Marduk is back with their umpteenth studio album, armed with more unrelenting blastbeats, more blasphemous lyrics and song titles, and another album that sounds amazing the first few times you listen to it -- but unfortunately, not the next few. Considering how long these ornery Swedish black metallers have been around, you want to pull for them. And again, this album does sound great when you first throw it on, as the performances are intense and inspired, and there are plenty of nifty, technical-yet-catchy guitar riffs. There is also more variety, in terms of tempo, than the band is known for (i.e., there are actually a few slower parts, including the entirety of "Castrum Doloris"). On the downside, the squeaky-clean, very digital-sounding Abyss Studios production is ultimately tiring and hard on the ear; vocalist Legion still sounds like a pirate with laryngitis on much of this disc; and the lyrics are often clumsy or awkward, undercutting some of the intended "blasphemy" ("We are all thirsty as can be," goes the dramatically delivered closing line on the above-mentioned track). The band's true Achilles heel, however, is their inability to come up with a batch of songs that are strong enough, and consistently memorable enough, to anchor the extremity they're shooting for. Considering all these quibbles, it's a testament to Marduk's spirit, perhaps, that this album is at all worth listening to. And ultimately, this is not a bad album, it just falls short, yet again, of the level these veterans will need to reach -- consistently, not just on a few songs or on every third album -- if they're ever going to find themselves among the true first tier of black metal bands.
World Funeral Review
by William York