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Shades of deep purply darkness - 83%

Acrobat, March 21st, 2015
Written based on this version: 1996, CD, Osmose Productions

Everybody knows what to expect when it comes to Marduk and that’s both a blessing and a curse, really. The band has the unique status of being extremely well-known and yet they’re not often named amongst the elite bands of their genre. They also have the unfortunate reputation of having a one-dimensional album as their flagship album (one that is certainly different from their earlier works). And while I wouldn’t suggest that this is Marduk’s finest hour, for me, this is a kind of ‘easy-listening’ black metal record. I don’t mean ‘easy-listening’ that in the sense that it’s overly melodic or sugary (although, you certainly couldn’t claim that Heaven Shall Burn… When We are Gathered is black metal at its most abrasive). And yet, whatever mood I’m in this record always has some sort of playability value; a pleasant darkness that washes over you, taking you into those familiar black metal realms of death, darkness and bloodshed.

For a lot of people, however, this could be the record where Marduk started to get it wrong given the marked changes between this record and its predecessor. Clearly, there might be some issues for some listeners; the production is from Abyss studios and it is a great deal cleaner than prior outings, Legion does have a tendency to fit a large amount of lyrics into any given song and the tempo is perhaps just a little blastier than previous albums (I’d say that Opus Nocturne is still a very blast-heavy, frantic album for the most of its playing time, though). Still, to my ears, this Abyss job is one of the more palatable to come from the said studio – the drums in particular don’t suffer from the same boxy, Wacken-metal sound as, say, later Immortal – and the guitars aren’t overbearingly fizzy in that “will give you ear fatigue within 20 minutes” sense. Then again, this was 1996 and Peter Tägtgren would have several years to perfect that particular ‘art’. Of course, the record would have sounded better if it was more like Those of the Unlight or Opus Nocturne but it’s still very serviceable. Then there’s Legion who, at large, does a good job here. He’s pretty much a generic black metal singer in the vein of Dead but that’s precisely what this material calls for. His hyper-active singing does get out-of-hand on ‘Darkness It Shall Be’ which is basically a breathing exercise for Legion, set to the tune of Satan. It’s a reflection of black metal’s superlative phase (obviously Panzer Division Marduk would be a continuation down this route) when seemingly everything had to be the fastest or evilest. But honestly, it’s the only time on this album where I feel like I’m listening to a less classy band like Dark Funeral. And regarding the blasting? Well, I don’t think this is too blast dominated; the riffs are largely good and the bass is more than just an audible twanging noise (contributing some excellent parts and occasionally B. War will take the spotlight for a lead). Certainly, this is no one-gear album and the band elaborate on ‘Materialized in Stone’ and its winning formula with the grindingly slow ‘Dracul Va Domini Din Nou in Transilvania’, which proves to be among the very best Marduk tracks with its grim tale of medieval carnage.

It strikes me as a little odd that Marduk are one of the sternest, most po-faced bands in black metal and yet their 1990s material (that is up-to and including Nightwing, at least) is such damn good fun. On the one hand, it really does typify everything that people think of when they talk about black metal. But perhaps what they often fail to mention is how enjoyable it all is, which is understandable with a band as relentlessly dark as Marduk (after all, their debut did promise an endless darkness). This 1990s run of Marduk albums seems to have a celebratory feel for me; the band encompass all things dark, all that is black, everything nocturnal… as if they never saw that pasty, feeble Swedish sun at all in those years. There’s nothing atypical here (nor is there really on any Marduk album I’ve heard) but let that be a ringing endorsement for once rather than a criticism.