REVIEWED: Marduk's 'Viktoria'
Like the invasive reek of bloated corpses left to fester in waterlogged trenches or the maddening hail of machine-gun fire striking soft and unyielding human flesh, Marduk has long been possessed of a very special kind of militaristic horror. A deathly, coal-black presence that, on 2015’s ‘Frontschwein’ saw every caustic gargle and bone-scraping rasp of tremolo ooze coldly calculating malice and brutality. And from the moment that ‘Werwolf’s’ opening flurry of ghoulishly whining air-raid sirens barrel headlong into a battering orgy of ultra-violence, it seems that successor ‘Viktoria’ has not only sustained, but perhaps even amplified these brimstone-scorched trademark energies.
With these breakneck feats of madly accelerating aggression maintaining a heavily dominating presence as the album progresses, there’s a decidedly stripped-back, primitive flavour about this tidily concise 33-minute offering. All barrelling, percussive speed and raggedly abrasive, bristling thrash, ‘June 44’ promptly steam-rolls the listener into submission with all the brutal force and practised efficiency of a 500-strong battalion. Coupled with dense layerings of ragged tremolo and discordant vocal hooks that abound with diabolical, gargling horror, there’s no shortage of darkness stirring deep within its blackly turbulent throes. Generously laden with Mortuus’ starkly desolate vocal contortions, the (marginally) more leisurely paced ‘Tiger I’ sees scalding bouts of percussive fury punctuate expansive layers of Sabbath-esque groove to darkly ritualistic effect.
But for all these viciously energised highlights, it’s not until the pounding, post-apocalyptic brilliance of ‘Narva’ that the full, gloriously expansive spectrum of ‘Viktoria’ is revealed in its darkly absorbing entirety. And while there’s no denying the adrenaline-fuelled pleasures of aggression in its purest and most undiluted form, the full-bodied richness of sound underpinning this sinister standout makes for relentlessly arresting listening. Bridged with a sinewy wealth of nimble, serpentine fretwork that instantly ensnares the listener with its irresistible, brimstone-scorched swagger, it is here that the Swedes strike an impeccable balance of scorching aggression and unearthly atmosphere. Equally intoxicating too are the coldly melancholic, tremolo-laden accents and thickly distorted grooves of ‘The Last Fallen’.
That said, such variation and electrifying intensity is by no means a constant, unwavering feature of this relentlessly aggressive outing. And nor does great variety or complexity seem to have been a foremost priority for the Swedes this time round. With this in mind, fans favouring a more old school, uncomplicated strain of aggression will no doubt happily and unreservedly devour its every bludgeoning, banshee-shrieking second. Meanwhile, those whose tastes tend more toward complexity and atmosphere may find their attention straying here and there on occasion. But whatever your stance on extreme metal, this is most certainly a solid and, in places, stunning specimen of the genre.
'Viktoria' is out now on Century Media