5/3/2012 - Review by: Etiam
In Marduk's voluminous history, 'Nightwing' is often cited as the last and greatest release from their early years. Conflicting camps may nominate 'Heaven Shall Burn...When We Are Gathered' or 'Panzer Division Marduk', if they're feeling controversial, but 'Nightwing' tends to split the difference both chronologically and stylistically. The record is also notable for its conceptual content, being the inaugurating 'blood' element of the eventual 'blood, fire, death' triptych.
What's more, after the typical Nazarene-slaying epistles of its first half, the album's 'side B' explores in exhaustive detail the Turk-slaying episodes of Vlad Tepes. Loosely in correlation with the album's two chapters, 'Nightwing' opens at about the same fever pitch where 'Heaven Shall Burn...' left off, with 'Bloodtide (XXX)' and 'Of Hell's Fire' purging all weak and infirm listeners over the course of 12 minutes. Though not quite the maniacal assault that defines 'Panzer...', this phase of 'Nightwing' is still a gauntlet of blastbeats, chromatic tremolo riffs, and Legion's trademark vocals (rapid-fire pitter-patter followed by a screeeeaaaam). Another 30 minutes of this and 'Nightwing' might as well have been a 'Heaven Shall Burn...' redux. But once the title track arrives--one of the band's longest songs to date--the narrative begins to shift, and although the song isn't explicitly part of the second chapter its lyrical overtones and epic form set the stage for the didactic tale that follows.
Its opening chapter is 'Dreams of Blood of Iron', at first a welcome downtempo break that evokes the band's sludgier roots. But over six minutes it proves to be just as monotonous as the preceding chapter, and without the blastbeats to force the pace its blow-by-blow narration in couplets ends up sounding a little silly. To wit: "In fear of the Turks and his father's Hungarian slayers / He fled to Moldavia and hoped that Lord Bogdan would answer to his prayers." A little more poetic license would have been welcome here.
Nevertheless, 'Nightwing' is a critical piece of Marduk history. From the from wrenching but rather indistinct shrieks of Marduk's early days to the throatier, more patient rasp of the current master of ceremonies, Mortuus, the band has consistently drifted along the spectrum from an instrument-dominated tempest to a more balanced ensemble. 'Nightwing', with its heavy reliance upon plot and Legions' dessicated pronouncements, embodies that transition. It is also arguably the first record to distinctly separate Marduk's production style from the traditionally cavernous Swedish sound; on this record, and increasingly on those that followed, the guitars are bassier and drier, the vocals wedged more neatly into the mix, and overall presence is toned down. The results are mixed, for although the diminished ear fatigue helps the listener hunker down and endure the nearly 50-minute barrage, it also dampens what little dynamic range Marduk was capable of at the time. But moderation was obviously not part of the band's vocabulary then, and such records as this have cemented their legacy as Swedish black metal's most constant force.
The record's 2008 re-release (along with much of their back catalogue) by Regain Records should delight any fan of orthodox black metal. The sprucing-up mostly comes courtesy of two current Marduk members not in this album's lineup: the 12-page booklet layout was provided by Mortuus, noted for the design of his own Funeral Mist records, and sonically "reinforced and reinvented" by once and future bassist Devo. Certifiably wicked new cover art was sketched by the multi-talented Italian artist Lorenzo Mariani, and also included is a bonus DVD called 'Blood of the Saints'--this record's original name--with footage from a 1998 gig in Rotterdam. The entire set is captured by one static camera and the audio is rather lo-fi, but isn't much worse than the production heard on some first pressings of the band's early work. Although by itself the DVD doesn't recommend the album for purchase (much less re-purchase), the packaging is certainly impressive and the album's production value caught up to modern standards. Absorbed all at once 'Nightwing' is still a numbing journey, but a determined (or torturously trained) ear will discern its insidious, passionate pulse.
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