Sound — 6
Marduk formed in 1990 and released their first album in 1992, which puts them really close to the timeline of when pioneers of the black metal genre, Burzum, Emperor and Bathory, were getting their start and causing mayhem. Marduk has never gained the caliber of fame (or notoriety) as their peers, but they have continued to pump out albums and create a unique identity in the genre with both their more recent fascination with WWII and their faster, chaotic arrangements. "Frontschwein" will be the band's 13th album, and has 12 tracks and a runtime of approximately 55 minutes. Every song on the album is somehow tied to WWII, much like on their album "Panzer Division Marduk." According to internet hearsay, the reason that Mortuus was brought on board for vocals in 2003 is because Legion didn't approve or enjoy the WWII themed lyrics. Interesting piece of trivia. Evil (aka Morgan Håkansson) is the only remaining founding member of the band, though Devo has been around since 1992. The title of the album, "Frontschwein," translates roughly to front line soldier, which would be the soldiers sent in first during a battle to act as fodder. There are no "singles" on this album, of course.
The album opens up with the title track, "Frontschwein," which starts out pretty strong and really illustrates both the strong and weak points in the whole album. The strong points being that the music is solid (but not extraordinary), the production is very well done, and the vocals are close to exceptional. The weak points being that the lyrical theme is a little weak and the album is missing anything that would push it into being more than a mediocre release. The second track on the album is "The Blond Beast," and one of the more enjoyable tracks on the album for me, with an almost "fun" feel to the drums and guitar - almost like "happy" black metal. The third track from the album is "Afrika," which shows some of Mortuus' best effort on the album. "Wartherland" opens with a cool, dark riff and early in the track has Fredrik Widigs (the new drummer) doing a fill that I thought was really cool for the track. "Rope of Regret" opens with the sound of machine gun fire, and then has the drums emulating it and the whole song is like an audio assault. "Between the Wolf-Packs" is one of the most enjoyable tracks on the album for me, where I can get behind the song both musically and vocally. "Nebelwerfer" is up next, and the internet tells me this word translates as one of those tanks that shot multiple missiles - the one the song title is specifically referring to was initially designed to shoot biological and chemical weapons, but ended up being used for regular missiles instead. The song is about the damage left behind by the nebelwerfer. "Falaise-Cauldron of Blood" is an intensely heavy track that seems like it would really give the drummer a workout. "Doomsday Elite" is by far the longest track on the album, clocking in at a little over eight minutes. There are some sampled vocals, in German, on the track. The track doesn't really justify the eight minutes, and could have done the same thing in about four minutes, really. "503" is named after the heavy tank battalion in the German military in WWII. Also, this song is one of the more traditionally black metal tracks from the album except for including some almost "clean" vocals. "Thousand-Fold Death" is a fairly relentlessly heavy track, though one of the only tracks where the bassline actually stood out to me, momentarily. I don't think it is really a popular move in black metal to let the bass sit very audibly in the mix (just seems to be used to add to the thundering of the track), but I do enjoy when metal artists let their bass lines be audible. "Warschau III Necropolis" is the closing track, and has samples of bomb sirens and soldiers marching throughout the track - it is by far the most "atmospheric" and minimal tracks. Overall, none of the tracks really stand out to me, but none were extremely underwhelming either - a mediocre album.
Lyrics — 7
What Mortuus has going for him is that he always sounds like he's on the verge of throat singing, and his unique vocal style helps him stand apart in a genre where vocals can begin to sound very much the same. I prefer his work more with some of his other projects, and probably most especially on his work with Funeral Mist. He does bring his skill to bear on "Frontschwein," and there isn't anything to really complain about - but an entire album of lyrics about WWII gets old pretty quick and even his vocal delivery can't save the album for me. I don't trust myself to accurately write down any of the lyrics, but from song to song they seem to deal with the death and destruction from WWII, and especially in a way that glorifies the German army in this war. I didn't care for the lyrical content, but the vocal delivery was close to outstanding.
Overall Impression — 6
The WWII theme doesn't really do anything for me - if anything it turns me off of the album. It reminds me of some of the more narcissistic members of the metal community I've met who seem to be focused on coming across as more "evil" than their peers. Usually it just seems fake and contrived, or if they're "successful" they come across like closet Nazis posing as metalheads because they feel like they're more accepted in the metal community. There were some good things on the album, as the musicianship is solid, the vocal delivery was very solid (probably the strongest point of the album), and the production was very well done for a metal album. What I have missed from most of Marduk's releases for a good while now is they don't really take the time to create atmospheres in their music anymore, or at least much less often and to less of an extent as their earlier stuff. For some people this might be what sells them on Marduk's more recent releases - I think it is just a matter of taste. I could enjoy the album most when I didn't pay much attention to the lyrics and just let myself hear the vocals as another sound or instrument, only.