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If there’s one thing that comes to the vast majority of people’s minds when one utters the word Marduk, it’s mindless blastbeat-happy black metal, or, for those who energetically despise that sort of thing, norsecore, whatever the hell that term may actually mean. And this stereotypical vision of the band is primarily based on the one Marduk album that nearly everyone knows, regardless of whether they’ve heard it or not: Panzer Division Marduk. The title is incredibly easy to remember, the band’s name is in it, and it’s the epitome of blasting black metal. Thus, Panzer Division Marduk is the figurehead album of Marduk, no question about it. Being the excessive Marduk fan that I am, I’ve long tried to love this, one of my last acquired Marduk albums, telling myself that a band which produced masterpieces such as Those of the Unlight and Nightwing, not to mention some of the awesome stuff to come later, couldn’t really create a bad album. Right? Well, unfortunately, the figurehead is something of a letdown, not totally awful but probably very close to the absolute bottom of the “Best Marduk albums” list.
Even after many, many listens, this album is something of a blur. It certainly lives up to its designation as the war-themed album in Marduk’s career, from the album title to the song titles, the lyrics and even the intro, which lasts twelve seconds and involves some guys yelling “Fire!” and some artillery shots going off. War is indeed the album’s number one concern, be it in service of pure gratuitous violence or to kill those we don’t like, mostly Christians in this case (on earlier albums the band used to have this thing with killing Muslims in general and Turks in particular, although that was just a historical interest, considering the Vlad Dracul concept going on). The title track is extremely brief, a bit over two minutes, and is pure straightforward blasting from the intro until the very end, with Legion’s vocals surfacing among the blast beats and Morgan’s riffs, which are probably still the best part of the album. Then you get to Baptism of Fire, Christraping Black Metal and… every other song. Initially I’d had the impression that the second half of the album involved a bit of a slowing down, some variation in here. The intro to Blooddawn gives the illusion of a song which might be close to doom in terms of pace, but this lasts for a good two seconds before it turns into blastfest number six of this album’s Blitz through my speakers.
It’s certainly not all bad. Legion’s vocals are good, not his best ever but his decent average, his work on Nightwing being his best effort to date (at least, with Marduk). His vocals form an essential part of that classical Marduk sound, the middle era which started off incredibly well (Nightwing, and Heaven Shall Burn) before the band got a bit softer and more comfortable with themselves on the two follow-up albums, this one being the prime example of said fact. Morgan’s guitar work is pretty good but is no match for the timeless work he did during the Joakim Göthberg era (second and third albums). That said, his work is still the driving force behind the music and I’m certain that, had he failed to provide some decent riff work here, the album would’ve completely fallen flat on its face. His tremolo riffs are repetitive and played extremely fast, nothing even remotely original, but they’re quite good for this sort of album. The main element at work here, however, at least the most noticeable one by far, is the drumming. Frederik Andersson, the band’s long-time drummer by then, who would be gone an album later, delivers an unmistakably powerful and energetic, if one-dimensional, performance behind the kit. Blasting is definitely his motto throughout, and the production job is tailored towards making his drumming loud in the mix but not excessively so, the guitars being almost evenly balanced with the drums, as is the case with the vocals, to a lesser extent.
In the end, Panzer Division Marduk isn’t a bad album, it just falls short of the standards previously set, both by the larger realm of black metal and by Marduk’s previous albums themselves, each single preceding album being significantly better than this. It’s fun to listen to when you’re pissed off yet strangely patient enough to take the album, but for all intents and purposes the same kind of album was to be done a few years later by the same band in the same style, only a hell of a lot better. That album is Plague Angel, and it should become the new Marduk figurehead, because this one’s getting old and a bit stale.