posted on 6/2012 By:
Whether rightly or wrongly, Marduk had become something of an extreme metal punch line by the late 1990s and early 2000s. (Example: Q: How many Marduks does it take to screw in a lightbulb? A: No idea, ‘cause this one’s just over in the corner going blastblastblastblastblastblastblastblast. Or: Knock knock. Who’s there? Marduk. Marduk who? Blastblastblastblastblastblastblast.) With the acquisition of Funeral Mist’s Mortuus on vocals beginning with 2004’s Plague Angel, however, the long-running Swedish black metal belchers sounded, well...hell, ‘reinvigorated’ doesn’t even begin to do it justice. Reborn through a purifying ablution of filth and flame, more like.
Now four albums in to a fairly remarkable third act, Serpent Sermon finds Marduk every bit as abrasive and demonically speed-obsessed as ever, with sole founding member Morgan’s guitars whipping around breathlessly like a downed power line flailing its white-hot mantra. Devo’s bass remains a thick, bruising buzz that antagonizes as much as it anchors this seething racket, while Lars Broddesson, now on his second full-length with the band, pummels his drum kit like it personally owes him money. But inevitably, Mortuus’s vocals are the real show-stealer, and here he is at his hellfire-spitting best, once again providing convincing proof that he is one of the very finest active vocalists in all black metaldom.
Of the four albums released by this Mortuus-led reboot of Marduk, Serpent Sermon is the most unrelenting. Almost entirely absent are the occasional experimental flourishes that made Plague Angel, Rom 5:12, and Wormwood so compelling (“Deathmarch,” “1651,” Alan from Primordial’s vocal spot on “Accuser/Opposer,” “Chorus of Cracking Necks,” and so on). As vital as those pieces were to the rejuvenated aesthetic of recent Marduk, however, Serpent Sermon feels no less grimly determined; instead, it feels like that gristle and fat has been chewed, examined, and sliced clean away.
To wit, Marduk plays for the entire duration of Serpent Sermon like a band quite literally on fire, from the gloriously foul mission statement of the opening title track to the lash-happy licks of “Gospel of the Worm,” which have an almost Nile flavor to them. The band’s speed is almost worrisome on the blisteringly fast “Messianic Pestilence” and “Hail Mary (Piss-Soaked Genuflexion),” but the album is not devoid of contrast. “Into Second Death” barrels forth with such a ragged rock and roll fury – complete with shimmying ride cymbal accents – that one might not be shocked to hear Iggy Pop wailing over the top, while “Temple of Decay” offers one of the album’s only real moments to regain a bit of composure, with its moody riffing, choppy drums, and the deep chanting that backs its deliberate trudge.
I do wish that the wonderfully-executed slowdown midway through “Souls for Belial” was a transition into something slightly harder hitting than a doomy but spacious atmospheric section, and while the fadeout dirge of “World of Blades” works well enough, it’s generic and genre-less. Whatever else their flaws may be, when I’m listening to Marduk, I shouldn’t have to guess whether it’s black metal. Damnable ramblings aside, Serpent Sermon is comfortingly vitriolic, the kind of no bullshit, sledgehammer massage of an album that recenters the meandering metalhead to the sounds of real violence. Marduk wants your soul; Marduk will eat your soul.
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