A part of me feels totally out of my comfort zone reviewing Marduk, but I keep coming back to the band over the years in spite of it. The classic Swedish style of black metal, as popularized by bands like Dark Funeral, Naglfar, and of course Marduk, never managed to appeal to me much. It was all about this relentless brutality–an aesthetic not far removed from death metal–when I was turning to black metal for its occult appeal. It was Satan as a cold-hearted masochist, but I wanted to legitimize Catholic blood libel. Live dissection vs goat sodomy. That’s pretty clear, no?
But, aside from the fact that they were just better at it than everyone else, Marduk initially stood out to me for their song titles and lyrics. “Christraping Black Metal”, “Fistfucking God’s Planet”, “Jesus Christ… Sodomized”, this stuff was priceless. I think when I viewed it as a comedy I could get into the over-the-top, machine gun-paced blast beats as something delightfully ridiculous.
That sort of entertainment value can’t hold out forever, and it was ultimately Marduk’s shift towards martial themes that kept me attentive. They did it on Panzer Division Marduk in 1999, and they’ve turned to it again with the Iron Dawn EP in 2011 and now Frontschwein. If there is any one thing that this style of music captures effectively, it is 20th century warfare.
Marduk capture the violent chaos of war on a level I have only heard rivaled by Germany’s Endstille, and while modern themes do not permeate all of their albums, they stand at the center on Frontschwein. The album recounts events in World War II from the perspective of Germany as a bloodthirsty machine reveling in cold destruction behind its thin veil of justifications. The connection is not merely lyrical, though Mortuus’ vocals are surprisingly discernible, allowing bits and pieces of war imagery to seep into your head unaided by a lyrics sheet; you can hear to conflict in the music: sliding guitars as falling bombs, blast beats as bullets. It’s methodical, rhythmic, and relentless, in contrast to the more eclectic approach the band has taken on Satanic-themed albums like Serpent Sermon. It is Marduk as I like them best.
That being said, it does feel repetitive at times. This style always does, to me at least, and I feel like Marduk relegated their less interesting songs to the middle, bookending the best of them. “Frontschwein” is followed by the incredibly catchy headbanging march of “The Blond Beast”, and Mortuus’ constant screaming of “Afrika” in the song of the same name forces your mind to picture a bloody desert battle between Rommel and Patton’s grunts. “Wartheland”‘s slow pummel with distinct lyrics like “succumb to domination” feels like an endless wave of Nazi forces marching in to conquest and occupation. The track titles in general go a long way towards steering the music towards its intended imagery. (I absolutely love the album title. I don’t know if it’s a common word or one of the band’s own crafting, but it certainly projects the overarching subject matter: humans as bloody fodder in an unstoppable military machine.)
But by “Rope of Regret”, my ears grow a bit numb to the pummeling. I enjoy the song when I listen to it in isolation, but I rarely can remain attentive long enough to reach it if I’m listening to the album as a whole. The next four tracks, all fairly typical in style, fade together for me whatever their individual worth. “503” is ultimately the song that draws me back in. A song of conquest, it drastically slows down the pace, listing in a dominant voice the conquests of the 503rd Heavy Panzer Battalion. It makes me snap back from my zoned-out state and again picture the album as a vision of German brutality in World War II rather than a jumble of noise. The song is well-placed, because it leads the way into “Thousand-Fold Death”.
song: Thousand-Fold Death
And “Thousand-Fold Death”… holy shit, this song alone is worth buying Frontschwein for. It’s got the best guitar licks on the album, but this song is all about Mortuus. He does things with his voice on this track that will give you motion sickness. It’s not just the sheer quantity of words per second he manages to belt out–his clarity while doing it is unbelievable. If I ever doubted that Mortuus was an incredible vocalist before this song, I certainly don’t now. The album ends with “Warschau III Necropolis”, an eerie, ambient mix of samples from militant speeches and battles, brass, and bizarrely distorted spoken words that manages to capture the grim nature of the album through a totally different means.
There is a reason why I have listened to Marduk more than any other band that plays that brutality-driven Swedish varient of black metal, and Frontschwein captures what I like about them best. I am a bit hesitant to say that I like it more than Endstille’s Infektion 1813, but those two albums definitely stand leagues above anything else I have heard in a genre of metal that, I’ll admit, I seldom find to be very creative or inspiring.
Check out Frontschwein by Marduk on Century Media.