mindless 'norsecore' (I'd prefer to call it 'black-grind') sound and some are even interchangeable this time around, and definitely not comparable to good Panzer-esque material, pounding, blasting and grinding repetitively without inspiration. Some of this material just grinds where it should soar. There is also a new drummer with a little less flair and without the awesome dynamic speed and power, but he replaces this with more bottom-heavy pummeling blast-beats which are very competent, blasting his way through the tracks with extra oomph. In short, Marduk still mostly feels like a band in search of a new sound and inspiration, correctly refusing to repeat Panzer, but not replacing it with something interesting yet. Both 'Cloven Hoof' and 'Night of the Long Knives' are excellent and the best tracks on the album, but are only on a par with the (consistently great) material on the Panzer album. 'With Satan' is not bad but is one-dimensional, 'Blessed Unholy' is not bad at first but then plods in the second half, and both 'World Funeral' and 'Hearse' have uninspired segments in between the generic blasting black-grind. Amongst the slow tracks, 'Castrum Doloris' is a melodic viking-style fun one, and 'Blackcrowned' is a good outro, but the rest didn't do much. In summary, this is an average album, or barely above-average at best, with less than half of the album being good, and even then, when I have Panzer and Plague Angel, both of which are similar and superior, I don't see myself listening to this one.
Plague Angel(Blooddawn - 2004)
With Mortuus AKA Daniel Rostén replacing Legion on vocals, thankfully comes a reinvigoration of the Marduk sound. Not only do the ferocious blast beats come back and the slow plodding tracks get thrown out (for the most part), they are brought back with renewed energy and some blackened scary atmosphere in line with the album title. Not that the previous two releases didn't have blasting and power, but they were relatively tired, and here the tracks are boosted by the new vocals as well as by the heavy-hitting new drummer from the last album, but mostly by the consistent and more interesting compositions that manage to stay brutal without losing the dynamic pacing. With all the line-up changes, this band has obviously become one of those old bands with only one constant and founding band member: Morgan Håkansson. The new vocalist has a lower timbre, and plenty of power, and sometimes he belts it out as if he had a combustion engine inside him. But he doesn't just use one or two dimensions to his vocals, he death-growls, croaks, and belts out raspy screams. This guttural, gurgling scream-growl vocal, together with the blasting speed often shows that Marduk has never really strayed completely from death metal. Except, of course, this is still black metal, only with a pounding, grinding and fast sound that sometimes brings to mind death-grind. They do use war-sounds again on some tracks, but the tone here is darker, as mentioned, and in line with the theme of a plague. So there is a subtly new sound on this release, meaning that this is not Panzer Division Marduk part II, and the album even includes a couple of long 7-8 minute epics with a good dynamic structure, although, one of them, 'Perish in Flames', plods along for half its running time, but 'Blutrache' is a powerful and majestic slab of darkness. There is also a purely atmospheric track called 'Deathmarch' which breaks up the album nicely for a dark, moody and creepy breather. The blasting energy, mostly tight compositions, the powerful sound and atmosphere, and the dynamic album structure are all back on this release making for a very good release. I wouldn't rank it up with their best earlier releases, but it's a solidly recommended one.
Warschau (live)(Blooddawn - 2005)
Amidst three (!) live DVD releases ('Funeral Marches and Warsongs', 'Blackcrowned', and 'Blood Puke Salvation') with several collections of live performances in each one, they also released this proper live album. The DVDs varied a lot in quality as well as the period in which they were filmed. This album is a celebration of their all-new line-up, especially the new vocals and drums, and it's very tight playing for the most part. The sound is booming, perhaps a bit too much and not as clear as in 'Infernal Eternal', but it's still good. The booming sound combines with the new lower vocals and bass-heavy drums to make for a very heavy sounding album. The set-list, as before, consists of a random selection of tracks from their many albums, with an emphasis (5) on their latest 'Plague Angel'. Once again, I wouldn't say that I personally prefer the sound and delivery of the live versions over the studio versions, but fans of live albums should find much to like here, especially since it features Mortuus performing many oldies.
Rom 5:12(Blooddawn - 2007)
I'm tempted to say that this is a new, mature Marduk making a multi-dimensional concept album for the first time with many different sounds and paces. But they did present overarching themes and atmosphere in albums like 'Panzer Division Marduk' and 'Plague Angel', and they have been experimenting with different combinations of speeds and approaches for the past few albums. So what I can say about this interesting album is that it is a maturation of the past eight years, with an emphasis on composition and some experimental new evil sounds, rather than trying to impress with brutality. The music shifts often from heavy mid-paced dark music with a sick tone, to atmospheric creepy sounds, to blasting fast black metal, to slow mood-setting undefinable metal music. The vocal performance (and it is very much a performance) by Mortuus has gone beyond this dimension this time, using a seemingly endless toolbox of vocal variations, many of them highly eccentric. A comparison to Attila Csihar wouldn't be too far off: He croaks, belches out strange sounds, strains his vocals for a desperate screech, rumbles or mumbles in the background, belts out malicious death growls, breaks his vocals cords on purpose for a strained caw, grunts, gurgles with scratchy acidic vocal sounds, and so on. I'd run out of thesaurus words before his vocals run out of performance ideas. Together with the rich and varied music, it's a challenging listen and difficult to get into the first round. It definitely makes a strong and unique impression however. But is it any good? I can't say that the overdone vocal performance clicked for me some of the time, and often he seems to want to fill every second of music with vocal sounds instead of letting the music do its thing, which can get annoying. And the eccentric vocals are hit or miss, sometimes adding sick but very effective layers to the music, other times just sounding constipated or bizarre. The drummer is strong and competent but his constant heavy pounding and use of the snare makes me miss the more dynamic previous drummer. The tracks also vary greatly in interest and musical quality, with the slower ones often suffering again from plodding repetition as with 'World Funeral'. So sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't. But the album as a whole is very brave, very experimental. To get the message across of the sheer variety of tracks, a track-by-track is needed: 'The Levelling Dust' is a very strong and dark dynamic opener that does a lot musically, combining great flowing composition, a mid-speed pummeling pace, great riffs, and an unsettling vocal performance. 'Cold Mouth Prayer' is a superb, dynamic but generally fast-paced blasting one that is greatly boosted by the powerful vocal performance. If the whole album consisted of tracks like the first two, it would be a masterpiece. But then there is 'Imago Mortis', a doomy one which plods along for most of its 9-minute run-time without getting interesting. It's like a good mood-setting opening that never takes off and just stays in the opening section. 'Through The Belly Of Damnation' starts strongly with blasting and a great dark riff, but then just pounds away like a generic death-grind track that doesn't know what it's doing musically. '1651' is a highly effective atmospheric track with creepy vocals that is better than the previous album's 'Deathmarch', and makes me think of a black metal version of Dead Can Dance. 'Limbs of Worship' is another heavy-n-fast great and darkly complex track, but the vocalist overdoes and overuses his croaking vocals. 'Accuser/Opposer' is another endlessly repetitive 9-minute track but features a bizarre duet of vocals that sometimes works and sometimes gets annoying, and it ends with a Gregorian chant layered with a disquieting buzzing. 'Vanity of Vanities' is another good blasting one that doesn't forget to change things up and keep it interesting. 'Womb Of Perishableness' is yet another doomy plodding one with one endlessly repeated dull heavy-metal riff, one good riff, some stoner doom, and harsh vocals that don't know when to cut off. Once again proving that Marduk don't know how to write very long doom-metal tracks and yet there are three of them here. The thing is, some of the material on these long tracks could have worked nicely in shorter tracks. And finally, the album ends with 'Voices From Avignon', another good dark black-metal track mixed with death-grind. Marduk has always used sound samples for atmosphere in the past, and here these are used heavily and effectively on almost every song. Altogether, I'd say this is like 'World Funeral': A lot of great stuff with too much filler material in between (25-29 minutes out of 55). But it's much more interesting than that album in any case and if you can cut out the stuff you don't like, it becomes a very worthwhile and interesting album, even a superb one if you edit out the long tracks. Definitely worth a listen at the very least.
Wormwood(Blooddawn - 2009)
This will be a strange thing to hear, but in my opinion, with this album, Marduk, of all bands, cross the border somewhat into the avant-garde. Not that this is a work of art-metal or a drastic step into another genre; it is a natural evolution from the past three albums. It's also very industrial-sounding (or dark-ambient) to my ears, except that there are no keyboards or electronic drums, just the same old guitars and drums used in new ways. This is simply the effect of the often pounding and mechanical or grinding guitar sounds. Marduk have been looking for new ways to deliver sick, harsh and dark sounds without keyboards, whether it means a distorted bass solo, slow hypnotic drums with sick vocals, or a punishing repetitive blast with ambient sounds, or a strange mix of gothic metal and black metal, or black metal with avant-garde vocals. And on this album they take this a few steps further and experiment. Even the faster tracks now seem to be going for pounding punishment, experimental sounds and repetitive harsh rhythms and riffs rather than more conventional flowing musical content. As before, Mortuus performs his vocals in a few dozen vocal variations, distortions and harsh vocalizations, attempting to express all sorts of vile, evil, warped and sick sounds from hell. The production mix is the same as in Rom 5:12 and the best they ever had, without too much low-end booming or any instruments and ranges getting lost. Even the bass is incredibly clear. Unfortunately, despite raving reviews from fans, I did not enjoy this for the most part. Tracks three to five are superb, but are actually throwbacks to Rom 5:12 rather than representative tracks of this new sound. The rest are too mechanical, bizarre, repetitive, or plodding, and primarily about the dark sounds and performance rather than the music. I need more musical content in order to sink into such hellish sounds, and this release kept losing me with its harsh ambient experiments and overly mechanical approach to composition. The overly precise and clockwork drumming doesn't help either, this time around. The insane vocal performance, as before, sometimes work to add expressive and sick or dark textures to the sounds, and other times they are way too theatrical or ridiculous. Marduk are trying hard to cover new ground, however, and deserve kudos for this valiant attempt. But, all of a sudden, I miss Legion's simpler and more effective vocals, and the previous drummer's (Fredrik Andersson) more dynamic drumming.
Serpent Sermon(Century Media - 2012)
Their twelfth full-length release within 20 years, and showing no signs of slowing down or becoming stagnant. Whether you like their new direction is a different question. This one slightly tones down the more out-there, avant-garde elements of Wormwood, but keeps a similar approach of blending various harsh and mechanical black-grind-dark-metal sounds with a wide variety of spitting-rasping-growling-groaning theatrical vocals. This album sounds even more 'processed' than the previous album, and, once again, I can't say that I am enjoying this direction. Sure, it's all done with guitars and drums, the vocals are creative and unique and can express extra dimensions of evil at times (not always), and the compositions find new ways to express nihilistic maliciousness, but there is a basic musical dimension that is missing from many (not all) of the compositions. Not that I am looking for melodic black metal, but there aren't even those sticky, minimalist black-metal mood-setting riffs that were on Rom 5:12. Instead there is rhythm, repetition, pounding, grinding, and mechanical pummeling of instruments. The compositions are dynamic, but only in the sense that they change between different rhythms and patterns. The music rarely develops, builds or soars. The vocals are often off on their own, doing their thing, sometimes working with the music, other times just adding noise and layers of malicious sound without cohering with the guitar and drums. And some of the vocal effects sound processed or just constipated again, which means they don't add musicality to the tracks either. In short, it is a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing except primitive pummeling. It doesn't develop in interesting musical ways; It's only there to punish you. This may appeal to some, but I need more music in my music. The riffs here, even when they are good, just repeat instead of developing and building, and they almost never soar. It's primitive stuff, pounding and spitting and grinding at different rhythms with simple malice and punishing repetition. Which is why I also described the last album as 'industrial' or mechanical despite the instruments. The first track 'Serpent Sermon' stands out as a good composition, featuring a surprisingly melodic catchy refrain for Marduk, believe it or not, but it's dark and strong stuff, so don't worry. But then there are about five mechanical tracks that don't do anything interesting, with the exception of some short segments of 'Damnation's Gold' which blasts with old-school Marduk power and Emperor-esque jagged riffing. This is followed by three short but good tracks, with very special mention for 'M.A.M.M.O.N.', a unique and very vicious track (the best of the album) with brilliantly used distortion in very dark and doomy sections. Then the album ends with two 8-minute tracks: The first is mid-paced, repetitive, and darkly atmospheric and is only sometimes effective, though it uses a way-too-long sound sample of a speech, and then ends with pretty good melodic gothic-metal (a Century Media influence?). The second is folk/pagan for its 2-minute opening, then erupts into a dark, good, epic track reminiscent of 'Blutrache'. This last track is much better than the previous which I found merely average. In summary, looking at the above, I obviously enjoyed the second half more than the first but that only sums up to 22 minutes out of 54. There are so many different styles that it's difficult to summarize the album. But, overall, I didn't enjoy enough of it for a recommendation and to come back to it. It took a few listens to absorb it though.
Frontschwein(Century Media - 2015)
Seen by some as the 'Panzer Division Marduk' of the Mortuus era. Although there are some factors here that support this description, it has to be taken with a big grain of salt. Specifically, this album has a WWII theme, and the compositions have gone back to basics (relative to the last three albums). But the sound and approach is still comparable to recent albums, albeit simplified, and the pace is not unrelenting as with Panzer, with the songs alternating between fast and mid-paced pummeling. At first I thought this would be great based on the description, but, unfortunately this change greatly emphasizes the weakest aspects of the last three albums: Namely, the lack of strong riffs and guitar-driven music, opting instead for lots of pounding, flat tremolos, mechanical rhythms, and a lot of mindless head-banging. As usual with Marduk, the slower tracks are their Achilles Heel, and there are way too many of them here, made worse by the simplistic hammering, all of which doesn't do anything interesting musically. The Panzer album had guitar lines that created textures and minimalist melody to accompany the simple ferocity, as well as a monstrous amount of energy. Whereas this one just pummels you with sound and drums, with only the rare glimpse of soaring dark power from earlier days. The drumming, by yet another new drummer called Widigs, isn't an improvement and I was not impressed. The drums too often sound like a machine gun or hammer without adding musicality. As far as I'm concerned, their drummers keep deteriorating. Mortuus's vocals are more powerful than ever however, with his guttural glass-gurgling belch-growl-rasp belting out with incredible force, and with just enough variety of vocal effects, eschewing the off-putting bizarre vocals from previous albums. I was awestruck by his vocals here. Unfortunately, the compositions don't back him up with powerful music, only with force and fury. The short glimpses of melodic gothic metal that somehow sneaked into 'Serpent Sermon' are nowhere to be found here, although there is one surprising track called '503' with Sepultura-esque tribal-sounds, as well as one or two industrial sounds, the title track 'Frontschwein' is a good ferocious one, and the heavy slow beat of 'The Blond Beast' grows on you for a fun, dark-pagan feel, and there's a scary machine-gun-esque impossible vocal in the last super-blasting track. In short, despite a couple of good moments, I did not like this one for the most part, and this is the first time with Marduk that I did not like three albums in a row.
Strigzscara - Warwolf (live 1993)(Blooddawn - 2015)
In line with the set of several DVDs released in 2005, this and the next live album feature old recordings of live shows. This one was recorded during the 'Those of the Unlight' era. Perhaps it was released to give the Gravf era a proper live release, but I'm just guessing. In any case, the quality is that of a poor bootleg, so don't expect much. There are also only two albums to play from, and with the exception of about three songs, they play both of those albums in their entirety. The sound is very muddy and poor, but despite this, you still can hear and absorb some of the energy from the furious performance. For collectors and hardcore fans.
World Panzer Battle 1999 (live)(Blooddawn - 2015)
As with the previous release, a historical live album, this one from the Legion era after Panzer. I don't see the point however, since they already released Infernal Eternal from that era with infinitely better sound. This one sounds even worse than Strigzscara, which is saying a lot. Besides being muddy and distant, sounds just drop out all the time. Perhaps they wanted one with raw crowd noise and crowd energy. Otherwise, I don't get it.
Viktoria(Century Media - 2018)
Unfortunately, I'd call this an uninspired and even lesser continuation of Frontschwein. At 32 minutes, it recalls their earlier focused releases that never wore out their welcome. But the music has all of the elements I do not like about latter-day Marduk: Simplistic compositions, uninspired blasting, hammering, pounding and pummeling, primal rhythms, simple guitar tremolos, and a general lack of musicality. If you enjoy your metal fierce and rhythmic with an emphasis on 'brutal' or really heavy sounds and harsh mechanical-sounding guitars and drums, then you may enjoy these more than I did. As opposed to Frontschwein, this doesn't contain as many mid-paced or slow tracks, but, by now, the faster speeds don't do much of interest either. The riffs are simply not interesting or gripping. The guitar riffs often sound like they are about to become something darkly powerful and black-metal, then the guitar player stops building it up and veers off into a flat tremolo or just keeps repeating it rhythmically, as if he is choosing minimalist and primitive guitar lines on purpose. The drumming is really starting to annoy me here; it may as well be a machine gun with all its precise and furious mechanical pounding. Isn't that a good thing with brutal metal music, you ask? Not when it sounds like this, placing it so much in front of the music and then combining it with equally mechanical, buzzing or tremolo guitars. They may as well have placed a microphone inside a machine gun with a muffler; I imagine it would sound the same. Mortuus seems relatively less powerful than on Frontschwein, but is still very good and superbly harsh. Perhaps he is finally wearing out his vocal apparatus. Such a pity; I was really hoping for a comeback album. I tried comparing it to Panzer Division Marduk, and the musicality and guitar riffs there make a world of difference. The drums are much better recorded and placed as well.
World Funeral: Jaws of Hell MMIII (live 2003)(Blooddawn - 2020)
Yet another retrospective bootleg live recording for collectors, this one from 2003. Which means it's right before Legion left. The sound is much better than the previous two official bootlegs, but that's not saying much. It's good to hear Legion again however, except that he has two better-recorded live albums already. The set-list features a nice, even selection from all their albums with an emphasis on their recent 'World Funeral'. I can't say that there's anything about this that stood out or impressed, but it does have strong live energy. Obviously one for the collectors, or perhaps for fans of the 'World Funeral' album that want to hear it live..