Saturday, September 11, 2010

Marduk - Heaven Shall Burn...When We Are Gathered (1996)

Following the release of Opus Nocturne, a few changes were made within the Marduk camp. Af Gravf was replaced by the inferior Legion, and they abandoned Hellspawn Studio for Peter Tägtgren's Abyss Studio. Released in the summer of 1996, Heaven Shall Burn... When We Are Gathered serves as a transitional piece, sharing some similarities with the past but, moreso, paving the way for future albums. From this point on, the band would go down a path of mediocrity.

The most notable difference is the new vocalist. Legion was a poor replacement for Jocke Göthberg, and it is quite evident. The main problem isn't the sound of his voice, but rather the manner in which he utilizes it. There are far too many instances where he simply will not shut up and allow the music to breathe. Whereas Af Gravf's voice was another instrument that was but a part of the greater whole, Legion's vocals are too much. "Darkness It Shall Be" is a very good example of everything wrong about his vocal style. There are hardly any pauses in between each line; he just drones on and on... and on. Some vocalists understand that the lyrics should be crafted in a way, to suit the song. Here, it seems that he is very adamant about including every single word, even though the track isn't nearly long enough to accommodate this. This would go on to become one of the trademarks of his vocal approach, and it can be unbearable at times.

Musically, Heaven Shall Burn... is a step down from the previous records, but it still has its moments. The production is more powerful than that found on Those of the Unlight and Opus Nocturne. However, it's stronger in the wrong way. Instead of making the guitars colder and sharper, everything seems bulked up. The guitars, in typical Abyss Studio fashion, almost seem to create a wall of sound, and the drums are way too loud in the mix. The drumming joins the vocals in creating a really oppressive feeling and drowning out the guitar riffs. Unfortunately, the band preferred this, as they would continue down this path with subsequent albums. The actual melodies and arrangements aren't so bad, but they would have been better accentuated with a different type of production. That was a recurring problem with Marduk's early output.

As far as highlights are concerned, there are good riffs all over, but "Dracul Va Domni Din Nou In Transilvania" is the one song that stands out the most, to me. The reason behind it is simple enough. It's the one track where the pace is slow enough to allow the guitars room to breathe. Legion still tries his best to remain the center of attention, but it's not nearly as annoying at a lower speed. That being said, it's a fairly boring song, so even the positive aspects aren't enough to salvage it.

In the end, Heaven Shall Burn... isn't a worthless album. As previously stated, there are decent ideas floating throughout. Nonetheless, it is not a record that I would consider to be essential, by any means. It fails to compare, favourably, to its predecessors, and it marks the beginning of the band's decline.