Review Summary: Marduk simultaneously correct and regress as the years turn into decades
It is hard to believe that Marduk have been around for 22 years and are releasing their twelfth studio album in Serpent Sermon
. The fact that they have been playing black metal through and through for that entire length of time and rarely deviated from their core sound aside from slight shifts in subject matter is something that many black metal bands cannot claim, and may not really want to claim. It seems a bit odd to still be reviewing an album by these Swedish veterans simply because of the amount of material they have released, but it becomes even more confusing when Serpent Sermon
proves that Marduk may have life in them yet. While their 2011 EP Iron Dawn
may have been a monument of mediocrity, Serpent Sermon
plays a different hand: ravaging black metal with an old-school feel. From the frantic riffing to the over-the-top imagery and lyrics, Marduk plainly do not care whether the oft-heckled “trve” black metal sound is out of style.
More power to them, really, when 22 years after their formation they have departed so little from their core aesthetics, aside from a cleaner production which brings this tremolo-laden beast to the 21st century. While it is hard to say that anything here will breathe life into the genre, it is also difficult to say that they have encountered a lot of obstacles along the way. Serpent Sermon
feels smooth and connected, which is odd considering that 2009’s Wormwood
had itself a fair share of meaningless filler. The down-tempo “Temple of Decay” seems to contrast the ripping “Damnation’s Gold” and “Hail Mary (Piss-Soaked Genuflexion)” markedly, but they work alongside each other well, helping to keep tempo stagnation to a bare minimum. This is quite a feat, indeed, because Marduk have suffered from crippling repetition on their past several albums, but seem to be trying to correct that here. While the problem most definitely isn’t solved – there are plenty of moments where a change of pace would have been invaluable – it is a step in the right direction.
While the attitude of the band to remain true to their roots may be admirable, it can’t be overlooked as a drawback. Serpent Sermon
is an album any black metal fan has already heard: laden with tremolo riffing, incredibly heavy, unrelenting, and explicit in its content. “World of Blades”, the album’s closer, is the most varied track on the album, with slower instrumentation and vicious vocals by Mortuus – who, it should be said, is a very good vocalist when it comes to this style of black metal – sandwiching a lengthy break with spoken word vocals that isn’t necessarily a highlight but does contribute to the album’s atmosphere. It is nice to hear that the production Marduk have placed on the instruments is very good – it’s been quite a while since I enjoyed the bass guitar on a black metal album. Sadly, the production does make the album seem more sterile than it ought to be, because black metal in this vein should have a muddy mix in order to further the overall atmosphere. When it comes down to it, Serpent Sermon
lacks wow-factor, and it is hard to say that there is any single track that is particularly exceptional. What Marduk have done is, instead of releasing several great tracks amidst a field of filler, released an album where all 10 tracks just sort of go along without much fuss.
is an album that is hard to tear apart for any wrongdoings simply because it does not have many of them, but it is also hard to heartily recommend because it is so mundane. There are moments when all seems to be alight in satanic glory like the black metal songs of old, but those seconds are fleeting and few. I appreciate the album’s unrelenting heaviness, but more skillful pacing can go a long way toward giving Serpent Sermon
the replay value it needs to stand above other black metal albums in this vein. Marduk are not lost – they are indeed right at home- but one has to wonder whether they are scared of going out into the yard for a bit to take in a change of scenery. It really isn’t that scary out there, but for some reason these veteran Swedes can only peek out an open window at the strange world beyond. There is nothing to fear when it comes to change, so long as you don’t venture too far away and always remember where home lies. That, really, is the lesson Marduk need to learn to make albums like Serpent Sermon
live up to their potential.