La Grande Danse Macabre

Renown for their uncompromising approach to black metal, Sweden’s Marduk has leveled many expectations and gained a loyal following over their 10-year career. From the near-death metal trappings of Dark Endless to last year’s ultra-venomous Panzer Division Marduk, the men in black wear every one of their bloody victories proudly on their shirtsleeves.

And, for good reason. Take for instance, Opus Nocturne. The Dan Swanö produced effort literally leveled every speed benchmark while, at the same time, remained mercilessly memorable. Tracks like “Sulfur Souls” and “Materialized in Stone” were a ferocious beating of the senses, where savage riffing collided cunningly with subtle melodic and tempo variations. Like Dissection’s The Somberlain and Emperor’s self-titled mini album, Opus Nocturne was a battle cry of the most hellish degree. Yet, for whatever reason, Marduk decided writing something as unforgiving as “From Subterranean Throne Profound” proved to be too close to their death metal brethren (ie., Entombed, Dismember, et al), for whom Marduk touted in the press as ‘life metal.’ Truth be told, Marduk has been spiraling – albeit slowly – southward when it comes to quality songwriting since their milestone second effort. Each release from there on lacks the magic of diversity, forthright execution and production of said album.

Sadly, Marduk’s seventh full-length album continues the trend of careless songwriting and half-baked melodic ideas. One would think this far into the game, mainman Morgan Håkansson would recognize what works and what doesn’t when it comes to delivering an album the public at large could use as a vehicle to travel to the lowest rings of hell. Speed, lyrical subject matter and suffocating riffing are all part of the process, but to what end? When does the musical and lyrical message Marduk so effectively delivered in the past become muted, and, to some extent, a self-parody? La Grande Danse Macabre, for the most part, is the answer to that question. Penned almost exclusively by Håkansson, La Grande Danse Macabre is ultimately an album that sounds rushed and uncared for. The soul-carving riffs of old – even Panzer Division Marduk possessed some fiery resolve – are replaced by an uninteresting black metal expression of chorded boredom. “Pompa Funebris 1600” and “Obedience unto Death” are perfect examples of such humdrum riffery and lackadaisical showmanship. There’s a beauty to harmonic simplicity, but only if it’s created and performed perfectly, and flows with spontaneity. There are times on the record when the quartet find their footing and let the sinister quality of the movement resonate into greatness. The end of “Bonds of Unholy Matrimony” is, in fact, superb as are the bass work on “Azrael” and Bolt Thrower-esque quality of the title track.

Yet, for an album that marks of independence (La Grande Danse Macabre is the band’s first full-length off Osmose) and longevity, the album’s music is just far too calculated for its own benefit. “Death Sex Ejaculation” and “Jesus Chris…Sodomized,” despite offensive titles, feature a tamed black metal beast, one that’s programmed to deliver what’s expected. “Funeral Bitch,” on the other hand, does border on harrowing. Its slow, caravan-of-hades gait resounds of something Gehenna might engineer – say, “Devil’s Work” – only to discard later when it fails to appropriately summon the correct atmosphere. “Summers End” features a similarly languorous tempo with the main riff reminiscent of something off Ophthlamia’s “Via Doloroso,” for it travels to near-prog like meandering but never reaches anything virtuosic. Realistically, this far into La Grande Danse Macabre there shouldn’t be reference to other bands. Marduk’s music should be its own physical power, flowing effortlessly like a serrated bastard sword through soft, Christian flesh. But that simile seems to apply to album seven years old while La Grande Danse Macabre feels more like a patchwork of armor barely holding itself together. Like Edge Of Sanity’s Infernal and Carcass’ Swansong the sum of Marduk’s parts on its latest outing unfortunately doesn’t equate to the whole the world was expecting. While the dance here is, of course, macabre, there’s nothing too fantastic about it.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Chris Dick
March 5th, 2001


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