(Andy Synn wrote this review of the new album by the almighty Marduk.)
I think few people would argue that Marduk have long since established themselves as Black Metal legends. With a career lasting 25 years (and counting) and incorporating thirteen full-length studio albums as well as numerous EPs, live albums, and compilations, the Swedish war-dogs have proven themselves time and time again as a force to be reckoned with.
Moreover, there’s a good argument to be made that albums like Opus Nocturne, Heaven Shall Burn…, and Nightwing (and, I would argue, Rom 5:12) are – like them or not — practically legendary themselves, and often cited as key influences and cornerstones of the genre by both bands and fans alike.
So, with such a grand, macabre discography under their collective (bullet) belt, you might wonder where exactly does a new record fit, in the grand scheme of things?
With this being the fifth album of “the Mortuus era” of Marduk, I can confidently say that if you enjoyed both Wormwood and Serpent Sermon (we won’t get into an argument here about which was the better of the two), then you’ll probably find a lot to enjoy about Frontschwein as well, since it’s very much a continuation of the sound and style presented by its predecessors, while thematically continuing on from the more martial leanings of 2011’s Iron Dawn EP and 1999’s still-divisive Panzer Division.
Songs like “Rope of Regret” and the title track possess all the blind spite and blackened ire you’ve come to expect from the band, delivering the Marduk’s signature blackened savagery without apology or restraint.
The former sees the quartet unleashing a veritable barrage of gatling-gun snare-shots and scything, barbed-wire riffs on the unsuspecting listener right from the start, accompanied by a brutally unhinged and utterly voracious vocal performance from Mortuus, while the latter opens the album with a plethora of bone-rattling blast-beats and strafing runs of needle-sharp blackened tremolo that perfectly illustrates the concept of “shock and awe”.
Though the album may be, to an extent, thematically linked to the militaristic vibe of Panzer Division, it’s not all blast ‘n’ burn, as the band give full voice to their eerie, progressive leanings on a number of songs, not least during the martial, marching grooves of “The Blond Beast” and the slow-burning menace of “Wartheland”, which creeps and crawls through the mud and the filth with murderous intent.
Much of the material on Frontschwein also strikes a precarious balance between bleak melody and eviscerating intensity, as songs like the blistering “Afrika” and devastating stand-out “Between The Wolf-Packs” are positively brimming with evil hooks and virulently infectious harmonies, all delivered with the requisite fire and brimstone fury courtesy of new drummer Fredrik Widigs (also of Rage Nucléaire), who whips up a visceral storm of blasting, bludgeoning beats throughout.
Mortuus himself also continues to impress as one of Black Metal’s most versatile and venomous vocalists. Whether vomiting forth his vile imprecations of bile and blasphemy on the doomy stomp of “Nebelwerfer” or unleashing a maniacal torrent of rapid-fire hate on scorching closer “Thousand-Fold Death”, his scalding delivery and sheer aggression are second to none.
Of course, it’s not a perfect album by any means. Not every track manages to hit its target – “Doomsday Elite”, for example, begins with a lot of promise, but fails to do much with its 8-minute run-time, despite some truly excellent bass-work – and some of the songs definitely feel a little over-familiar, particularly the blasting bluster of “Falaise – Cauldron of Blood” and the (still compelling) death march of “503”, both of which fall afoul of this issue to a greater or lesser extent.
However, despite the fact that the band’s methods may, at times, be a little predictable, they still pack more than enough of a punch to loosen a few teeth and break a few bones when they really cut loose, as they do for much of the album’s (clearly stronger) first half, managing a nearly unbroken run of quality from “Frontschwein” to the album’s pinnacle at “Between The Wolf-Packs”, picking up once more just in time for the scathing finale of “Thousand-Fold Death”.
Though overall it doesn’t quite reach the heights of their more legendary works, Frontschwein still maintains the band’s legacy as one of the most visceral and ravenous acts ever to don corpse-paint. And while it may not be their best release, and although their blackened pummelling might be telegraphing a few of its punches these days, the Swedish bruisers still possess all the necessary skills and hard-won experience to put younger challengers in their place.
Frontschwein will be released by Century Media in North America on February 10, 2015, and on January 19 in Europe. Frontschwein will be released as a standard jewelcase CD, as a limited Mediabook CD with alternative artwork and a bonus track, on gatefold LP with an LP-booklet, and as digital download. Two of the new songs can be streamed below.