Marduk- Frontschwein

By Chris Dahlberg

Published on Sunday, February 15, 2015

Ever since Mortuus joined Marduk in 2004 as their new vocalist, it seems like the band has been on the upswing. While quite a few people had started to feel as though the long-running Swedish black metal group was beginning to stagnate, the past decade or so of Marduk releases have found them sounding better than ever and switching things up from one album to the next. After revisiting the war theme of Panzer Division Marduk on the 2011 Iron Dawn EP, the band chose to head into different territory for Serpent Sermon which I found to be another highlight in their recent discography. But I did find myself wondering if the themes from Iron Dawn would reignite Marduk’s interest in the general war/World War II lyrical content, and that seems to have been the case as this year’s Frontschwein does exactly that. It may not diverge that much from the instrumental styles showcased on Serpent Sermon, but there are still plenty of strong hooks and intense moments that will keep listeners coming back for more.

Frontschwein has all the familiar traits of a recent Marduk effort, as the production values skew towards the cleaner, polished side while still allowing the harsher blasts to barrel through the listener at full speed. Similar to Serpent Sermon, the instrumental work on this album mixes a combination of all-out assaults that don’t let up for a single second and slower mid-tempo sections that create a thicker atmosphere. But this doesn’t mean that the band has simply retread the same ideas from one album to the next, as Frontschwein starts off with some of the strongest tracks that Marduk has written in recent memory. The title track kicks in with blasting that fits the war imagery of the lyrical content before “The Blond Beast” slows things down with a simpler drum beat that has an almost methodical feel. This interplay between the group’s trademark blasting assaults and slower sections continues to work to their advantage, as the instrumentalists have the songwriting ability to back it up. There are plenty of moments that have stuck with me during repeated listens of Frontschwein, and the band is largely able to avoid repetition by switching things up just enough to avoid falling into the constant blasting patterns that plagued some of their previous efforts. The one exception to this would have to be “Doomsday Elite” which stretches on for eight minutes towards the end of the record and it does seem to overstay its welcome a bit, but aside from this Marduk’s put together another heavy hitting release that has that perfect blend of harsh intensity and thicker atmosphere.

In recent years I’ve noticed some shifts in Mortuus’ vocal delivery, as he’s started to head into some higher registers rather than simply sticking with the lower growling/screaming the entire way through. It’s been more of a subtle shift, as his primary style hasn’t changed that much over the past decade but additional nuances have been added into the performance with each album. This continues to be the case on Frontschwein, as Mortuus hits more pitches than your average genre vocalist. When the instrumentals kick up into a frenzy his screams seem to get even more distorted and abrasive, but they head off into different territory and help build the layers of atmosphere when the band slows things down. As mentioned earlier, Marduk has returned to lyrical content that discusses World War II on this album, and there’s a very cohesive feel between the themes from one song to the next that makes it worth listening from beginning to end.

Since signing with Century Media Marduk has now released two standout releases that continue to demonstrate that they’re still a very capable band after all of these years. While I’m not sure whether I like Frontschwein or Serpent Sermon better just yet, Frontschwein is able to offer the same amount of intense aggression and creepier atmosphere while returning to the World War II themes the group showcased many years ago which may be enough to give it a slight advantage as time progresses. Whether you’re new to this particular branch of Swedish black metal or have been following Marduk’s subtle stylistic changes over the past decade, this is another worthy addition to their discography that you’ll want to spend some in-depth time with.

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