Formed by guitarist Morgan “Evil” Steinmeyer Håkansson in Norrköping, Sweden in 1990, Black Metal act Marduk took their name from an ancient Babylonian sky god and immediately attempted to become “the most blasphemous band in the world”. And, to be fair, releasing a demo called Fuck Me Jesus was a pretty good way of getting that message across.
Adding the rather touchy subjects of World War II and the Third Reich to their bouncy little repertoire of blasphemy and Satanism ensured the band was never far from the from the public eye. Even recently, in April of this year, vocalist Daniel Rostén (more commonly known as Mortuus) and the rather unexcitingly named drummer Fredrik Widigs were accused of buying books, stickers, and other dodgy paraphernalia from a Swedish neo-Nazi organisation. Unequivocally refuting the claims, the band denied all accusations and slammed the door shut on the matter. Courting deliberate controversy with impiety and Satanism is one thing, but being labeled as Nazis is clearly a step too far.
A relatively short affair, the band’s fourteenth studio album, Viktoria (Century Media), comes in at just over thirty minutes and tries to cram in as many ideas as possible with varying degrees of success. Opener ‘Werwolf’, released as a single back in April, is not, as you might imagine, a song about hairy creatures with an aversion to silverware howling at the moon and eating people’s faces off, but based on a plan concocted by the Nazis in 1944 which involved a resistance force largely comprised of members of the SS and Hitler Youth trained to operate behind enemy lines. Featuring that well-known combination of air raid sirens and children, these two furious minutes rocket along at a rate of knots and is one of those rare instances in metal where using children’s voices actually works.
The majority of songs – like ‘June 1944’, ‘The Last Fallen’, ‘Narva’, ‘The Devil’s Song’, and the somewhat amusingly titled ‘Equestrian Bloodlust’ (presumably not a song about vampiric show jumpers) – slash their way violently into your face with blastbeats, speed, and angry stabs of atmospheric melody, while tracks like ‘Tiger I’ and closer ‘Silent Night’ adopt a different approach, the latter even slowing things down to a virtual crawl. Meanwhile, the title track explores both aspects, venomously spewing aggression and bitterness one moment, becoming moody and atmospheric blackened Doom the next.
A basic, but clear production gives Håkansson’s guitars and Widig’s drums real bite, the bass work of Magnus “Devo” Andersson shines, especially during the title track, and Rostén’s snarling vocals are spiteful and harsh. Each track gets the job done quickly with ruthless efficiency, but the downside is that at times there seems to be a lack of space for ideas to grow into something more expansive, the songs often concluding just as they start to become interesting.