Memento Mori

Century Media
rating icon 8.5 / 10

Track listing:

01. Memento Mori
02. Heart of the Funeral
03. Blood of the Funeral
04. Shovel Beats Sceptre
05. Charlatan
06. Coffin Carol
07. Marching Bones
08. Year of the Maggot
09. Red Tree of Blood
10. As We Are

Five years is the longest pause between albums that MARDUK have ever taken. Admittedly, the world has had other things to be concerned with during that time, but even taking global pandemics into account, the Swedes' prolonged silence had a certain eeriness to it, as if they were quietly building towards something definitively explosive and devastating.

Admittedly, the band's 33-year existence has provided black metal with some of its most vicious and undeniable records. From the flawless evisceration of 1999's "Panzer Division Marduk", to the militant bludgeonings of "Frontschwein" (2015) and "Viktoria" (2018),  MARDUK have always ravaged with conviction and more intensity than most. Returning after a lengthy hiatus, founder / guitarist Morgan Håkansson has much to live up to on his band's 15th album, but it swiftly becomes apparent that most of the last five years have been spent whipping things into shape for a renewed assault on the world.

"Memento Mori" begins as it means go on: at an insane speed, and dripping with hateful, destructive intent. The opening title track is as furious as anything MARDUK have released since "Panzer…", but with over two decades of progress fleshing that album's brittle, blasting core out into something deeper and darker. "Heart of the Funeral" and "Blood of the Funeral" follow. The former, a more measured eruption of vitriol; the latter, another psychotic white-out, played at inhuman velocity. MARDUK have never made a record that didn't sound utterly pissed off, but "Memento Mori" is on another level. It is a self-evident rebirth, wherein Håkansson's vision has grown in breadth and depth, while retaining its myopic, blasphemous essence. Previous albums have boasted plenty of slower, grimier material like "Shovel Beats Sceptre", but MARDUK have never woven their primitive, old-school ethics and their more creative latter-day sensibilities together as convincingly as this before. A scything, sludgy dirge with vocalist Mortuus on particularly vile form, it paves the way for "Charlatan", another bewildering blizzard of blastbeats and spite, albeit one that momentarily morphs into a hissing, frostbitten waltz, before a final blur of high-speed madness seals it with a fuck-you flourish.

This is an exercise in nuanced terror, but it's still terrifying. The skin-removing onslaughts continue. "Coffin Carol" is a desperate, sub-zero sprint to the finish; "Marching Bones" is a swaggering, punk-fueled sneak-attack with a filthy, black 'n' roll edge; "Year of the Maggot" takes a dramatic pause before unleashing another tsunami of unstoppable violence; "Red Tree of Blood" is more of the electrifying same, but faster. If nothing else can be confirmed, we can at least assume that drummer Bloodhammer did some extra press-ups during MARDUK's hiatus. It ends with the faux-industrial funeral march of "As We Are", a helpful reminder that MARDUK can chill the blood at slower tempos too.

In the end, those five years went by in a flash. Normal, Christ-smashing service is resumed. Welcome back, legends.

Author: Dom Lawson
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