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Marduk's finest - 88%

The_Desolate_One, November 9th, 2011

This is a little surprising, but, back in '93, before Marduk decided they wanted to sound like a hyperspeed vaccuum cleaner, they actually knew how to craft discernible songs. Going generally at a midpaced flow, though still having the occasional the blastbeating and doomy moments, Those of the Unlight is mostly a guitar-driven album, with every song having a handful of riffs that are not only discernible, but memorable, with a very good sense of melody, and even groove. It's still not as melodic as proper meloblack like, say, Rotting Christ or Dissection, who were also defining their sound at around the same time, though it does come close at times. Just check the final minute of “Darkness Breeds Immortality”, or the beginning of “Wolves” to see what I'm talking about... pretty cool riffs, I even catch myself humming them from time to time. And there are solos too – so rare and often not really good in black metal – in “Wolves”, “On Darkened Wings", “Burn My Coffin” and “Stone Stands its Silent Vigil”, which sound pretty awesome as well, especially because the songwriting doesn't make it feel like they've been tacked in just because they had to. It's all about the atmosphere.

And, yes, regarding that, maybe I should talk about the songwriting for a bit. Take a look at a song like the title track, for instance, and you'll notice that it follows an interesting structure, having a dissonant intro riff followed by a groovy section and then different riffs accompanied by blastbeats (and dramatically anticipated by the bass alone). Then, when it repeats the two first sections afterwards, what follows is a doomy riff instead, that allows the drums a moment to shine as they progress from a tribal pattern towards something progressively more aggressive, melting away into atmospherics before building up for another fast, final section. I'm not claiming it's any stroke of genius or something never done before, but it's nonetheless quite interesting as they manage to keep it all sounding cohesive while avoiding boring traditional song structures. Even when there is a chorus, there are plenty of other things going on to keep it from being similar to a radio single.

What is also worthy of praise is the production, done by Sweden's underground superstar Dan Swanö. It's raw while still being clear enough for the bass to be audible at all times, as a meaty pulse throbbing beneath the dissonant riffs, and for the guitars not to sound too thin, murky or drowned out by the drums. And it's all so dark... no matter when during the songs, it consistently feels profoundly nocturnal, as if Af Gravf's raspy shrieks were the echoes of someone at a mountain top desperately screaming into the night. Which I guess is exactly the atmosphere they were going for, as the lyrics talk about death, the night, darkness, solitude and cold, desolate Scandinavian landscapes. Though I do find the Tolkien references in the title track a little nerdy, it's still passable and overall way better than the comical Satanic, “look at how blasphemous I am” thing they'd do so much in the future.

One last highlight that I'd like to comment too is the insanely cool 7 minute instrumental “Echoes from the Past”. With its first 5 minutes of orchestral atmospheric background fronted by a calm, minimalistic clean guitar, it builds up momentum to eventually explode into nothing less than good old, dark, melancholy doom. I think that it – followed closely by “Materialized in Stone” in the following album, Opus Nocturne, a fine piece of work too, also featuring Av Gravf's vocals and Swanö's production – stands out as the most emotional and beautiful song Marduk would ever write.

So, the bottom line here is: if you're a fan of black metal with atmosphere, melody and diversity, this may be the album for you. I think even fans of doom, blackened doom and depressive black metal might find some appeal in this. However, if you're looking for something noisy, fast and extremely aggressive, I suggest you look elsewhere, like Marduk's later output. My only complain is that Those of the Unlight, clocking in at 37 minutes, is just too damn short and they'd never do something quite like this again.