Monday, February 2, 2009

Marduk - Those of the Unlight (1993)

Marduk has seen a few transitions. Dark Endless featured more of a typical Swedish Death Metal approach. Their later albums are, for the most part, pointless noise for the sake of being 'brutal' and 'extreme'. Their most recent output is a bit different, offering an atmosphere of doom. Yet it was on Those of the Unlight where the band truly put their efforts into creating quality Black Metal; music with a dark atmosphere, rather than the boring trash served up in the decade or so that followed this. As with many bands, their creativity waned after just a couple of albums.

After the release of Dark Endless, Marduk underwent some sort of transformation. What they released on that album was Black Metal, despite the Death Metal structures and so on. However, on Those of the Unlight, they shed this sound for something darker and more raw. They lost their vocalist, Andreas Axelsson, as he went to play for Edge of Sanity. His replacement was none other than Joakim "Af Gravf" Göthberg, who was the best vocalist they ever had. In April 1993, the band entered Dan Swanö's Hellspawn Studio to record what would come to be known as their crowning achievement.

The album begins with "Darkness Breeds Immortality". This sounds much like what one would expect from a Scandinavian Black Metal release from 1993. Fast tremolo guitar riffs, blasting guitars and raspy vocals. Yet this is not average in any way. In no time, the excellent songwriting becomes apparent. Göthberg's vocals sound like his throat is shredded. There is a lot of dark feeling in his performance. The atmosphere of doom, from the first album, is still present.

"Those of the Unlight" begins with a brilliant tremolo melody. The lyrical concept for this song appears to have something to do with the Nazgûl in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord Of The Rings. The cover artwork seems to support this theory.

"Frozen on the very brinks of death
Enslaved by the dark lord
Forever dying but never dead
The nine - Those of the Unlight"

This song is filled with memorable riffs and tempo changes that prevent this from even coming close to the boredom induced by later Marduk albums. It really sounds like a completely different band. While the sound is raw, this is not very primitive at all. The song structures are well thought-out and executed with precision. There is a somber atmosphere found in many of the harmonies on this album.

"Wolves" carries the album forward with more dark, yet memorable, riffs. The production isn't horrible, but this would have benefited had it achieved the same type of sound that Dissection managed to get, using the same studio. These riffs are really far too good to not be fully realized to their maximum potential. The guitars should be a little louder and sharper, in all honesty. A couple minutes into this song, there is a very 'relaxed' section that has a lot of feeling to it. It seems a little out of place, yet the band manages to fit it in well enough. This is followed by more tremolo riffs, fast drums and tortured vocals, with even some haunting whispers thrown in.

"On Darkened Wings" begins with an eerie guitar effect and the sound of thunder, rumbling in the distance. The song then builds up to full speed, utilizing cold and dark melodies. After a minute and a half, the song slows down and a feeling of sorrow and dread consumes the listener. A minute or so later, there is another lead guitar solo that is somewhat unexpected. As the song reaches its conclusion, the vocals convey feelings of torment, suffering and death.

The next song is one of the best on the album, "Burn My Coffin". Morgan Håkansson's memorable riffs and Joakim Göthberg's dark and tortured vocals suit one another very well. This song features yet more guitar solos, these fitting the song perfectly. All becomes silent, after a few minutes, leaving a lone, mournful guitar melody. As the vocals, bass and drums return, the feeling is that of a funeral march. As it fades into nothingness, your heart muscles begin to tighten. Just when you are ready to stop breathing, the melancholy riff fades back in and claims your spirit.

"Black candles burn tonight
As my soul begins it's flight
As the veil of Darkness lowers it's shadow
I travel through the night"

The sorrowful atmosphere is alleviated, to some extent, with "A Sculpture of the Night". This is faster and a bit less abysmal as the previous song. About halfway through, there is a very oldschool-sounding riff.

"Echoes From the Past" is the longest song of the album, and an instrumental. This begins with quiet guitar passages and the sound of falling rain and minimal keyboard use, in the background. There is a dark and nostalgic feeling created here. Listening to this, your mind slips away from reality and into the darkness. You ruminate over what once was; that which is gone, never to return. You think of the mistakes that you've made in this terrible existence and how they can never be undone. Your heart is gripped by loss and mourning. The future is so bleak and obscured by shadows. Just then, the guitars and drums come in to add to the somber atmosphere. The feeling of doom and regret takes you even deeper.

"Stone Stands Its Silent Vigil" continues this feeling of grief and despair. Following the utter spiritual death from the previous song, this evokes imagery of a frozen graveland, and a lone tombstone marking your final resting place. It is fairly mid-paced, with miserably tortured vocals and lyrics that suit the feeling well. There is a brief section that speeds up, but this only serves to accentuate the funereal qualities of the final moments of the album...

"In the lands of frost
All life is dead and lost
Frozen into a lifeless statue
Well preserved but quite dead"

Those of the Unlight stands as a bleak monument of Marduk's glory days, when they created music that possessed a dark and tormented atmosphere; when they played Black Metal rather than pointless noise. This is highly recommended for any fan of early 90s Swedish Black Metal.