La Grande Danse Macabre

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Quite simply, Marduk embodies everything that's nasty and brutish about black metal. If Emperor, Immortal, Mayhem, and Cradle of Filth are the familial Don Corleones of the genre, Marduk could be their hired thug, a weapons specialist not afraid to get dirty hands while taking care of business. That being said, Marduk has unfortunately been a perennial second-tier outfit, although La Grande Danse Macabre, the band's seventh full-length studio release, is its most accomplished and varied work to date. Those disappointed by the blastbeat overload of previous album Panzer Division Marduk will be pleasantly surprised to gander at the grotesque, club-footed cave beast that is La Grande Danse Macabre: A few grandiose song structures, plenty of tempo variations (blasting drums are still abundant, if not as prevalent), gleefully blasphemous lyrical exhortations, and a crisp, clean Abyss Studios production. The record kicks off with the mid-paced instrumental intro "Ars Moriendi," where the power chords come a-crushing before leading into "Azrael," which boasts a superb arrangement and lyric -- a potential classic if not for the mediocre blast-riffing weighing down its flamingly destructive ascent heavenward. The album's granite foundation consists of the truly epic cuts "Bonds of Unholy Matrimony" and "La Grande Danse Macabre," both horribly potent and intelligent onslaughts of ugliness led by relentlessly chugging riffs and the tortured, if somewhat generic, vocal rasps of Legion. As well, "Funeral Bitch," "Death Sex Ejaculation," and "Jesus Christ...Sodomized" are solid excursions into perversity, if hindered by disappointingly immature lyrics -- although they are well-penned, almost poetic in structure, and thankfully not as satanically simplistic or lunkheaded as, say, Deicide. La Grande Danse Macabre is nonetheless a worthy if occasionally uneven effort from these Swedish black metal assassins, the group taking a songwriting step in the right direction, perhaps leaning toward the superb, keyboardless metal wizardry of Immortal. Sure, Marduk knows how to wield its weaponry with succinct efficiency but, unless the group finds and embraces its own demonic muse, it will always be an unholy bridesmaid and never a bride.

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