6/25/2008 - Review by: Etiam
The year is 1994, and in Sweden, the black metal movement is in full upswing. At the forefront is Marduk, prepared to release its third LP in as many years, 'Opus Nocturne'. With this album, the band's place as Swedish black metal icons is cemented, and even if they had disbanded following its release, they would have remained influential touchstones for the generation to come. The cover art was a triumph of Satanic debauchery (and still is, though slightly altered), both Dissection and Nifelheim wouldn't release an album until the next year, so the limelight was left to Marduk and their night-work. In retrospect, with seven albums released since and more on the way, no doubt, we cannot impartially evaluate the impact of 'Opus Nocturne', but compared to the band's discography at the time and the genre's burgeoning state, it's undeniable that 'Opus Nocturne' is a significant milestone worthy of reissue.
After a brief intro, 'Sulpher Souls' opens with a reverb-laden hiss from Jocke Göthberg, here sporting the moniker Joakim af Gravf, and turning in his second and final performance as the band's vocalist. As with 'Those of the Unlight', his shriek is shrill, occasionally even explosive, and his delivery of lines like, "Behold! From the synagogue of Satan..." is admirably evocative. Musically, 'Opus Nocturne' isthe last of Marduk's early throes before their artistic vision fully gelled on 'Heaven Shall Burn...' and their middle era began. As such, this 'Opus' is one of the band's more chaotic and consistently up-tempo efforts, with aggressive riffing and rare melodic flourishes, such as on standout 'Materialized in Stone'. Some clean vocals are used, but only as spoken word during the title track--essentially an interlude--and to set the scene for Vlad Tepes in 'Deme Quaden Thyrane'. These passages further Marduk's similarity to Dissection in these formative years, but the riffing similarities on 'Opus Nocturne' are less pronounced than on the previous release.
If there is any squabble to be had with the songwriting, it is that some simply drag on for too long. The most egregious of these is 'From Subterranean Throne Profound', which is poorly placed as a second track and exhausts the listener too early. Too, without a full drum sound, Fredrik Andersson's performance is left bare for criticism, and although he would develop some notable chops in his career, his showing on 'Opus Nocturne' is too static and his fills too similar.
These are small concerns, though, compared to the larger flaw of 'Opus Nocturne' that is regrettably irreparable: a poor production that even this remastered version cannot redress. The entire album sounds as though it were fed through an aggressive high-pass filter, which attenuates the vocals and drums and obscures the low bass-work almost entirely. In this static mix, the taut, frenetic harmony of Håkansson and B. War loses its punch, wicked howls like those found on 'Autumnal Reaper' are forced into the background, and Andersson's tom fills sound comedically hollow. In fact, the bonus tracks, despite their un-mastered sound, prove to be superior for their more balanced sound quality. (The four songs come from an April rehearsal of four standout tracks from the album, and their 'superior' mix is perhaps this re-issue's strongest selling point--compare the first :05 of 'Sulphur Souls' and any debate is over.) And that's quite a shame, because the tireless Håkansson was penned some intriguing material for this release, and one might even argue that the standout tracks are 'standout' in part because of how the demo versions bring out subtleties otherwise obscured.
More than a shame, it's downright odd. Dan Swanö was once again tapped as engineer--the band itself as producer--and as a follow-up album to 'Those Of The Unlight', as well as the band's third overall LP, one would imagine that undesirably poor production would be an issue of the past. Furthermore, the album's production seems especially poor when following the stark depth of the organ in 'The Appearance of Spirits of Darkness', the fitting if largely negligible intro track. Clearly, the band had adequate production tools at hand; they simply weren't utilized properly. Ultimately, 'Opus Nocturne' is still a notable release, tragically flawed though it may be, and even if the bonus demo cannot compensate for the LP's shortcomings, it will have to do as consolation.
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