Review Summary: The excellent result of a long evolution of black metal from long-time black metal outfit, Marduk.
Black metal. You either love it or hate it. Marduk are a black metal band hailing from Sweden, and since the second wave of black metal bands (early 90’s), they have consistently provided us with the most evil and blasphemous music we’d dare listen to. Black metal is a hard genre to review, as there are so many differing opinions on what good black metal is. I will try my best to give Marduk a fair judgment. Before I begin, keep in mind that I have listened to an extensive amount of black metal, but Plague Angel is my first Marduk album. I have not listened to them previously.
Plague Angel is Marduk’s 9th studio album, and is a damn fine effort compared to the large amounts of standard black metal out there. Aggressive, menacing, absolutely evil, the album bursts to life from the second you press play, and does not relent until the album has finished. Plague Angel is definitely one of the most ferocious and grim albums I have listened too.
In the classic vein of black metal, the bass is basically non-existent. This may have had something to do with a change of bass player, but don’t quote me on that. It doesn’t hinder the album though; this is a black metal album that actually sounds HEAVY. An example would be the song Seven Angels, Seven Trumpets. The song is just a repetition of the same riff, separated into sections by short periods of silence, but it really blows you away. My eyes lighten at the thought of hearing this live. On that note, another reason for the great sound would have been the quality of the production. Of all the black metal I have listened to, Plague Angel is indeed the best produced. I certainly hope that this will become a trend within the black metal community, as it makes the music so much easier to listen to.
In spite of the bass, the drumming and guitar work are very well executed. There are some great riffs on the album, and they all blend in well with Lars Broddesson’s drumming. However, the most important factor in determining this album’s longevity is the vocals. I believe that this album followed a vocalist change, and I do not know what the previous vocalist sounded like, but the new vocalist Mortuus is exemplary. His screams are very in touch with the music, and he really manages to make each song a great deal more effective. Hearing him scream ‘Warschau’ on the track of the same name gives me shivers. There is a large diversity in his vocals too, he varies his voice from high pitched screaming to quite low guttural growls.
The songs themselves are all very similar; this can be seen as a drawback on the album, but personally I think that they had found a good sound and made use of it. If the overall sound was bad, then we’d be right in thinking that the album as a whole was rather bland. That said, don’t expect too much variation. There are two instances where the album changes its style slightly, and this is in the longer Perish in Flames, and the instrumental Deathmarch. Perish in Flames is generally a lot slower than the rest of the songs, although it does speed up a little in the middle section. Deathmarch comes towards the end of the album, and does well in accordance to the album. It has this sense of foreboding to it, and does give us a welcome break from the aggression. The screams in the background from Mortuus are a nice touch. The only bad point about it would be that at 4:10, it does tend to drag a little. I’d assume that after a few listens, most people would just skip it. It will probably have a similar effect to that of Dawn Patrol on Megadeth’s Rust in Peace. Most people will just think of it as a waste of space, but a select few will enjoy it for what it is (I love Dawn Patrol).
One important point I’d like to mention is the way that Marduk begins and ends the album. It has always been important for me to have an album which is single piece of music, rather than a collection of songs which do not really have much to do with each other. In this respect, the way that an album begins and the way it ends can really affect how you view the album. Marduk takes full advantage of this. The first song on the album, Hangman of Prague (which is one of the best on the album), starts off really well. We begin with 18 seconds of anticipation, and then all of a sudden the music just blasts in your ears, delivering one the best riffs on the album. The intensity of the beginning is carried out throughout the whole album. Even on longer songs, like Life’s Emblem, or the finale Blutrache, the music is as intense as ever (Perish in Flames being the exception). And this brings us to the end of the album, Blutrache: a long and vicious song that just keeps going until it disintegrates and the guitars fade out. It’s almost as if the music was so powerful that the band just burnt out, and it leaves you feeling overwhelmed.
The lyrical quality of the album is also very good. The overall theme of the album is carried on through the lyrics, and is punctuated with little sound clips of tanks, cannons and guns. The lyrics are very imaginative, and laced with a general sense of dread and evil. I also liked the fact that the lyrics of Blutrache, along with the music, added to the sense of ‘the end’.
‘Judgment Day edges toward evening.
Every nation marches singing,
every nation towards death.
Let us rejoice in the light
of this man-made Armageddon
this man-made blazing Hell.’
Another mention is the conversation a man has with Death on the song Life’s Emblem.
So far I’ve given nothing but praise to the album, but by no means is this album perfect (although I don’t have too many complaints about it). First, as mentioned before, the bass is just lost in the mix. I read that in so many metal reviews you’d expect bands to try and change in order to fix this criticism that is always plaguing them, but no, bass is just not going to be prominent in a lot of metal music. Another criticism I have of the album is that there is not much variety throughout the songs. For black metal in general, this is common, so it is not a huge complaint, but it’s large enough to deserve a mention.
I will point out that being black metal, Marduk will deter many listeners who won’t even need to listen to them. This album received such a high score because I actually like black metal, as opposed to the majority of people who don’t. So I will say that if you have previously not liked black metal, Plague Angel won’t change your mind, and you will probably disagree with most of the things that I have talked about in this review. For fans of bands like Darkthrone, Mayhem, Emperor or Gorgoroth, Plague Angel is a very solid release and I recommend it highly.
The Hangman of Prague
Throne of Rats
Seven Angel’s, Seven Trumpets