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WARNING: First Impressions is a series where I go in blind and document my thoughts on an album based on stream reveals or my first experience with a full promio prior to its release. Any/all opinions are subject to change when analyzed in a more critical manner.

One of the first black metal bands I discovered on my journey scraping the surface of the style’s world back in the day was the legendary Swedish act Marduk. More specifically it was their 1999 album Heaven Shall Burn… When We Are Gathered. While it may have been the earliest, it wasn’t necessarily one that captured my interest. It wouldn’t be until 2004’s Plague Angel that a true appreciation would be found. With the exception of Viktoria, I stayed on top of the group’s material, so I was anxious to tear into their upcoming full-length Memento Mori the moment I saw it sitting in my inbox courtesy Century Media. These are my initial thoughts that left me asking “What the actual fuck?”.

Marduk has always been a strong frontrunner in the third generation black metal world. Their blast beat fueled ferocity meshed with atmospheric hooks has always been one of the reasons fans like myself kept coming back. There often was some method to the madness, a tact that seems a bit lost here at first. “Memento Mori” builds things slowly, but when it stops the band just goes balls out to the point I can’t shake Metallica‘s St. Anger PTSD with high speed raspy vocals that sound more like blithering gibberish from a bygone nu-metal era. Everything does get reigned in as it bleeds into “Heart of the Funeral” with some catchy hooks and a somewhat stronger bass presence, but everything still sounds about the same level and without any real bite at all.

The press release uses the word “primitive” and, really, it’s a good way to describe things. To be frank, listening to Memento Mori had me itching to dive back into the early Black Sabbath catalogue with some of the analog similarities I was picking up on. Even back then those albums still managed to have everything work together in a dynamic fashion instead of one congealing regurgitated mess for the sake of speed and that signature sharpened black metal distortion. And as I type this I hit about three-and-a-half minutes into “Blood of the Funeral” with either overmodulated bass tones, god awful synth effects in the background, or just really heated rasps that are completely indiscernible from either of those or farting into an empty coffee can due to those aforementioned issues. Seriously, this is how horrible Memento Mori sounds and I can’t help but wonder if it’s an intentional production choice or Century Media altering promos in an effort to prevent piracy and dear Odin do I hope the latter.

Then “Shovel Beats Scepter” hits with a single declaration that takes what was established and threw it right out the damn window. The pace slows down. The tuning is deeper. The atmosphere grows melancholic. The whole thing sounds far more consistent with a morose focus on death as the bells chime periodically for impact. And immediately I remember why I became a fan of Marduk in the first place. A palette cleanser for the intense “Charlatan” which amps things up again without sacrificing its newly found morose presence for the sake of a “primitive” one. This was so dynamic I had to take a second look at the initial three songs and, no, they still sound like ass and pale in comparison to these two songs in particular.

And, well, that’s as far as I’m going. This is a first impression after all. I broke the cardinal rule of this series by revisiting songs on my first time through, possibly muddying those initial opinions of this effort. But from what I experienced on that virgin spin, I went from being in absolute disgust to the point I pondered if this was some sort of sick joke to being reminded why Marduk has reigned as one of Sweden’s top black metal exports. I’m left intrigued to dive into it deeper and see exactly how this all comes together. I mentioned the press release using “primitive” as a description, but that was merely at a passing glance as the point of all this is to go in blind. Maybe there’s some sort of narrative that will tie it all together that is lost on me. Until that discovery I leave this exploration puzzled and surprisingly let down.

Digital review copy of this release provided by Century Media Records.

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