Judging by what the almighty metal archives have to say, these melodic black metal Swedish juggernauts have been in existance since around the dawn of time when cantankerous dinosaurs were all that dared roam our crusty little planet. I can’t profess to having been a Marduk fan for even nearly that long, but back in 2012 when Serpent Sermon reared its ugly head, it became not only the biggest and baddest contender for the #1 spot on my Top Ten(ish) for the year, but in the two years since, it’s remained in constant rotation on my day to day playlist. Prompted by my love of Serpent Sermon and a craving for more of Marduk‘s intense blackened melodies, I took the plunge and rediscovered some lost and forgotten greats like Those of the Unlight, Plague Angel and Wormwood and albums that proved a little tougher to get my head around, like their warring epic – Panzer Division. My excitement knew no bounds when I discovered Marduk had a new album to add to my collection, and here we have it! Frontschwein (literally translated as “front pig”) finds Marduk marching back into combat, returning to the warlike days of Panzer Division, but does it play to their tank-like strengths or end up a casualty of war, broken and cruelly dismantled on the battlefield?
“Welcome to the front. There is no salvation.” Never were truer words spoken. To provide you with a little background, Frontschwein explores the killing fields of World War II, from the title track telling of the daily hell on the frontline to the burning desert of “Afrika,” across the bloodsoaked ground in “Falaise: Cauldron Of Blood,” (the site of a murderous battle in Normandy/France), and ending on the Eastern front where war drums beat and the wheels of death grind onwards with a “Thousand-Fold Death.” Technically you’ve got it all in Frontschwein, machine-guns blazing, near-deafening explosions, the smell of rotting corpses, horrified faces frozen in place, Marduk brings you war and it’s not pretty. Kicking off the album, the title track has an underlying Behemoth-style melody overshadowed by the piss and vinegar and the orderly cockiness of a new battalion advancing headlong into battle. Blast beats bring to mind the incessant noise of machine gun fire, persistant, unforgiving, pausing only to reload. Guitar lines are melodic and catchy, rivalling the angry raspings for your attention. The conclusion you’ll arrive at, is that “Frontschwein” is a solid war anthem, and it’s a big pity that it’s followed by filler and the done before (“The Blond Beast” and “Afrika”).
Fronschwein fails in playing to Marduk‘s strengths and can be broken up into two schools of thought. “Wartheland,” “Rope Of Regret,” “Nebelwerfer” and “503” feature the slower, darker and more deliberate side of Marduk that proved a huge draw for me in Serpent Sermon. These tracks are interesting, weighty and with minimal replay, leave behind their devilish mark. Unfortuantely these moments of greatness are broken up by the humdrum of “Between the Wolf-Packs,” “Falaise – Sauldron Of Blood” and “Thousand-Fold Death” that are mostly just wearing, uninspired and grimly monotonous.
The production on Marduk’s latest offering mimics the fine line that they walk between modern clarity, black metal authenticity and the mettle of the bands earlier works like Plague Angel, Rom 5:12, Wormwood and Serpent Sermon. The major difference between this release and those that came before is that Marduk are slowly but surely losing their attention to dynamics as they inch towards compressed brickwalling.
Though Frontschwein is in actual fact shorter than its predecessor, combined with the “been done before” feel of half this battle, the poor dynamics and the emotionally wearing subject matter, the album feels tedious. Marduk would have been wise to follow the pattern of Panzer Division, limiting themselves to around eight tracks and a nice manageable half hour of raspy grit. Frontschwein fails to make it off the battlefield, ending up a casualty of their own war.