posted on 6/2007 By:
"Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through
sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned."
So alludes Marduk with the title of their tenth studio album. Clearly these guys haven’t lost their taste for black metal’s Satanic histrionics, and who would ever have expected them to? These Swedes are alternately hailed and parodied for their status as one of the world’s most aggressive BM acts, and other than the slight hiccup of 2003’s inconsistent World Funeral, their career has been an uninterrupted torrent of rigid, absurdly aggressive musical Jesus hatred. This is the kind of band whose fans would decry any stylistic shift far more severely than their detractors do their musical stagnancy. In short, Marduk have historically done one thing and done it well.
So when their fans get a look at Rom 5:12’s track listing (five songs over the five minute mark, and the rest not far beneath) and hear brooding, mid-tempo opener “The Leveling Dust,” there may be some consternation. Undoubtedly, a good chunk of Marduk’s long-time listeners will hate this album, simply for its unprecedented (in their catalogue, of course) reliance on middling tempos and atmospherics. Others—such as myself--might worry that Marduk would handle the slower pace as awkwardly as they did on World Funeral. To my relieved surprise, though, this particular warpainted old dog appears to have finally learned a new trick. The aforementioned “Leveling Dust,” “Accuser/Opposer,” and “Imago Mortis” all summon up commanding, powerful grooves—a rarity in black metal—and feature excellent performances from sophomore vocalist Mortuus (formerly Arioch of Funeral Dust). Though he did a fair job on 2004’s Plague Angel, the man has really come into his own as a performer here, as he manages to emotively execute both the austere shrieks of his predecessor Legion as well as some wild, Attila Csihar-esque moans and wails. “Accuser/Opposer” even features a vocal tagteam with Alan Averill/Naihmass of Primordial, whose howling cleans leave Marduk sounding something like a decompressed, stripped-down Emperor.
But Rom 5:12 isn’t rewarding because of its more balanced and restrained approach to songwriting, but because for once it sounds like these guys are really pushing themselves. Though this newfound adventurousness generally pays off as mentioned above, it also inevitably leads to a few failures. “1651,” for example, is composed entirely of a morbid organ, ominous brass, a martial snare tattoo and Mortuus’ distant croaks; though the attempted foray into more ambient realms is admirable, it’s also not very believable between two furiously speedy tracks (“Through the Belly of Damnation” and “Limbs of Worship”). For their part, Marduk’s signature blastfests are present again and just as blisteringly aggressive as ever. Guitarist and mastermind Morgan Håkansson’s riffing is generally still at its best during the fast numbers, as seen during the icily beautiful harmonies that open “Cold Mouth Prayers” (which also features a notable guest vocal spot from ex-Marduk guitarist and current Dimension Zero singer Jocke Göthberg, who sounds more intense and hateful than he has in years).
All in all, Rom 5:12 notably exceeds the expectations I’d placed on a band who are generally content to rest on their admittedly impressive laurels. It’s a little too long at fifty-five minutes, sure—the slow-burning “Womb of Perishableness” (great title) hangs on to the listener’s attention thanks to some unexpected depressive melody in the chorus, but the ensuing closing ripper “Voices From Avignon” is overkill. Still, this is the least safe and most enjoyable album Marduk has produced in years; reject it out of hand for its implicitly less aggressive sound if you like, but I personally will take the opportunity to hear a highly talented veteran act stretch their spikey-shinguard-clad legs a little.
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