“Washing machine metal” is a term invented for Marduk’s brand of black metal. Those of us who bought 1999’s Panzer Division Marduk in the days when a malevolent front cover and the back cover image of four Viking men caked in corpse paint were the only things guiding our purchase remember listening to it and thinking, “Does it do anything apart from offer relentless blast beats and endless blasphemies?” And who can forget the song titles? ‘Christraping Black Metal’ and ‘Fistfucking God’s Planet’ would ensure that they remained a controversial presence in the scene. This reviewer never bought another album or listened to them again in the new century. Now, they give us album number fifteen, and it’s time for a reappraisal from a sceptical observer.
It’s only right to acknowledge that Marduk are legends of black metal these days. The Swedes are a byword for the unflinching extremity and fierce hostility of what used to be the world’s most vicious genre of guitar music. This is a band that never compromise, nor do they care what critics think. And one must admit that their art is not as one-dimensional as it sounded in the twentieth century. The band might share an album name with Depeche Mode’s comeback LP this year, but the title track on this record is more likely to scrape the skin off your face than give you a sultry feeling in the loins. A long fade-in of borderless guitar distortion and unsettled beats takes until 01:25 before the band work up to their highest gear. Then the noise is uncontrollable and more aggressive than a Pit Bull Terrier salivating over the neighbour’s rabbit pen. Vocalist, Mortuus, roars like a tribal chieftain leading a charge against a rival settlement. Nothing is as predictable as your mind hopes it to be. Listen to the extra layer of gothic keyboards following the tremolo patterns. Can you remember the last time a metal song ended on a lone channel of sliding power chords as if warming up for a soundcheck?
Of course, the standard Marduk setting follows the same wiring as Mayhem’s 1994 debut. Once you accept this, you can look for hidden delights. ‘Heart of the Funeral’ and ‘Blood of the Funeral’ are what people think black metal sounds like when they see a picture of long-haired, gurn-faced men dressed in black and brandishing Medieval weaponry. That’s not a bad thing, either. How can black metal survive if it surrenders its raison d’être to be the nastiest and most abominable form of music in the world? The sinister sounds of the bass trombones in the latter will make you shiver. This music is terrifying.
How much of Memento Mori dwells at the verge of the speed of sound and how much of it looks towards experimentation is the ratio you need to consider when sitting through this album. Track four (‘Shovel Beats Sceptre’) pulls you away from the meatgrinder and into a mid-tempo malevolence built from the foundations of tolling bells and an ominous one-note synth loop. The vocals throb in a grotesque fantasy of human flesh devourment. Modern black metal would be much more enjoyable if it sounded like this.
So, what of the famous washing machine pulse to this music? Marduk stay close to the humming menace of their engine room for three songs in a row from ‘Charlatan’, right through to ‘Coffin Carol’ and ‘Marching Bones’. None of them descend into filler territory until we reach the penultimate track, ‘Red Tree of Blood’, which could be a black metal song from any band of the early 1990s. Yet there’s always more than meets the eye if you listen hard enough. The atmospheric meditation at the beginning of ‘Year of the Maggot’ dares to infuse industrial beats in mono with sampled guitar stabs before the washing machine fires up. Even then, founding guitarist, Morgan, finds a way to inject a hard rock lick among the hurricane of noise.
Did you think you’d ever hear electronic snares and Medieval folk scales in a Marduk composition? Wait until you hear album finale, ‘As We Are’. Aching guitar arpeggios and phantom timpani accents leave you in suspense as you wait for a new lord of chaos to rise. Few bands have captured the spirit of To Mega Therion by Celtic Frost with their own take on the danse macabre. It’s a triumphant way to end the LP and proof that Marduk’s music is still as dark as it is shocking.
Give it a listen. You might be surprised by what you find under the rubble.
Release Date: 01/09/2023
Record Label: Century Media
Standout tracks: Blood of the Funeral, Shovel Beats Sceptre, As We Are
Suggested Further Listening: Belphegor – The Devils (2022), Doodswens – Lichtvrees (2021), Mystic Circle – Mystic Circle (2022)