Friday, September 10, 2010

Marduk - Opus Nocturne (1994)

Opus Nocturne is the third full-length album from Sweden's Marduk. Once again, the band made a questionable decision, by choosing to record at Unisound/Hellspawn and allowing Dan Swanö to engineer and mix the L.P. The album was released by Osmose Records in December 1994, and signifies the end of the first era of Marduk's musical career, in a way. It was all downhill, after this one.

This was the first Marduk album that I ever bought, after hearing the song "The Sun Has Failed", on a college radio show. My first impression was that the album wasn't allowed to live up to its full potential, and this sentiment has not really changed in all these years. Dan Swanö deserves to be, brutally, beaten for his horrible lack of skill when it comes to recording Black Metal. I've made this point before, but it must be repeated: I'll never be able to fathom how the same guy that was involved in producing The Somberlain and Storm of the Light's Bane could have been responsible for the atrocious sound on so many other albums. The only thing I can think of is that the Dissection guys were more hands-on during the entire process, rather than leaving it up to Dan's ineptitude. Opus Nocturne possesses a very flat sound, and it's almost painful in a way; my ears beg for the guitars to rise out of the murky production. This music required more of a cold and sharp guitar sound and it's a crime that it had to be released in such condition. It is, somewhat, challenging to get past this major flaw. However, since the songwriting is so good, one must simply march forward despite this.

Speaking of the songwriting, the band did well to craft very memorable songs that are dripping with atmosphere. Musically, this record picks up from where Those of the Unlight left off, and maintains a similar atmosphere and style. Even though the production is such a hindrance, the force behind the songs cannot be denied. This album is dedicated to all things nocturnal and that feeling is conveyed very well. The songs on Opus Nocturne are not the all-out blast-fests that the band would later be known for. One can easily tell that much thought went into the structure and arrangement of each song. Here, there is no brutality for its own sake. Everything works toward a common goal. Songs, such as "Sulphur Souls", and "From Subterranean Throne Profound" are very dynamic, filled with peaks and valleys. that really give the listener the sense that they are being taken on a journey. Compared to their later works, even the faster riffs just seem much better composed and more meaningful. But the most significant aspect of early Marduk was atmosphere. This is something that they lost, for the most part, after this album.

As for the vocals, "Af Gravf" was the best vocalist that the band ever had, period. His style suited the music much better than any other that would go on to attempt to fill his role. Outside of simply possessing a raspy, deathlike sound, he also knew exactly how to utilize his vocals. He was well aware of how to use his voice as another instrument, in order to add to the overall aura of the song. Despite the poor Hellspawn production job, the guitar riffs are still the most important thing, and he never attempted to dominate the sound or drown out the melodies. His successor would have done well to have taken notes from his performances.

It is almost strange to think about, the fact that I nearly gave up on this band. Between the weak production jobs on Those of the Unlight and Opus Nocturne, as well as the boring style that they later embraced, I'd come very close to writing them off as yet another band that did nothing for me. Songs like "Materialized in Stone" and "Opus Nocturne" (featuring IT, of Abruptum/Ophthalamia) remained embedded in my brain and kept me from abandoning these works, altogether. Thankfully, in recent years, both albums have been remastered and reissued in somewhat better form. Normally, I'm the last person to approve of an album being altered from its original form. However, in this case, anything that enables me to get a stronger grasp on these melodies is a good thing.

There is really no way to choose which tracks stand out above the rest, as that would imply that some are inferior to the others, or serving as filler. Every piece of this album is essential to the overall atmosphere that is being created. It's filled with brilliant melodies and vocal passages, all flowing together, seamlessly. While the production can be a bit of a turn-off, it becomes less of an issue once you fully immerse yourself in the music and tune your ears in to the particular sound of this record. Opus Nocturne is an essential piece of mid-90's Black Metal and the final relevant album from Marduk.