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After punishing the metal world with the infamous Panzer Division Marduk, their very own monument to the northern hyperblast and a programmatic statement somewhat akin to Slayer’s Reign in Blood or Dark Angel’s Darkness Descends, veteran Swedish black metallers Marduk went for a considerably slower approach (well, slower for Marduk standards, that is) on the follow-up La Grande Danse Macabre, an album that in turn was followed by World Funeral, their final studio effort with vocalist Legion and a decidedly more eclectic affair than any of the previous two records. To use another thrash analogy: like Slayer’s Seasons in the Abyss combined Reign in Blood and South of Heaven into an album that’s a little bit of both, Marduk took the uncompromising recklessness of Panzer Division Marduk and the more measured approach of La Grande Danse Macabre and used those ingredients to cook up World Funeral, an album that offers a little bit of almost everything that Marduk were known for up to that point.
For whatever reason, World Funeral doesn’t seem to be held in particularly high regard by many listeners. That, however, shouldn’t deter anyone from giving it a try, for fear not, oh lovers of the northern hyperblast: there’s still plenty of panzer division in this world funeral. Tracks like "With Satan and Victorious Weapons", "Cloven Hoof", "World Funeral" and "Blessed Unholy" are full of persistent, insanely fast blast beats and high-speed tremolo shredding, leaving in their wake nothing but scorched earth and handing the listener a pretty severe aural beating. Drummer Emil Dragutinovic seems to be on steroids here, blasting his drum kit – and himself – into oblivion with both reckless abandon and flawless precision. In other words, those who prefer Marduk in their fastest and most extreme form should find plenty to like on World Funeral, even more so since there are fast passages in some of the slower, more varied tracks as well. "Hearse", for instance, starts off with all guns blazing before settling for a more chugging pace. Truth be told, it’s a rather inconspicuous tune and an odd choice to be released as a single with an accompanying music video. "Night of the Long Knives" is of a different caliber, though. It, too, blends faster with slower tempos, but this time to much greater effect and with the added bonus of that majestic instrumental passage beginning about halfway through the song.
As for the rest of the tracks, Marduk treat us to some unusually slow ones, particularly "To the Death's Head True" and "Bleached Bones". Both tracks slowly plod along at a march-like pace that almost approaches doom metal territory, and in that regard both tacks are helped tremendously by the badass production. Where other black metal outfits go for a distant low-fi sound with lots of reverb, Marduk have long preferred outright brutality over muffled eeriness. World Funeral is no exception: while still sounding plenty raw and far from glossy, it pummels you with an absolutely massive wall of guitars and a thunderous bass that features relatively high in the mix, with both aspects coming in especially handy on the slow songs just mentioned.
One particular track deserving of a few more words is "Castrum Doloris". For Marduk standards, this one is an experiment of sorts, which is mainly due to its very unusual rhythm and pace. You’d probably be hard-pressed to name another black metal song that sounds comparable to this, one reason being that you could actually dance to it – dance not in the sense of some ordinary mosh-pit activity but as in real dancing, like a waltz or some other such thing. The image created in your mind whilst listening to it is that of people in Baroque attire participating in some type of ballroom dance. It lasts only three-and-a-half minutes but makes quite an impression, as can be seen by the fact that people seem to judge this experiment by either singing its praises or damning it outright. This reviewer firmly falls in the former category. Moreover, it’s still clearly Marduk, so it’s not like it’s in any way corny or absolutely doesn’t fit with the rest of the material.
The album is concluded in fine fashion by an instrumental called "Blackcrowned", which is based on a classical piece by the English composer Henry Purcell. It was originally a funeral march in honor of Queen Mary II. of England, only this time we can assume it’s not just a king or queen being laid to rest, but the world as a whole.
Alas, while World Funeral may not exactly be Marduk’s finest hour, it’s hard to find much fault with it either. The band makes no attempt to reinvent the wheel here, being content to just put forth another solid slab of their trademark style of brutal black metal. It is thus recommended for those already familiar with the band, though it also makes for a good starting point for those looking to get into it, as it offers up a high-quality mix of some extremely fast and some slower material. If this is what a world funeral sounds like, the end complete doesn’t seem like such a bad prospect.
Choicest cuts: With Satan and Victorious Weapons, Bleached Bones, World Funeral, Castrum Doloris, Night of the Long Knives
I do not want to say that Marduk have ever had a phase of weakness. Apart from their immature debut, the band always released good albums. The problem is that "good" is a broad term. "Good" is as vague as "woman". I mean, the deceptive word "woman" unites the top models on TV, the (hopefully lovely) girl next door and your mother-in-law. Do I need to say more?
"World Funeral" does not play the role of the tedious mother-in-law. Nevertheless, it is also far from being perfect. The slow-moving, rippling "Castrum Doloris" belongs to the most meaningless compositions of the band. 214 seconds of boredom, too short to go to the toilet, too long to ignore the absence of creative ideas. Of course, this downer cannot be considered to be representative for the full-length. Yet it is a fact that a comparatively high number of tracks fails to leave a lasting impression. Whenever I listen to "World Funeral", I am convinced that I lend an ear to predominantly decent songs, but as soon as the album is over, I have problems to reconstruct them. Especially the hyper-fast tracks pass by without kicking the listener's ass in an unforgettable manner. This is slightly disappointing, because "real" black metal albums must at least contain one or two punchy speed crusher. Of course, you do not need to share this point of view, but all this depressive, ambient or suicidal so-called black metal does not make my day. In the best case, these sounds can be labelled as grey metal. But let's get back to Marduk's eighth studio album.
Of course, the slow tracks of "World Funeral" cannot be associated with the elaborations of the whining "black" metal fraction, neither in terms of quality nor in terms of radicalism. Not only because of the modern, powerful production, they emanate a feeling of pure heaviness. The highlights of these sonic vulgarities are "To the Death's Head True" and "Bloodletting". Thanks to their heavyweight flow, they appear as pure molten steel. Marduk generate a remarkable aura of cruelty and severity while integrating some minimalist melodies. Little blemish: the melodies of these tunes lie in very close proximity to each other, compare the lines at 3:10 of "Bloodletting" with that of "To the Death's Head True". Anyway, these songs hit the nail on the head and indicate the enormous capabilities of the Swedish monster. But they are the exception to the rule. Unfortunately, the remaining tracks do not reach the usual level of the band's compositions.
Another oddity is that Marduk have forgotten to conceive some mid-tempo tracks. The songs deliver high velocity or they proceed at a snail's pace and there is nothing in between. This does not mean that the tracks are arranged in a foreseeable way and I admit that the headline of the review is slightly vile. Nevertheless, the band deprives itself of the opportunity to deliver a higher degree of variation.
As a footnote, the average "Hearse" was also released as a single. The B side offered Possessed's "Phantasm". To choose this rather inconspicuous track from the overwhelming catalogue of the US-American legend matched the quality of Marduk's own compositions on "World Funeral". But one thing is for sure, I can sing the chorus of "Phantasm" at any time, day and night. (Don't worry, I won't do that in order to preserve my neighbours from evil.) But I am unable to reproduce the choruses of "World Funeral". Maybe my mother-in-law can help me.
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.