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The Past Is Alive - 90%

AsPredatorToPrey, June 23rd, 2012

With their second album, Those of the Unlight, Marduk built on the foundation of Dark Endless by increasing the speed of faster tracks and by varying the tempos of others to tell a more dramatic story. They would raise the speed on their third album, Opus Nocturne, but the change in producers from Edge of Sanity's Dan Swano to Hypocrisy's Peter Tagtren shortly afterward could be just as responsible for Marduk's choice to write even faster music as it is for their change in sound. Now that they could hear their own music with a different clarity, more low end and a thicker guitar tone, Marduk could rev up the war machine that would roll from Heaven Shall Burn When We Are Gathered through Plague Angel. Although the last Marduk album Tagtren produced was World Funeral, it wasn't until two albums later, Rom 5:12, where Marduk began using their latest change in production quality to explore a grittier side of their music. Each fan may split Marduk's eras differently and I divide it into three based on the production styles. As much as I'd like to wistfully imagine Marduk's next change in sound in another album or two, hopefully for the better, I'd like to draw your attention to this relatively humble opus, Those of the Unlight.

"Darkness Breeds Immortality" begins with an ascending riff before the night sky opens for Gabriel and his archangels to fall ever downward through the... well, you've heard Venom. Taking the song's lyrics in context with the recurring Lord of the Rings theme on the album plus the atmospheric majesty of "Echoes From the Past" (much more on that later), it feels like the Ringwraiths' fall from humanity into servitude to The Dark Lord. Like the fallen angel in the lyrics asking why but receiving no response, they wander the borders of their former homelands hoping to return. Thoughts brood farther away from the light from which they fell and these once proud mortal men find new identities as the tools of a wickedness they once opposed. The somber ending is like the shedding of their final human tears as any chance for redemption has long since passed and they have nothing more for which to hope as humans than to silently die. The music tells the story well with a variety of riffs and tempos and sets a dark, but adventurous tone for the rest of the album.

Marduk's first three albums have a more dynamic black metal atmosphere than the inexorable hyberblast that would come to define them. Those of the Unlight has plenty of instances where the music uses these dynamics to perfectly depict the subject matter. At 3:54 of the title track, the drums fall away, guitars and keyboard build the tension and you can almost see the Ringwraiths gathering in the sickly green light of their lair, preparing for another attempt to capture the Ringbearer while also thinking of the terror of facing Sauron's wrath if they fail yet again. The guitar leads in "Wolves" are just as painful and slow as the tormented howling of the titular beasts in a desperate quest to recover what they lost. Another simple guitar solo appears near the start of "Stone Stands Its Silent Vigil" like the last trace of color leaving the album before winter turns everything to frost.

If you're new to Marduk, I assure you that there is no other song in their current discography that sounds anything like "Echoes From the Past." Marduk may have become a decent gothic doom band if their urge for war hadn't been so strong. This serene atmospheric piece sounds like it was recorded in the deepest part of the forest surrounding the dungeons in which Candlemass brought forth Epicus Doomicus Metallicus. Listen to it between "Under the Oak" and "A Sorceror's Pledge" and tell me that it doesn't feel like a lost bridge for would have been a massive epic track. So many fantasy images emerge in your mind when hearing this song. The gentle acoustic arpeggios, the soothing keyboard and the sounds of running water and occasional rocks striking the inside of a cave evoke images of a sullen and betrayed creature separating himself from his kin to craft the first spear to be used for murder, a purpose previously unknown to him or to any other being who existed. You get the feeling of hatred growing in this creature's mind like the anticipation for revenge on whatever turned his heart to this kind of madness. At 5:04, the crashing guitars and plodding drums are like the deliberate footsteps of the now misshapen creature emerging from the forests while an exalting guitar lead reflects a feeling of accomplishment and of pride for the malice that he will soon make reality. You could see it as foreshadowing the violence that Marduk would eventually explore in both their music and their lyrics. Death to peace, war at last, from caves and forests to tanks and artillery in two albums or less. Thanks, Peter Tagtren!

Marduk's current direction explores a different kind of darkness then their first three albums, but fans of their new sound may also find a lot to like on an album like Those of the Unlight. From Rom 5:12 onward, it's like the creature has returned to his home, broken by the the horrors of war because one killing just wasn't enough and now spends its sunless days in a self-imposed orthodoxy of misery and decay. I'm still not a fan of the new sound, but I can at least appreciate it as another part of the band's evolution. Morgan Hakansson is still the mastermind and the other three faces in the band may continue to change, but Marduk remain the four wolves of the apocalypse.