Review: Marduk – Serpent Sermon


Well, here it is mid-June, and I’ve yet to write any album reviews. Getting back into the habit is the hardest part, especially in the wake of one of the finest years for music I can recall. But after half a year of enjoying 2011’s finest fruits, I can no longer pretend that there are no new releases out there. Serpent Sermon seemed like a logical place to begin. Marduk, after all, have been lurking in the shadows for 22 years now, and it’s nice to start things off somewhere familiar.

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Serpent Sermon

I had very mixed expectations going into Serpent Sermon. The band has gone through a number of transitions over the years, and since the replacement of vocalist Legion with Mortuus in 2004 they just haven’t appealed to me all that much. On the other hand, last year’s Iron Dawn ep was some of the most appealing material they’ve yet released. I read that the band did not intend Serpent Sermon to be a continuation of Iron Dawn, but you never know.

This album kicks off in typical Marduk fashion, with blast beats entering precisely where you expect them and, soon enough, that quintessential Marduk climbing chord progression (around 1:25). The song briefly perks up with a strikingly catchy chorus twenty seconds later, then repeats, with some nuance variations and a particularly tortured howl out of Mortuus towards the end.

It is immediately apparent that, just as the band had stated, Serpent Sermon does not take the same approach as last year’s effort. But where it is headed is hard to say. My love/hate relationship with Mortuus shines in the opening track, where he bores me to tears at 1:10 and 2:20 and then gives me shivers at 3:45. It feels to me as though the singer and the rest of the band aren’t always on the same page. Where they hit it off they’re better than ever, but they just as often seem to be in opposition. Do Mortuus’s twisted vox require a stronger break from standard Marduk riffs than Morgan Håkansson and co are ready to grant, or does he ham it up just a bit too much to lend the songs consistency? Serpent Sermon exemplifies a persistent problem throughout the album: a lot of songs have their greatness broken by sudden lapses into drivel.

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Messianic Pestilence

The more I listen to the album, the more I am inclined to define it by Mortuus and Håkansson’s successes and failures to engage each other. The album as a whole is widely varied in style, much to its benefit. It provides samples of the various ways in which the band functions together, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse. On tracks like Messianic Pestilence, Mortuus willingly embraces an older school of Marduk with great success, and you get a taste for what they might sound like today if no real stylistic variance had accompanied 2004’s change in lineup. Good stuff, but nothing new.

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M.A.M.M.O.N.

But M.A.M.M.O.N. is where it really all clicks. From the driving blast-beat opening, erratic deviations into darkness and twisted chaos writhe forth. The initial sudden cessation of aggression is complete, giving Mortuus uncontested center stage, and from the ooze he spews across the soundscape a chaotic torment of guitar fury explodes. The entire song structure repeats, typical of Marduk, but in the end we are treated to a twisted amalgamation of slow, demented guitar tones laid over seemingly incompatible blast beats that give off an air of madness. On this track more than any other, I really feel as though the band has all come together and really accepted their own new sound without any misgivings.

That being said, I must confess that I’ve barely given Marduk’s last few full-length albums the time of day. I listened to them in the background a handful of times at best and quickly lost interest. It is quite possible that what struck me as great on M.A.M.M.O.N. was nothing “new”, and I simply failed to notice it before. But either way, I think it’s Serpent Sermon’s strongest point.

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Into Second Death

What makes late ’90s/early 2000s era Marduk my favorite is its unrelenting, almost comical brutality. Songs like Christraping Black Metal and Fistfucking God’s Planet are so aurally and lyrically offensive that I can’t help but love them. The whole Swedish black metal sound is perfect for this sort of thing. It’s a style with little room for variation, and it always seems to work best for me when taken to extremes, whether the result is comical, as on Panzer Division Marduk, or gut-wrenching, as on the Iron Dawn ep. I would absolutely love to hear a follow-up of Iron Dawn, but in the meantime, harking back to Panzer Division, let’s not forget that this band has a sense of humor.

If they didn’t, I don’t think Into Second Death would be entirely possible. It’s the most “black and roll” song I’ve heard since Carpathian Forest released Fuck You All!!!! (one of the best things to ever happen to metal), and if Marduk could throw together a full album of it I would be absolutely delighted.

As a whole, Serpent Sermon has a lot of ups and downs. Expect a lot of variation both in style and in quality (at least by Swedish black metal standards). It is no landmark album, but it’s true to Marduk past and present, and as such it’s better than most else out there. At the same time, it leaves me really wondering where the band is headed. It’s a definite to be continued… M.A.M.M.O.N. showed a lot of promise for the path they’re currently on, while the album’s total distinction from Iron Dawn leaves me wondering whether the band has had two separate full lengths in mind all along. On the other hand, you just know they’re going to love playing Into Second Death live, and my biggest hope is that that inspires an album.

Song of the Day: Wicked Game (by Chris Isaak)


With the return of True Blood with a new season on HBO over the weekend meant the return of Jace Barrett’s theme song for the show. “Bad Things” is the theme song that almost everyone knows now whether they like the show or not. It’s a sexually suggestive and charged country song that also doesn’t rely on vulgar lyrics. The fact that it’s a country song is quite a surprise. But that’s not the song I picked for latest “Song of the Day”. Nope, the song I’ve chosen is what I’d call the precursor to the True Blood theme song: Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game”.

This song was originally released in 1989 as part of Isaak’s Heart Shaped World album, but didn’t reach pop hit status until it was chosen to become part of David Lynch’s Wild at Heart film in 1990. Constant request and radio airplay put the song into top ten hit status in early 1991 and it’s become one of those so-called “sexiest songs list” people tend to create. It’s a label that’s well-earned especially with the accompanying Herb Ritt’s directed black-and-white video starring Chris Isaak and supermodel Helena Christensen rolling around topless on the sand and surf of the beach setting.

I’ve always thought of this song as one of those everyone man should have in their playlist at their place. It’s a song that’s definitely earned the title of “song to close the deal”.

Wicked Game

The world was on fire and no one could save me but you.
It’s strange what desire will make foolish people do.
I never dreamed that I’d meet somebody like you.
And I never dreamed that I’d lose somebody like you.

No, I don’t want to fall in love (This world is only gonna break your heart)
No, I don’t want to fall in love (This world is only gonna break your heart)
With you (This world is only gonna break your heart)

What a wicked game to play, to make me feel this way.
What a wicked thing to do, to let me dream of you.
What a wicked thing to say, you never felt this way.
What a wicked thing to do, to make me dream of you and,

I want to fall in love (This world is only gonna break your heart)
No, I want to fall in love (This world is only gonna break your heart)
With you.

The world was on fire and no one could save me but you.
It’s strange what desire will make foolish people do.
I never dreamed that I’d love somebody like you.
And I never dreamed that I’d lose somebody like you,

No, I want to fall in love (This world is only gonna break your heart)
No, I want to fall in love (This world is only gonna break your heart)
With you (This world is only gonna break your heart)
No, I… (This world is only gonna break your heart)
(This world is only gonna break your heart)

Nobody loves no one.