Following an uncharacteristically long wait (since 2002's "World Funeral") and the addition of new vocalist Mortuus (do you suppose he gets MORTIIS's fan mail delivered to him sometimes?), MARDUK roar out of the gate on "Plague Angel" like they've got something to prove. Always fast, brutal and dependably evil, the band seem particularly envenomed this time around, although in the grand scheme of things, any adjustments made to the overall sound are really pretty minor.
Whether deploying a screamingly fast black metal assault ("The Hangman of Prague" opens the record and dispenses with all preliminaries within the first 20 seconds) or lurching along at a moody, funereal tempo laden with church bells, moans and other sepulchral hoo-ha (see "Seven Angels, Seven Trumpets"), MARDUK stay within predictable limits. It hardly matters, though, because they're the masters of visceral tension-and-release, arguably the kings of dynamic. When "Seven Angels, Seven Trumpets" slams into the full-throttle "Life's Emblem", even the most jaded scenester will have no choice but to react — this is the kind of primeval, instinctive black metal that triggers an involuntary bloodlust in the minds and hearts of the faithful.
Some may call Mortuus's voice weak or frayed; to me, his manic rapid-fire delivery and hoarse cries add a grimacing human element to music that could easily become too mechanized and polished under the microscope of digital production. Actually, that's not even much of a worry for MARDUK — my theory is that their extensive history of live work has given even their most impossibly fast songs a sense of swing, an off-the-rails live-ness that no studio-only band can hope to duplicate. MARDUK play and write like they know they have to go prove it on the road, and then they do just that. This may not seem like a big deal to you whippersnappers out there, but there was a time when damn few black metal acts could (or would) play live (thankfully, such a pretentious conceit has gone the way of "tr00 kvlt" anti-production worship among all but the most stubbornly head-up-their-ass scene purists).
MARDUK don't have a lot of tricks up their sleeve, but the ones they do employ are always done with haughty precision and murderous intent. The creeping, brooding menace of "Perish In Flames" and the blinding hateful speed of "Everything Bleeds" both ooze out of the speaker like liquefied tar, inexorable and impossible to deny. It remains to be seen how much longer they can make their sound this vital with such a limited palette, but for now, they're doing just fine.