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Fuck Me Jesus (1991)
 

Fuck Me Jesus is the first demo release by the Swedish Black Metal band, Marduk. It was recorded in Gorysound Studio and released in June 1991. Not surprisingly, Dan Swanö had a hand in the production of this release. It would be the first of many collaborations between these two. What may be unknown to fans of the band's later output, the sound here is closer to the first Edge of Sanity album than to the rising Black Metal bands in western Scandinavia. At this point, the band had much more in common with the Swedish Death Metal scene, regarding their sound. There is an abundance of thicker, doom-filled riffs that really show no influence from a band such as Bathory. Much like Darkthrone, Marduk didn't alter their sound until their second release.

The demo begins with the intro, "Fuck Me Jesus". Despite being nothing more than a forty-second sample form "The Exorcist", it does well to set the tone, in its own way.

The first real song is "Departure From the Mortals". Immediately, the opening riff sounds like something from Nothing But Death Remains. Soon enough, the mid-paced riffs give way to faster and more vicious riffs that are more in line with the Black Metal spirit, regardless of the production job. There's some minimal keyboard use, adding a bit of a horror feeling, late in the song. As was typical in the Swedish Death Metal scene of the time, its utilization is done in a tasteful manner and accentuates the dark mood being created by the riffs.

"The Black" is next, starting out with fuzzy tremolo riffs and somewhat of a fast pace. This, quickly, transitions into a pure Death Metal riff, complete with drumming. After a few moments, it reverts to a more blasting, Black Metal, approach. The vocals are really the only thing here that is consistent with the Black Metal vibe, as the music goes back and forth. That being said, the material on this demo is a hundred times more interesting than the later albums that this band would be known for. Andreas Axelsson does a good job with the vocals, conveying a frenzied feeling and earning his place as my second-favourite of the Marduk vocalists (just behind Joakim "Af Gravf" Göthberg).

The final full song is "Within the Abyss". It opens with another mid-paced and powerful riff, yet takes little time before things speed up. The sound has a little more crunch to it than on the version found on Dark Endless, which can be said of all the songs. Also, like the rest, the pace is dynamic and keeps the listener interested, doing a good job of creating a dark atmosphere. After all, that is the point. Somewhere along the way, they forgot how to write interesting music and became nothing more than a parody of themselves.

The demo ends with a decent little outro, titled "Shut Up and Suffer". The name doesn't exactly reek of intelligence, but track does its job and brings things to an end.

All in all, Fuck Me Jesus isn't an essential release, as the songs here are not far removed from the versions that would appear on their first full-length; however, it's an interesting listen for fans of the band's early work. I'd definitely recommend this to anyone that hasn't heard the potential that this band possessed, in its early years.
 
(22 Apr. 2010)

 
Dark Endless (1992)
 
Photobucket

Dark Endless
is the first full-length from Swedish Black Metal band Marduk. This is the most unique album in their entire catalog, and it is also one of their best. I first discovered Marduk through Opus Nocturne, several years ago. While it was a decent effort, the weak production job made it difficult to enjoy. It was hard to believe that the same guy that produced The Somberlain, Dan Swanö, was responsible for this. At any rate, after this album, I moved forward, instead of backward. Mistake number one. I liked some elements of the Nightwing album, but I disliked the vocalist and the overall production. Anything that the band recorded after that seemed to be nothing but pointless blasting nonsense with no feeling and it completely failed at doing the one thing Black Metal is supposed to do: create a dark atmosphere. So, after being disappointed with yet another sub-par release, in 2001, I gave up on this band and wrote them off. Mistake number two.

Heeding the advice of my girlfriend, I finally gave in and checked out the older Marduk albums. Those of the Unlight was vastly superior to anything that came after, yet Dark Endless soon emerged as my favorite. The first thing that I noticed about this album was that the production is very strong and is much more reminiscent of Swedish Death Metal bands from that era, such as Edge of Sanity. However, this is Black Metal, similar to old Samael and Treblinka/Tiamat. This was released around the same time that the Norwegians were redefining the sound, so it was before everything had to sound like that to be recognized as Black Metal.

There is a lot of variation in tempo, throughout this album. There are fast parts, blastbeats and plenty of tremolo riffs, but it's done with purpose rather than for the sake of being fast. There are a lot of slow riffs that help to create an atmosphere of doom. Minimal keyboard use is present here, to add to this. Every note seems to be played for a reason and they do well to create a dark feeling. The vocals of Andreas Axelsson suit this music perfectly and are typical for Black Metal, being high and raspy. And, unlike most Marduk albums I've heard, there are many memorable riffs and songs. The melodies stick with you even once the CD is over, making you want to listen again. Since the album is relatively short, it is easy to listen to it several times in a row.

Like many bands, Marduk definitely hit their peak early on and this is a prime example of what they were capable of, before wasting time churning out pointless garbage in an effort to impress everyone with how fast and brutal they can be. Standout tracks include "Still Fucking Dead", "The Funeral Seemed To Be Endless", "Dark Endless", and "Holy Inquisition". However, the album is oozing with memorable riffs and melodies, so it's difficult to choose. If you like the old Swedish sound, but you prefer something darker and more evil, seek this out.
 
(6 Sept. 2008)

 
Those of the Unlight (1993)
 

Marduk has seen a few transitions. Dark Endless featured more of a typical Swedish Death Metal approach. Their later albums are, for the most part, pointless noise for the sake of being 'brutal' and 'extreme'. Their most recent output is a bit different, offering an atmosphere of doom. Yet it was on Those of the Unlight where the band truly put their efforts into creating quality Black Metal; music with a dark atmosphere, rather than the boring trash served up in the decade or so that followed this. As with many bands, their creativity waned after just a couple of albums.

After the release of Dark Endless, Marduk underwent some sort of transformation. What they released on that album was Black Metal, despite the Death Metal structures and so on. However, on Those of the Unlight, they shed this sound for something darker and more raw. They lost their vocalist, Andreas Axelsson, as he went to play for Edge of Sanity. His replacement was none other than Joakim "Af Gravf" Göthberg, who was the best vocalist they ever had. In April 1993, the band entered Dan Swanö's Hellspawn Studio to record what would come to be known as their crowning achievement.

The album begins with "Darkness Breeds Immortality". This sounds much like what one would expect from a Scandinavian Black Metal release from 1993. Fast tremolo guitar riffs, blasting guitars and raspy vocals. Yet this is not average in any way. In no time, the excellent songwriting becomes apparent. Göthberg's vocals sound like his throat is shredded. There is a lot of dark feeling in his performance. The atmosphere of doom, from the first album, is still present.

"Those of the Unlight" begins with a brilliant tremolo melody. The lyrical concept for this song appears to have something to do with the Nazgûl in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord Of The Rings. The cover artwork seems to support this theory.

"Frozen on the very brinks of death
Enslaved by the dark lord
Forever dying but never dead
The nine - Those of the Unlight"

This song is filled with memorable riffs and tempo changes that prevent this from even coming close to the boredom induced by later Marduk albums. It really sounds like a completely different band. While the sound is raw, this is not very primitive at all. The song structures are well thought-out and executed with precision. There is a somber atmosphere found in many of the harmonies on this album.

"Wolves" carries the album forward with more dark, yet memorable, riffs. The production isn't horrible, but this would have benefited had it achieved the same type of sound that Dissection managed to get, using the same studio. These riffs are really far too good to not be fully realized to their maximum potential. The guitars should be a little louder and sharper, in all honesty. A couple minutes into this song, there is a very 'relaxed' section that has a lot of feeling to it. It seems a little out of place, yet the band manages to fit it in well enough. This is followed by more tremolo riffs, fast drums and tortured vocals, with even some haunting whispers thrown in.

"On Darkened Wings" begins with an eerie guitar effect and the sound of thunder, rumbling in the distance. The song then builds up to full speed, utilizing cold and dark melodies. After a minute and a half, the song slows down and a feeling of sorrow and dread consumes the listener. A minute or so later, there is another lead guitar solo that is somewhat unexpected. As the song reaches its conclusion, the vocals convey feelings of torment, suffering and death.

The next song is one of the best on the album, "Burn My Coffin". Morgan Håkansson's memorable riffs and Joakim Göthberg's dark and tortured vocals suit one another very well. This song features yet more guitar solos, these fitting the song perfectly. All becomes silent, after a few minutes, leaving a lone, mournful guitar melody. As the vocals, bass and drums return, the feeling is that of a funeral march. As it fades into nothingness, your heart muscles begin to tighten. Just when you are ready to stop breathing, the melancholy riff fades back in and claims your spirit.

"Black candles burn tonight
As my soul begins it's flight
As the veil of Darkness lowers it's shadow
I travel through the night"

The sorrowful atmosphere is alleviated, to some extent, with "A Sculpture of the Night". This is faster and a bit less abysmal as the previous song. About halfway through, there is a very oldschool-sounding riff.

"Echoes From the Past" is the longest song of the album, and an instrumental. This begins with quiet guitar passages and the sound of falling rain and minimal keyboard use, in the background. There is a dark and nostalgic feeling created here. Listening to this, your mind slips away from reality and into the darkness. You ruminate over what once was; that which is gone, never to return. You think of the mistakes that you've made in this terrible existence and how they can never be undone. Your heart is gripped by loss and mourning. The future is so bleak and obscured by shadows. Just then, the guitars and drums come in to add to the somber atmosphere. The feeling of doom and regret takes you even deeper.

"Stone Stands Its Silent Vigil" continues this feeling of grief and despair. Following the utter spiritual death from the previous song, this evokes imagery of a frozen graveland, and a lone tombstone marking your final resting place. It is fairly mid-paced, with miserably tortured vocals and lyrics that suit the feeling well. There is a brief section that speeds up, but this only serves to accentuate the funereal qualities of the final moments of the album...

"In the lands of frost
All life is dead and lost
Frozen into a lifeless statue
Well preserved but quite dead"

Those of the Unlight stands as a bleak monument of Marduk's glory days, when they created music that possessed a dark and tormented atmosphere; when they played Black Metal rather than pointless noise. This is highly recommended for any fan of early 90s Swedish Black Metal.
 
(2 Feb. 2009)

 
 

Opus Nocturne is the third full-length album from Sweden's Marduk. Once again, the band made a questionable decision, by choosing to record at Unisound/Hellspawn and allowing Dan Swanö to engineer and mix the L.P. The album was released by Osmose Records in December 1994, and signifies the end of the first era of Marduk's musical career, in a way. It was all downhill, after this one.

This was the first Marduk album that I ever bought, after hearing the song "The Sun Has Failed", on a college radio show. My first impression was that the album wasn't allowed to live up to its full potential, and this sentiment has not really changed in all these years. Dan Swanö deserves to be, brutally, beaten for his horrible lack of skill when it comes to recording Black Metal. I've made this point before, but it must be repeated: I'll never be able to fathom how the same guy that was involved in producing The Somberlain and Storm of the Light's Bane could have been responsible for the atrocious sound on so many other albums. The only thing I can think of is that the Dissection guys were more hands-on during the entire process, rather than leaving it up to Dan's ineptitude. Opus Nocturne possesses a very flat sound, and it's almost painful in a way; my ears beg for the guitars to rise out of the murky production. This music required more of a cold and sharp guitar sound and it's a crime that it had to be released in such condition. It is, somewhat, challenging to get past this major flaw. However, since the songwriting is so good, one must simply march forward despite this.

Speaking of the songwriting, the band did well to craft very memorable songs that are dripping with atmosphere. Musically, this record picks up from where Those of the Unlight left off, and maintains a similar atmosphere and style. Even though the production is such a hindrance, the force behind the songs cannot be denied. This album is dedicated to all things nocturnal and that feeling is conveyed very well. The songs on Opus Nocturne are not the all-out blast-fests that the band would later be known for. One can easily tell that much thought went into the structure and arrangement of each song. Here, there is no brutality for its own sake. Everything works toward a common goal. Songs, such as "Sulphur Souls", and "From Subterranean Throne Profound" are very dynamic, filled with peaks and valleys. that really give the listener the sense that they are being taken on a journey. Compared to their later works, even the faster riffs just seem much better composed and more meaningful. But the most significant aspect of early Marduk was atmosphere. This is something that they lost, for the most part, after this album.

As for the vocals, "Af Gravf" was the best vocalist that the band ever had, period. His style suited the music much better than any other that would go on to attempt to fill his role. Outside of simply possessing a raspy, deathlike sound, he also knew exactly how to utilize his vocals. He was well aware of how to use his voice as another instrument, in order to add to the overall aura of the song. Despite the poor Hellspawn production job, the guitar riffs are still the most important thing, and he never attempted to dominate the sound or drown out the melodies. His successor would have done well to have taken notes from his performances.

It is almost strange to think about, the fact that I nearly gave up on this band. Between the weak production jobs on Those of the Unlight and Opus Nocturne, as well as the boring style that they later embraced, I'd come very close to writing them off as yet another band that did nothing for me. Songs like "Materialized in Stone" and "Opus Nocturne" (featuring IT, of Abruptum/Ophthalamia) remained embedded in my brain and kept me from abandoning these works, altogether. Thankfully, in recent years, both albums have been remastered and reissued in somewhat better form. Normally, I'm the last person to approve of an album being altered from its original form. However, in this case, anything that enables me to get a stronger grasp on these melodies is a good thing.

There is really no way to choose which tracks stand out above the rest, as that would imply that some are inferior to the others, or serving as filler. Every piece of this album is essential to the overall atmosphere that is being created. It's filled with brilliant melodies and vocal passages, all flowing together, seamlessly. While the production can be a bit of a turn-off, it becomes less of an issue once you fully immerse yourself in the music and tune your ears in to the particular sound of this record. Opus Nocturne is an essential piece of mid-90's Black Metal and the final relevant album from Marduk.
 
(10 Sept. 2010)

 
 

Following the release of Opus Nocturne, a few changes were made within the Marduk camp. Af Gravf was replaced by the inferior Legion, and they abandoned Hellspawn Studio for Peter Tägtgren's Abyss Studio. Released in the summer of 1996, Heaven Shall Burn... When We Are Gathered serves as a transitional piece, sharing some similarities with the past but, moreso, paving the way for future albums. From this point on, the band would go down a path of mediocrity.

The most notable difference is the new vocalist. Legion was a poor replacement for Jocke Göthberg, and it is quite evident. The main problem isn't the sound of his voice, but rather the manner in which he utilizes it. There are far too many instances where he simply will not shut up and allow the music to breathe. Whereas Af Gravf's voice was another instrument that was but a part of the greater whole, Legion's vocals are too much. "Darkness It Shall Be" is a very good example of everything wrong about his vocal style. There are hardly any pauses in between each line; he just drones on and on... and on. Some vocalists understand that the lyrics should be crafted in a way, to suit the song. Here, it seems that he is very adamant about including every single word, even though the track isn't nearly long enough to accommodate this. This would go on to become one of the trademarks of his vocal approach, and it can be unbearable at times.

Musically, Heaven Shall Burn... is a step down from the previous records, but it still has its moments. The production is more powerful than that found on Those of the Unlight and Opus Nocturne. However, it's stronger in the wrong way. Instead of making the guitars colder and sharper, everything seems bulked up. The guitars, in typical Abyss Studio fashion, almost seem to create a wall of sound, and the drums are way too loud in the mix. The drumming joins the vocals in creating a really oppressive feeling and drowning out the guitar riffs. Unfortunately, the band preferred this, as they would continue down this path with subsequent albums. The actual melodies and arrangements aren't so bad, but they would have been better accentuated with a different type of production. That was a recurring problem with Marduk's early output.

As far as highlights are concerned, there are good riffs all over, but "Dracul Va Domni Din Nou In Transilvania" is the one song that stands out the most, to me. The reason behind it is simple enough. It's the one track where the pace is slow enough to allow the guitars room to breathe. Legion still tries his best to remain the center of attention, but it's not nearly as annoying at a lower speed. That being said, it's a fairly boring song, so even the positive aspects aren't enough to salvage it.

In the end, Heaven Shall Burn... isn't a worthless album. As previously stated, there are decent ideas floating throughout. Nonetheless, it is not a record that I would consider to be essential, by any means. It fails to compare, favourably, to its predecessors, and it marks the beginning of the band's decline.
 
(11 Sept. 2010)

 
 

Released in April 1998, Nightwing was the last album from Marduk that I was able to enjoy, until recent years. Like its predecessor, it was recorded in Tägtgren's Abyss Studio. This L.P. features a lot of the flaws that would be more greatly emphasized the following year, while still possessing enough of the band's original qualities to make it worth listening to. It also seems to be the final album to have more of a campy atmosphere, rather than the darker themes that would be explored later on.

The music is not the best that they had ever written, yet the production actually makes it seem worse than it is. The slick and modern Abyss sound is one of the worst things to happen to Black Metal in the mid-to-late '90s. Bands like Marduk, Dark Funeral and Immortal flocked to this rotten studio and got a sterile production job for their efforts. While the truly worthwhile compositions managed to rise above this, in some regard, even the best songs were partially crippled by the terrible sound. It would appear that Marduk had always suffered from lousy producers and sub-par mixing. Evil's songwriting deserved much better, certainly. On Nightwing, the pummeling drums take over and the guitar melodies are much harder to distinguish. It is almost as if Tägtgren tried to smother the very best riffs, rendering the finished product almost lifeless.

Whether mostly due to the production or just lazy songwriting, Marduk's fifth full-length suffers from a real lack of memorable riffs and songs, in general. The first few songs, "Bloodtide", "Of Hell's Fire" and "Slay the Nazarene" seem to run together, with a lot of the pointless blast beats and meaningless guitar riffs that would define the band's middle period (though the first track offers more variety and more thoughtful arrangement, about halfway in). The most memorable song on the album is probably the title track, yet this is largely due to the fact that they ripped off the Subspecies theme and built the song around that. While it was very awesome to hear this being used by a Black Metal band, it still says a lot for the lack of creativity in that the best melody on the whole record was borrowed from something else. Furthermore, the subsequent riffs do nothing to build on the atmosphere created by this main theme. In fact, they almost seem to contradict the dark feeling that the song begins with. Songs like "Dreams of Blood and Iron", once again, demonstrate what a terrible vocalist Legion was, as he could never shut up long enough for the riffs to take full effect. This is a problem with a lot of bands; trying to fit in more lyrics than are necessary and drawing too much attention to the vocalist, rather than doing what is best for the song and the atmosphere that it is trying to convey.

Nightwing is a rather boring and uninspired album, especially when compared to Marduk's earlier output. It has its moments, with decent riffs and ideas scattered throughout the record, but can be considered only lackluster at best. It says a lot that the best song on the album is a re-recorded version of a track from Opus Nocturne and that the most memorable riff was taken from a low-budget horror film. While this isn't horrible, you are better off sticking with the first few albums.
 
(7 July 2012)

 
 

Marduk's sixth full-length album, Panzer Division Marduk, was recorded in Abyss Studio and released by Osmose in March 1999. With this album, the band attempted a shift in direction, in more ways than one, while also creating something that would serve as the epitome of what many would deem to be pointless noise with no atmosphere, masquerading in the guise of Black Metal.

Musically, it would appear that Morgan decided to improve upon the mistakes of the previous two albums, in a sense. While the constant blastbeats and generic riffs were already a problem on Heaven Shall Burn and Nightwing, the other tracks suffered even more. The thing was that the faster songs seemed to be stronger and more enjoyable, at least in the sense that they passed more quickly and got right to the point. On the other hand, the songs that featured more variation in tempo often meandered around with no direction and were incredibly boring. While not really solving the problem of weak songwriting, the band took the opportunity on Panzer Division Marduk to accentuate their strengths and to better hide their prime weaknesses. The end result is an album that is, as hard as it is to admit, more tolerable than its predecessor. That is not to imply that the record is not boring and largely worthless, for it is, with countless guitar melodies that hint at something better and then disappear back into the false chaos. Of course, Legion continues doing what he does best: making a complete nuisance of himself, trying to fit too many lyrics into every line and ruining the songs even more.

The production is a total joke, just as with most albums that were being raped by Peter Tägtgren, around this time. While one can put a lot of the blame on his shoulders for creating such a sterile and lifeless sound, no one forced Marduk to seek out his services. With two awful records having already been defiled in his unholy studio, the band knew what to expect and actively sought more. Ultimately, they are to blame for the slick, modern sound of drums overpowering guitar riffs and the terrible clicky bass sound interfering with already-weak guitar riffs. If nothing else, they could have buried the vocals in the mix, so as to condemn Legion's wretched performance in obscurity, where it belongs.

Panzer Division Marduk is the total opposite of what Black Metal should be. There is not one shred of dark atmosphere to be found, while the Death Metal mentality of trying to be brutal and sound heavy is quite dominant. It is sad to think that a lot of people got the impression that this is indicative of the typical Black Metal sound and went on to copy it, as they only perpetuated the lie. That being said, the band at least won a personal victory, as they managed to make a more concise and less irritating album than they had, the previous year. Avoid this and stick to the classics.
 
(7 July 2012)

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