arduk’s 2003 effort, World Funeral, showed one of Sweden’s finest slowing, and harnessing a more mid-tempo method to poor effect. Criticism varied: They’d never return to the tireless pummel of 1999’s Panzer Division Marduk; reputation was preceding the musical program—exploit and (illegal) adventures were becoming as, or more important, than their releases. And who can blame the press and the Marduk faithful? Guitarist/Marduk founder Morgan Steinmeyer Hakansson was lengthening the rap sheet with grave robberies and assaults.
Then questions seemed to stop. Replacing them was a din not unfamiliar; questions about genre abounded: What is Black Metal? Perplex aside, metalheads—especially those entrenched in Black Metal’s Norse noir of shortwave static guitar, thundering war drums, and shrieked spleen vocals—are about as elitist and snobbish as one can get when it comes to authenticity. The criteria do not shift; what’s considered “kvlt” [sic] is not something taken lightly (a moniker about as prevalent as are “cogent” reviews of Black Metal releases). And if the plague of Internet message boards is a reliable indicator, Edwin Pouncey’s (AKA Savage Pencil) “Subterranean Metal” primer has done nothing so much but sound the siren for the misanthropic horde.
When the Beastie Boys encouraged esteemed arbiter of hip Thurston Moore to pen a list of free jazz favorites for the sorely missed Grand Royal magazine, an analogous reaction occurred: “Who the Fuck Is this Suede Puma Wearing, Dobie Gillis Haircut Donning, Fender Mustang Wanking Pole Smoker? And why is he telling a bunch of skate ratted pot monkeys about the FMP, Calig, Fontana and BYG imprints?”
Suddenly, eBay was swollen with the aforementioned. Greenwich Village ghosts dusted off their closeted copies, snapped ‘em with the digital and posted with prejudice: Reserve Not Met became the completist’s bane, the collector’s cancer. Nerds needy for vinyl dissonance were Paypaling half their bank accounts to New England wax hoarders. And it seems the same virus has infected Black Metal at its roots, even if its organ of absorption sucked up nothing but negativity and voluminous vitriol to begin with.
That being said, Black Metal’s guardians now find their selves in an intriguing position: Not only are they (capable of) defining a genre with each release; they are also witnessing their fans either praising or denouncing each release as being a True or False participant in the pool of recognized Black Metal principle and rule. And, thankfully, Plague Angel is a return to form for Sweden’s Marduk.
Breaking ranks with vocalist Legion, and bass strangler B. War, Marduk has added Funeral Mist’s Arioch on vocals (who goes by the alias “Mortuus”), and axeman of old, Devo Andersson, who served in Marduk for two years in the early nineties. Significantly, the magnificent Emil Dragutinovic remains perched upon the drum throne; Plague Angel is very much Dragutinovic’s show: Nearly all of the mid-tempo clutter of World Funeral is thankfully eschewed for inhumanly dexterous blast-beats. When the songs do slow, it’s only to bring in ominous ambient rumbles, bowed strings, contemplative chanting, and crackling fire sound effect. In doing this, Marduk successfully circumvents the need to adhere to fast song/slow song formula—which is to their benefit, since they don’t do mid-tempo like the insurmountable Darkthrone; speed is where they reign supreme. And new vocalist Mortuus—who allegedly delivered his vocals through a human skull whilst recording Plague Angel—eases into his role with blasphemous panache; his lyrics are spat forth like vomit, often mixing with Andersson’s spectacular guitar work.
Plague Angel is a paean to pestilence, to war; which couldn’t be more apropos, within a genre seemingly at war with itself. Despite the internal fray, however, the stalwarts of the scene—Marduk included—are keenly keeping it together, even if lapses into self-parody (e.g., Kanwulf unleashing his ironic Fuck Off Nowadays Black Metal demo to clueless earthdogs) or over-artiness (e.g., Enslaved’s last few which have had more to do with Satyricon than the Scandinavian Sagas), or just musical laziness (e.g. take your pick) threatens to derail the contra Christ engine. And with so many currently intent on encapsulating this genre in words, and in music, Marduk do so easily and convincingly. Recommended.