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Unlike a band like Mayhem whose transformations have often been sudden and for some of their less open minded listeners discomforting or weird, Marduk have always seemed like a horde with a clear and cogent vision that has been maintained across changes in lineup and style over decades; an effect best felt in a live setting but also appreciable on even a less important and transitory piece like World Funeral - I can attest to both, as I have witnessed the opening song on this record performed live as part of a highly coherent setlist. Despite several flaws, World Funeral remains a listenable and relevant entry in Marduk's discography, both harking to their past and foreshadowing their future.
Stylistically much of the record takes up the battlecry and battery of Panzer Division Marduk and La Grande Danse Macabre with their famous blasting speed and unforgiving brutality. Fellow swedes Dark Funeral and Setherial were also unleashing worthy records in the style like Diabolis Interium and Hell Eternal, and while World Funeral doesn't quite match up to similiar albums by Marduk or others, it does supply more of Morgan's trademark scything guitar riffs and the last performances for the band by Legion and Bogge, and the first of (somewhat) long-term drummer Emil.
There are decent doses of classic Marduk to be had, aided by the superior drumming of Emil. Opening track 'With Satan and Victorious Weapons' is undeniable in its bloodthirsty trem-picked charge; certainly one of the more lethally composed incarnations of the heads-down blasting black metal Marduk put out with Legion. Who, actually, has an impressive amount of iron in his voice on this song, even if his performance on the record isn't as slavering and wrathful as that on the two prior full-lengths. The outrageous buzzing riffs of 'Blessed Unholy' and 'Cloven Hoof' truly deserve to be resurrected with a more suitable sound; again, witnessed live today without a studio production between myself and Morgan's axe, intoned by Mortuus over Lars' synapse-dismantling drumming, this shit really could be something - particularly the grotesque, majestic ending of 'Blessed Unholy' that just begs to have more of a terrifying sound to it. Unfortunately, the production on this record occasionally assassinates the band's songs much in the style of the events portrayed in the historical lyrics of 'Night of the Long Knives'. Morgan himself has complained about the digital-sounding production on this record in both written and filmed interviews, and given the sound here is apparently far from what the band wanted I can only imagine how much better this record could have been were it rendered in the same raw and filthy style as the following opuses. As it is, this is basically the sort of mix that would fit right on some sub-par Deicide or Suffocation-clone record. Many of the faster riffs penned are irresistible, there's no denying; but I sort of wish a demo/ rehearsal version of this whole record would get leaked or something.
Even with such creatures as Emil and Lars amongst them, Marduk would continue to slow their notoriously blistering music down to morbid dirges fairly often. World Funeral features a number of songs composed as slow and punishing metal rather than the blasting abandon Panzer Division Marduk made them famous for (really, it is the only record by them that is so uniform in pacing anyway). A couple of these are pretty limp: 'To the Death's Head True', despite a lyrical style Morgan would continue to be fascinated with for some time, falls a bit flat. This is mostly because of the guitar tone, which doesn't allow for the dreary, morbid guitars to come into their own and envelop the listener in the intended black reverie. Instead, it just pretty much hums past to 'Castrum Doloris', which conversely I can find no value in, potential or fulfilled. Just a bunch of rock riffs that stand out like a middle finger.
Elsewhere though the band's intent manifests more clearly. Why shouldn't it; although the writing would be more of a shared process in future with even Emil and then Lars contributing, Morgan has always been the band's commanding officer and editor in chief of all condemnations and conflagrations penned. For all the doom and hypnotism he was trying to achieve in the prior record and this one, Morgan could already have been working towards the eerie songwriting style Marduk would make their mark in years later, as well as building on some of the legitimately dead-weight crushers included on Dark Endless and so on. So it is no surprise to me that 'Bleached Bones' and 'Bloodletting' set their raucous Celtic Frost style riffs forth in a pretty effective, trampling motion (the former featuring Legion seemingly doing an impression of Cronos!) and show a more mature and considered approach to writing slower songs. There's even what might be a nod to Rotting Christ, or at the very least something Hellenic. 'Night of the Long Knives' features a very melodic, epic break with a slightly symphonic vibe which is odd, but unlike some of the things the band try here, sort of works and makes the song more, rather than less exciting.
The accusation I level at this work is that is less memorable due to a couple of dull songs and an unforgivably artificial-sounding production. It also doesn't help that, along with parts of La Grande Danse Macabre and Panzer Division Marduk, I tend to neglect it when this latter era of Legion is positioned between powerful stretches of records like the earlier days and the Mortuus era (this would be directly followed by my favourite Marduk full-length yet, so the contrast is stark). However, were I to catch wind of it having been remastered or partially re-recorded, then that would be one re-release I would be pretty interested in. Or an EP containing Mortuus-ified remixed versions of 'With Satan and Victorious Weapons', 'Blessed Unholy', 'Cloven Hoof' and 'Bleached Bones', holy shit. A man can dream.
It’s often argued that the early 2000’s, more specifically the period between 2000 and 2003, caught Marduk at what could almost be described as the band’s creative stagnation period, when they “got comfortable” with themselves after the release of the rather one-dimensional and creatively poor (by their standards) Panzer Division Marduk, an album which, if it did anything at all, created a nearly unshakable stereotype sound for the band to the eyes of most outsiders. While this period truly is the least innovative of the band’s career on certain aspects, World Funeral, which is sometimes seen as the tired last chapter of the Legion era, is a highly underrated beast of modern, well-produced and aggressive black metal.
First of all, this album blows its two predecessors out of the water by its exemplary variation, sound, and sheer quality. Unlike on Panzer Division Marduk, nearly no two tracks sound alike here, and they range from mind-numbingly fast tracks like the opener With Satan and Victorious Weapons, the title track and the unique Night of the Long Knives (with its highly melodic second half), to some of Marduk’s slowest songs ever, instant classics like Bleached Bones, To the Death’s Head True and Castrum Doloris.
The album starts off with a ten-second intro consisting of a short sample from the excellent medieval-themed film, The Name Of The Rose, giving a good idea of what this album consists of in terms of ideas: Satan, how he inspires some people and a general atmosphere of evil, death, war and gratuitous violence, nothing exactly new for Marduk. First of all, the production needs to be mentioned because it’s extremely clean. Such an approach might not exactly suit black metal in general, but it does work well for Marduk’s own brand of militaristic, often fast-paced black metal and, weirdly enough, gives this album a rather unique sound, being so polished and loud, which is one of Peter Tägtgren’s production trademarks at Abyss Studios.
The clean production allows every instrument to be heard perfectly. Morgan doesn’t disappoint on this album, with a much more original and intelligent approach to his guitar work than on the previous couple of efforts: the riffs are still the tremolo stuff he’s used to doing, but they’re actually highly varied and distinguishable here, unlike on a select few other, previously mentioned Marduk productions. In terms of drumming, Emil Dragutinovic is a highly talented man: his work, combined with the excellent production job, makes the drums sound vastly better then his predecessor Fredrik Andersson’s last few jobs with the band. I’m afraid to say that Andersson was the one member whose talents seemed to wane as the band entered the new millennium, not Legion as is often claimed. Speaking of him, his vocals here are great. He doesn’t sound tired at all, in fact his traditional trademark sound is at its most recognizable here. He may not be as good as on the classic Nightwing, but he was certainly still a competitive vocalist on the eve of his replacement by Mortuus.
Almost every track here is notable in some way. The opener’s a good way to begin the album, aggressive and whatnot, providing a good clue as to what’s coming, while Bleached Bones immediately gives the other side of the story, a slow-paced song about necrophilia where Legion’s vocals truly shine. Cloven Hoof is a unique fast-paced track which is heavily dependent on its irregular and memorable drum work, while To the Death Head’s True is almost doom-like in its slowness, depending very little on the classic Marduk instrumentals in favour of a style resembling those near-ambient slow tracks the band sometimes makes, like the album’s own instrumental, Blackcrowned, which became de de facto Marduk intro at all live shows. Castrum Doloris is also a notable track in that it’s almost solely based on Legion’s ability to carry to song forward with his vocals, doing a very good job at it. This is one of those songs one can find stuck in one’s mind for days on end after a good listen of the album. Finally, there’s Marduk’s only single: Hearse. This track was well chosen and has everything needed for a good Marduk song: aggressive, well, everything, great epic vocals by Legion and variation: the riffs are highly memorable, especially during the slower midsection and latter half of the song, which is followed by some of Legion’s lowest growls in his entire career (with Marduk) mixed with some bizarre altered vocals near the end, which are used to great effect in enhancing the atmosphere of morbidity and death.
World Funeral is a very good Marduk album. It’s certainly not the very best due to one or two redundant songs, losing out to quite a few of the band's other albums, but is generally an excellent representation of the band’s overall sound and definitely a worthy piece of work. It’s a good way for Legion to end his illustrious association with the band, being one of the highlights of his career, even though the entire band has something great to offer here.
It's in a lot of ways hypocritical to greatly enjoy an album like 'Panzer Division Marduk' but find this mostly boring; stylistically they're nearly identical and as a whole this is probably a more professional and well-rounded product. I think the essential difference is that when 'Panzer Division Marduk' was released, the ultra-focused extreme blasting style of black metal was something novel and a little dangerous, but at the time of this album's release, 2003, the norsecore style was very close to usurping 'traditional' black metal itself as the main representation of the genre, so really at this point Marduk was missing the essential historical elements which made earlier works in this style more compelling. Add to this a natural wearing out of ideas after several years and you have an album that's really just all the leavings of superior albums in this style wrapped up in a bow of needlessly overwrought production and bland, repetitive playing. It doesn't particularly offend me but I see no real reason to have this release either.
A bit about the production: it's in that modern black metal style that a lot of first-tier bands use where they think taking pop production and piling distortion on makes it seem truer than it actually is. It sounds brackish and annoyingly compressed, like playing as loudly as possible makes the music come off as more aggressive than it really is. Admittedly, it fits the music: loud, fast, and annoyingly one-dimensional, managing to come off as tame and boring despite being completely saturated with blast beats and tremolo riffs. The vast majority of these songs are very static in nature, with a lot of recycled riffs from the 'Panzer Division Marduk' handbook of sawing tremolo, but due to excessive repetition and a complete reliance on very conventional and stock melodies doesn't carry any of that album's weight. Legion's vocals are almost hilariously played out and dry and add nothing to the already thin and mostly lifeless compositions.
But it wouldn't be a modern Marduk album without a ham-fisted attempt at being epic in the form of a couple slower tracks. I'm completely convinced that Marduk only includes these to make their albums seem more varied than they actually are, because they sound exactly like every other major black metal band's attempts at slow and epic tracks: out of place and poorly thought out. The intrinsic problem with major bands attempting to make these sorts of songs is that they think by stripping out excess notes, putting in larger power chords, and slowing down the fast black metal songs, they can make something that sounds epic and dogmatic, when in actuality crafting interesting songs in this style requires a very different songwriting process. The slow tracks on this album are exactly like the fast ones, but stripped down completely and unable to keep listener interest; at least the actual fast songs sound logically composed.
I don't really despise this album as much as I seem to indicate that I do, because it's not really BAD, just lazy and uncreative. It's the sound of a band that's become completely complacent in its established style, with nothing to motivate it to move towards greater heights. Marduk are never going to lose their fanbase and as long as they keep doing the same thing, so this review won't really convince anyone to not acquire this album, but I really wonder what happened to the epic and memorable band of yesteryear.
I remember that at the time, there was a lot of curiosity about World Funeral album. The main reason was the entrance of a new drummer after Andersson left and this new drummer was Emil Dragutinovic, who already played on the previous EP. La Grand Danse Macabre was not an astonishing album but it was not horrible either and with the new World Funeral we can notice the new Marduk direction after the unbelievable speed of Panzer Division Marduk. The new style is quite strange in my opinion: to the always incredibly fast songs, they oppose slower ones but these two styles almost never joined in one song. They are almost completely detached.
Let’s take the opener, “With Satan and Victorious Weapons”: it’s completely relentless and massive. Here Marduk takes a lot of influences from the recent past in terms of speed. The vocals are always quite good even if I believe they already started to loose something in power. However, the song is compact, brutal and nasty. The savage riffage is composed by tremolo pickings and open chords parts. The production is something unbelievable for volumes, sharpness and power. All the instruments are massive and loud. A sort of strange reverb-distortion is utilized by the guitars and this is quite new.
To sustain my theory about the almost complete detachment of the fast parts to the slowest ones we can find the second song, “Bleached Bones”. The riffs are slow, almost groovy and they always reminded a bit the ones bit mid-era Hypocrisy. This is a quite new thing for Marduk because even in the past the band didn’t put out such strange mid-tempo parts. They did play some sort of mid-paced sections but they are not like these ones. “Cloven Hoof” is another blast beats/tremolo pickings hammered and it’s again relentless in destroying anything it meets on its way. “World Funeral” is more of the same and it’s utterly fast.
I believe that Emil plays even faster than Andersson but he’s equally quite recognizable and remarkable too for the technique, united to the speed. The riffs on the fast songs are actually always quite catchy and good, with some fast solo and a truly dark atmosphere. “To the Death's Head True” is a return to the epic/slow patterns but this time is better thanks to dark and evocative parts. By the way, the riffs are a bit recycled and, going on, the will to skip this track is too strong. “Castrum Doloris” is the weakest track of this album because it features completely senseless and dull riffs. The vocals are more growlish and the boredom comes after few seconds. As always, forget about fast restarts during these mid-paced songs.
“Hearse” is again completely different thanks to the unmatchable brutality but shows also some fast bass drums parts in order to sustain a bit different patterns. The idea was good but the riffs are sloppy and derivative. This is maybe the first episode in which the different tempo parts are mixed together to create a good mixture of atmospheres. “Night of the Long Knives” is just remarkable for the awesome, fantastic, superb, epic section by the middle, immediately after the lead guitars part. “Bloodletting” is too long for being founded only on one or two slow riffs and with “Blessed Unholy” we return to sheer power and speed but with fewer ideas. Everything is “cold” and “arid” is sense of ideas and songwriting, with no standouts or memorable parts.
“Blackcrowned” is a dark and epic march. The trumpets announce a sort of a funeral procession. It’s a good outro to put an end to this album. Basically, the first tracks are the best here, at least the fast ones, while the rest could be pretty forgettable. The production, in spite being great, can’t save lots of boring and weak parts. The ideas are not present here and the sheer power is not enough. This album already shows the not-too-slow decline but Marduk.
Clearly, as much as I enjoy and respect Marduk as a powerful black metal outfit, they really need to get their act together more properly and start listening more to their next door neighbors - the Norwegians - and figure out what made their material more memorable and more artistically air tight. Not that Marduk have not produced good black metal material, but it seems that they try a little too hard flaunting the evil mask, getting lost in the erratic shifts of lightning fast to disparagingly slow guitar tempos and too many layers of flat brutality in their sound that they become very one-dimensional in their approach and aesthetic, therefore getting distracted in only the technique of the music, but never contemplating the "feel" of evocation through their music. This album, sadly, turned out to be rather a disappointment.
To start off, this is Marduk's third consecutive album recorded in Peter Tagtgren's Abyss Studio. The sound is extremely squeaky-clean, ultra-sharp, treble-y with mid-range and bass frequencies up the evil whazoo that it kills all texture in the album. Already, the album sounds very flat and monotonous in it's production. Especially since it sounds extremely digital and this doesn’t help in providing “evil atmosphere” for raw black metal.
One of Marduk's biggest weaknesses has been their ineptitude to write better lyrics. Some of their lyrics are good, while many other songs have the most dumbest, contrived, lame, clichéd and almost "pubescent childish"-sounding lyrics I've ever heard. They practically undercut the intention of evil that Morgan Håkansson is aiming for to get his point across, but instead falls short sounding almost like the temper tantrum of a young Protestant boy who hasn't fully found a solution to his disgust and misery of being dragged to church every Sunday with his parents.
On this album, once again, Morgan and Co. try doing some slower songs, but unlike a slower tune such as "Dracul Va Domni Din Nou In Transilvania," Marduk have mostly specialized in fast tempos only. Making a slower tune for Marduk is a very precarious task that unfortunately, for 'World Funeral' fails miserably. Songs like "Bleached Bones," sound like a tattered and torn necrophilia love song with - yet again - pure Swedish black cheese-styled lyrics. It's so dorky I'm not even going to mention them. Just read them for yourself. The song also takes on a slightly more rock-beat feel with it's slow to mid-paced tempo – just plain annoying.
The lowest point ever on this entire album of pointless fodder is the sixth track, "Castrum Doloris." Where "Bleached Bones is annoying, "Castrum Doloris, " totally aggravating and irritating. The song's slow pace and shuffled beats/guitar riffs sound deplorable. The entire tune almost takes on the feel of what a black metal band like Marduk would sound like if they tried playing blues and classic rock in a Texas bar, since it has the triplet/shuffle beat. DISGUSTING! What is even worse, is - again - the lyrics. It drags on so long about the loss of love through death of some vague kind and other bullshit I won't dare try and figure out. It ends with the lamest line in black metal-song writing history: "We're all still thirsty as can be." WHAT!? Maybe the band could have advertised itself for a Nestea commercial with a line like that. But that is NOT what I call ideal, evil black metal song lyrics. That's just plain fucking stupid.
Legion's vocals don't help much either. Where once he carried a very demonic bellow, exemplified on the 'Heaven Shall Burn' album, his vocals have now died due to throat infection and detrimental overuse. One even once criticized Legion's vocals to sounding like "a pirate with laryngitis." He sure sounds like one. But you got to give him credit for his effort. He practically destroyed his own voice box in the name of Satan. That's what I call dedication. Too bad it's as one-dimensional as the rest of the sound on the album.
However, it's not ALL that bad. It does have it's better highlights too. The heaviness purported by the digital sound of Abyss Studios production does give perfectly to the feel of unrelenting punishment the band has always pioneered. Also, being the debut album of drummer Emil Dragutinovic, the drumming fills the bill perfectly in both aggressiveness and rhythmic timing. Many of Morgan's guitar riffs carry a nice flavor of both mutilated thrash precision and baroque/neoclassical-styled melody and virtuosity. The musicality of the album is most likely the only backbone that holds this entire travesty together. Hence why my rating of 62 is all I can honestly give.
The only GOOD songs on this album (without paying heavy attention to the lyrics) would be the following tracks: "With Satan and Victorious Weapons," "Cloven Hoof," "World Funeral," "Hearse" and "Bloodletting" (the ONLY GOOD SLOW SONG ON HERE). Just a reminder, that's with me letting the lyrics slide, as well as Legion's constantly weakening vocals.
Concluding, Marduk as a veteran black metal band really need to focus less on being evil-doers and more on being better composers and songwriters. Focusing on brutality, sound and aesthetic profanities alone isn't enough. World Funeral sounds more like "Marduk's Funeral," as it falls significantly short. It's time for some vast improvements.