MARDUK – Frontschwein
Frontschwein (or ‘The logical sequel to Panzer Division’) is the name that black metal titans Marduk have called their 13th full-length offering. That alternate title was my invention, but for good reason. Having spent most of their career glorifying occult and Satanic lyrical themes save for the landmark Panzer Division, Marduk have gone back to the war-themed lyrics found so famously on that aforementioned release. While their 2012 release Serpent Sermon was more elaborate and cinematic in its approach, the band has stripped down their sound for this one and yet managed to not sink into the abyss of generic writing.
Twin lead tremolos herald the coming of the eponymous 1st track, matched in time by snare rolls typical of marching battalions. Blast beats segue in from those snares as vocalist Mortuus shrieks one-word lyrical commands in the chorus section. To be honest, this first track sounded extremely generic to me, and yet I will urge the listener to stay on as the album gets better and better at an alarming rate hereafter. ‘The Blond Beast’, for starters, runs on a disco beat. Yes. Disco. There’s no mistaking the hi-hat-punctuated, snare-kick alternations driving this slower tempo track forward. Atmospheric chords create a foreboding setting for lyrics about a proverbial beast waging war on the countryside. The following track is again a raging inferno of blast beats, assaulting the ears with a classic piledriver of dark riffs. ‘Afrika’ talks of the despair faced by both Allied and Axis troops in their fatal tugs of war on the African continent. As if following a pattern, the next track ‘Wartheland’ is another slow one, more dynamic in its use of arpeggios that ring on. By maintaining this basic pattern of alternating fast and slow tracks, Marduk has managed to hook listeners and keep things interesting and almost narrative, in a way.
The band roars through song after blistering song like a Panzer tank. Moments of brilliance include the main hook from ‘Rope of Regret’ that lasts for an entire measure (i.e. 4 bars), the harmonic breathers on ‘Falaise: Cauldron of Blood’, ‘Doomsday Elite’ and ‘503’ and the perfectly timed snare hits on the surprisingly slow ‘Nebelwerfer’. But numerous and deadly as the guns on a tank may be, it’s a sitting duck without a driver. The driver on this album is bass player Devo. While in no way are the basslines virtuosic, they are crafted to perfection with the beats of the drum, interpolating between higher scale tremolo stingers and low end rumbles as the situation calls for it. In particular, ‘Between the Wolf-packs’ has such a growl to the deliberately low-scale bass underscores that it snarls like a pack of wolves itself. The mix on the album itself celebrates the gritty trademark of old-school black metal and at the same time cater to modern standards of recording clarity.
Black metal is a tricky genre these days. Old enough for veterans to be desensitized to its deviant clichés, bands playing it need to constantly evolve and add to their signature sound to stay relevant. Marduk has constantly experimented with its sound throughout the band’s 25-year long career and in doing so, has prevented itself from fading into obscurity. On the contrary, they have now become one of the most important forces to reckon with in the genre and I can only predict the band’s further rise hereafter. If you want to celebrate the essence of Marduk without the worry of it sounding like another ‘has-been’, Frontschwein is what you need to be plugged into.