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MARDUK Frontschwein

By Peter Atkinson, Contributor
Monday, February 9, 2015 @ 1:07 PM


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MARDUK
Frontschwein

Century Media Records




For their 13th studio full-length, Swedish miscreants MARDUK get themselves back into the war footing and raw, primal attack mode of 1999’s Panzer Division MARDUK - though this time a greater emphasis on World War II triumph and tragedy, and far less on crass, blasphemous asides. There aren’t any “Christraping Black Metals” or “Fistfucking God’s Planets” to be found on Frontschwein - which translates as front-line soldiers or, literally, “front pigs”. Cannon fodder, in other words - and I can’t say I really miss them.

Those tracks cheapened the otherwise fearsome Panzer Division, which was something of MARDUK’s Reign In Blood, an unrelenting 30-minute blitzkrieg that rolled over you like the tank that graced its cover. Frontschwein has no such baggage. And with its varied pace, grander scale and frontman Daniel “Mortuus” Rostén’s evocative, strangled vocals, Frontschwein ultimately packs more punch and with greater effect.

Where Panzer Division was a full-frontal assault, with one blast-beat powered track after another, Frontschwein offers jarring contrasts from the get-go and stretches things out by a good 20 minutes. The album opens with the rampaging fury of the title track and the strafing run riffs of founding guitarist Morgan Steinmeyer Håkansson, then slingshots to the mid-tempo march of “The Blond Beast”, propelled by new drummer Fredrick Widigs’ thumping tempo, and goes back and forth like this, for the most part, throughout.

Indeed, Widigs is the unsung hero here. He proves himself perhaps the most versatile of MARDUK’s SPINAL TAP-sized roster of drummers, with the agility and athleticism to easily handle the velocity of the faster tracks like breathless album closer “Thousand-Fold Death” - where Mortuus spits his vocals like machine gun bullets - and the finesse and guile to bring groove and depth to the slower and more dynamic material.

Take, for example, the truly epic “Doomsday Elite”. It opens to a doomy slog that gradually builds momentum as Widigs steps up his attack under Håkansson’s shimmering bob-and-weave tremolo over eight-plus surprisingly complex minutes. It’s one of the longest songs of the band’s 25-year history, but is the definite highlight of Frontschwein. Big, meaty, bold and just a little scary thanks to Mortuus’ ever-more-ferocious growls.

On “503”, a follow-up to Panzer Division’s “502” about the Germany’s 503rd Heavy Panzer Battalion, Widigs’ crashing beat and cannonades echo the sounds of battle and capture the clangor and calamity of the Eastern Front. There’s an in-the-trenches atmosphere that permeates the album that is almost palpable.

One thing Frontschwein carries over from Panzer Division is its abrasive, unrefined production. MARDUK was never one much for polish to begin with, but Frontschwein is particularly roughshod when compared to the band’s more recent work. Håkansson’s buzz-saw guitar, and the raw, almost live overall sound, hark back to more traditional black metal, though with much more heft and none of the lo-fi crudeness many purists insist upon.

MARDUK has had a pretty good run since Mortuus replaced the more one-note Legion on vocals a decade ago, exploring smarter and more imaginative lyrical territory and expanding a musical palette beyond mere “Christraping Black Metal”. And the band manage to revisit the past here without losing any momentum or falling back on former habits. Indeed, if anything, MARDUK takes a fresh approach to the old school with Frontschwein and continues its steady march forward unabated.

4.0 Out Of 5.0

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