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La Grande Danse Macabre - * * * * *

I am the dust of desert dunes and the chilly wind of death
I am the waves on the oceans of blood…
One thing is certain and the rest is lies
The flower that once has blown, forever dies.

- Azrael

Absolute relentless fucking brutality. From the first note to the last, that is the only way to describe this album. In a genre that is defined by its extremism, Marduk are heavier, faster, harder, and darker than anyone else. These guys are first generation black fucking metal and they haven't lost any of their original dedication to brutality. While Ulver is making techno albums and Burzum is playing folk music, I'm pretty sure Marduk is still wearing fucking corpsepaint. Their absolute refusal to change their style however doesn't mean this band hasn't evolved. In contrast, Marduk's fanatical adherence to the black metal aesthetic over the last ten years has allowed them time to develop their sound to perfection, a new level of metal that can't be reached by diluting your sound with any other influences or playing to a mass audience. They have carved their niche audience out of the extreme metal scene and are consistently releasing great records for this audience. There are basically two schools of black metal which evolved over the last decade. The first is atmospheric keyboard laden doom metal with blastbeats, inspired originally by Emperor and witnessed today in bands like Cradle Of Filth and Dimmu Borgir. The second subgenre of black metal bands, inspired mostly by Mayhem, play upon brutally heavy minimalism, losing the keyboards and adding a lot more metal guitar and screaming. This formula can be seen in bands like Graveland and Darkthrone. The foremost adherents to this style of metal are none other than Marduk, whose absolutely puritanical approach to music produces a sound that is stripped of all its unnecessary components, down to black metal's bare essentials. Marduk have become experts at working these essentials to produce a sound that is minimalist but somehow still loaded with texture and atmosphere.

There are times on this album when it becomes obvious that Marduk is building their songs off of classical and symphonic sound structures, such as the title track and the brilliant Death Sex Ejaculation, which trades off blastbeats with furious breakdowns and a symphonic war march created by dueling guitars. The music on this disc is slowed down a little, giving considerable room for the guitars to breathe and work some real atmosphere into what was previously just a wall of noise. Their bass player is fucking genuis. He has some interesting and complex almost progressive sounding fills that come out prominently in songs like Azrael and Marduk's sensitive love ballad Funeral Bitch. The bass is amped a lot in the mix and it adds subtle textures to the wall of guitars and drums. Maybe it's up too high in the mix for a black metal band but the guy definitely has his moments. The drummer is great throughout, switching from blastbeats to classic metal rhythms at will. All you have to do is listen to the title track to see that this guy is fucking quality. He has a sense of rythym and structure that is uncommon in music this extreme.

Marduk's lyrics have also improved a lot over time. What originally were just overt blasphemies have now become works of incredible depth and intelligence, showing a considerable knowledge of classical poetry, mythology, and religious themes in classic literature. The quality of the lyrics approaches this classical writing style often, and this gives the band a more epic feel to their sound. The singer is perfect for this type of music. His vocals are pure black metal, harsh, grating, and completely fucking evil. This guy is obviously committed to what they are doing, and in a genre which embraces the things that it does, that effect can be more than a little unsettling. At times listening to this, I feel like Marduk is travelling dangerously close to the black metal version of Spinal Tap. With a guy named B. War in the band and with unintentionally hilarious song titles like Christraping Black Metal, it's hard to take Marduk seriously sometimes with all this evil darkness shit. They walk the fine line nicely though, providing just enough moments of real terror to remember that black metal is not something to be fucked with and that they are serious, about all of this. That realization alone is worth five stars.

* * * * *

Reviewed: May, 2003

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