1999, Osmose Productions
I'll tell you why I admire Marduk: their singleminded bloody persistence. This album is, if anything, a pure demonstration of that trait abstracted and extrapolated upon for thirty minutes. It is a cliche among the critics of the black metal scene that Marduk's albums (or songs, for that matter) are seen to be virtually identical, or interchangeable. I don't think that's true. Marduk DO have a certain musical formula, but it is one they are constantly updating and improving upon with each release, and this album marks a highlight in that progression: a devastating benchmark for other black metal bands to try to live up to. In fact, I think they have perfected what they set out to express on their albums throughout the last five years: that they are the musical embodiment of a modern military attack.
This album is all about war: that is the theme as evidenced by the artwork, and the album contains soundbites of military conflict burned into various places between the songs (or even in the songs). As I understood it, Marduk announced with the release of their last album, Nightwing, that they were working on a trilogy of records that were going to be based on the themes of blood, fire, and death (Bathory fans will recognize the ancestry here). Nightwing, with its songs of vampirism and murder, was about 'blood', this one is based on the idea of 'fire' (gunfire, napalm, burning villages, etc.) and the next one will be a paean to death. I can't wait for that.
In the meantime, Panzer Division Marduk relentlessly attacks again and again, with burning, lacerating, squealing guitars, the overwhelming crush of B. War's deep bass fuzz rumblings, and the drummer's machine-like snare precision. The drums on this album are one of the highlights: blast mania, insane hyperspeed blur tempos that will make your eyes roll back in your head. Legion's vocals are not as clear in the mix as on the last album, but they are his usual choking rabid Satanic screams and bloodthirsty yells.
The secret to listening to Marduk's albums is the use of headphones. I can't stress enough the importance of paying close attention to the riffs and breaks in the songs. They have always been given production standards that remove the harsh distorted edge off the guitar - the 'Dark Funeral' Swedish Black Metal production - this time with Tagtgren at the Abyss studios. When the guitar is smoothed over that way, the riffs are very hard to distinguish at high speeds. This is what makes people claim all Marduk songs are the same - but they aren't, listen closer and you'll see.
So what makes this Marduk album special? The sheer epic brutality of it all, and the mind numbing speed. This is a new kind of black metal - I don't see this style really claiming any antecedents, especially from the Norwegian camps. This is a documentation of a band at the height of their devastating powers.