When Swedish black metallers Marduk formed in 1990, guitarist Morgan Steinmeyer Håkansson had a clear, defined vision: to create the most blasphemous band in the world. Everyone and their horrified, disappointed mother vividly remembers their infamous “Fuck Me Jesus” image which would terrify white conservative America and inspire other such needlessly shit-stirring imagery in metal such as Cradle of Filth’s line of masturbating nun merch (a homage in itself to Marduk). Twenty-five years on, a tentative stylistic shift from blackened death metal to straightforward black, and several members later, Håkansson remains as the only remaining founding member. As Marduk deliver their thirteenth studio album Frontschwein, has Håkansson’s goal of religious and cultural transgression lived up to today’s standards?
Though the absence of song titles such as ‘Christraping Black Metal’ and ‘Jesus Christ… Sodomized’ suggests a slight maturity and a distancing from the eye-rollingly juvenile content of previous Marduk releases, the lyrical content of Frontschwein still bears many of the band’s thematic mainstays. Most embarrassingly is ‘Afrika’, which takes inspiration from one of Marduk’s tried-and-tested historical muses: Third Reich history, detailing an account of Nazi officer Erwin Rommel and his Afrikakorps’ campaign across Libya, with a gaslighted glorification of Nazi history and reference to North Africans as ‘desert rats’ in the lyric sheet shows a face-palmingly low amount of self-awareness.
The band’s latest drummer, Frederik Widigs provides some excellently precise, intense, and creative percussion that gives the songs some serious forward motion, though unfortunately this originality isn’t enough to breathe new life into the stale guitar work of Håkansson, which draws from the same hardening palate of drab, clichéd malevolence which is starting to dramatically show its age.
Many of the album’s tracks suffer from awkward issues with their structures, which often expand very little outside of a single theme, and begin to feel rigid and repetitious. Within the space of only three to four minutes, each track has the same dead horse of an idea beaten relentlessly until it is bereft of any listenability whatsoever. If I was a lesser critic and a blindly-passive black metal fan, I would slap on my Emperor shirt and proclaim that “this is a triumph in conveying the album’s themes of the war and conflict in a purposefully enigmatic sense, one that isn’t truly apparent on the first listen”. But it just reeks of laziness and unwillingness to take more ambitious musical risks (despite the band being no stranger to taking risks with their public image), which begins to quickly show signs of fatigue with many of the album’s tracks barely progressing at all.
However, when the band does try its hand at some variation, it manages to manifest the structural issues of the rest of the album, while making the band sound completely incapable of sounding authentic. I’m talking, of course, about the dreadful ‘The Blond Beast’, one of Frontschwein’s musical anomalies, and which takes the form of some kind of misshapen bordello boogie that would sound more fitting in the centrepiece of a Tim Burton schlock-fest than in a grim black metal about about war and hostility.
If anything, Marduk’s umpteenth studio effort does nothing but emphasise the band’s own irrelevance and continued stubborn approaches to songwriting. An initial listen may fool you into some sense of progression across the band’s career, but it soon becomes apparent that Marduk have evolved very little since the ‘Fuck Me Jesus’ days. Instead, the songs remain puerile fantasies for troubled adolescents, and the controversy they stir will eventually just be met with a sigh. Though I’m sure if their next album is as uninspired, I’m sure Marduk can mask it with some other controversy. Go on dudes, call the Pope an asshole. I’m sure you’ll get some great publicity off it.