The concept of faith might be diametrically opposed to Marduk’s pitch-black worldview but the Swedish fundamentalists are worthy of yours. Of all the Second Wave black metal bands who still consider their iconoclastic craft a full-time concern, Marduk are the ones who always deliver. They could be accused of lacking a sense of adventure when it comes to songwriting but that’s kinda missing the whole point of the band: Marduk’s focus on keeping the blastbeats weirdly martial and riffs all broken, atonal and haunted is their strength. Guitarist and antagonist-in-chief Morgan “Evil” Håkansson has been doing this since 1990 yet seems to have little trouble accessing the fire that has juiced some of metal’s most unholy moments on record — Serpent Sermon, Marduk’s 12th album, is all about the “more diabolical sense of what black metal is really all about,” says Håkansson; and is mercilessly fierce and dark say us.
What the records say is that it was three years in coming. In that time, Marduk have changed labels, released the three-track Iron Dawn. Three years is the longest we’ve had to wait between albums but the legions are still faithful. Tickets for tonight sold-out well in advance, and while you could point to Immolation’s overdue return to the UK as a selling point remember that Marduk always sell-out these venues when they’re over here.
Early doors and a top-heavy bill meant that local death metal champs Dead Beyond Buried started their set playing to zealots, friends, and security staff but a lack of bodies didn’t rob them of a moral victory. What they lack in theatricality they make up with blue-collar head-down-and-shred death metal. Forthcoming LP The Dark Era will be made available for a free download and sees them them pitch their sound somewhere between all that classic Florida shit, Suffo-esque savagery and Demigod, and in playing to their strengths like this Dead Beyond Buried are more than capable of raising gooseflesh. Shit, that title-track, “The Dark Era”, is relentless.
What immediately follows is largely unremarkable. De Profundis and Forsaken World are in equal measure boring; the latter worthy and all but toil under the weight of their musical aspiration; the former look like Hallowe’en cakes and sound tame.
There is nothing tame about Immolation. There is a sense that Immolation are still largely slept-on despite filing at least two stone-cold classics in death metal’s canon in Dawn of Possession and Failures for Gods. Last year’s Providence EP — which was a free download, so you’ve got no excuse for not having it — was proof if needed that their capacity for cloaking their riffs in an atmosphere of total darkness remains undiminished by time. Ross Dolan’s just super-glad to be here, taking in the aspect of a venue being torn apart to his jams. His bonhomie might be at odds with the subject matter but, whatever: “What they Bring”, “Dawn of Possession”, “No Jesus, No Beast” … All are dispatched with a relentless efficiency that more than justified Morgan Håkansson’s enthusiasm at the prospect of touring with them.
Efficiency and an ear for warped darkness are qualities that the Yonkers DM vets share with the Swedes. Immolation’s set was slam-heavy and physically draining, Marduk’s crowd are subsumed into this weird sense of ritual. Of course it’s more anti-social; black metal always shouts to the individual’s inner torment where death metal is something that’s easier to share in. Tracks such as “The Levelling Dust” from Rom 5:12, arguably their greatest album, make a strong case for living an alternative lifestyle, taking in exorcisms for entertainment in favor of frivolous activities like baseball and football, going nocturnal … And that’s all you can really ask for in extreme art such as this; the feeling of moral displacement. And as such Marduk are a triumph. Where a band such as Dark Funeral blasts itself into a caricature of Norse extremity and mono-dimensional pummel, Marduk have the conviction and talent to hold your attention. In Mortuus they’ve got one of the few frontmen in black metal who can match Gaahl for unholy charisma. This is a band whose signature anthem is a blast-heavy aria to a German tank; Marduk could be accused of many things but being subtle. “London let us all remember why we are here tonight,” says Mortuus, helpfully, “To slay the Nazarene.” Err, amen to that.