9/19/2011 - Review by: Etiam
Although it is hard to fathom today, the exhaustingly prolific black metal forefathers in Marduk were once youths with only a single demo tape to their name. Provocateurs from the start, that demo's parenthetical title was 'Fuck Me Jesus', and would win the attention of the newly minted No Fashion Records. Marduk's debut LP followed in 1992 as the third release on that label and the first of many milestones, beginning an odyssey of blasphemy that continues to this day. For all its divergences from Marduk's current style, 'Dark Endless' still serves as the band's mission statement: relentless black metal less thematic than their countrymen but better produced than the stereotypical Norwegian fare; unfailing pessimism (nihilism, satanism,or whatever bad -ism is least fashionable at the time); a lyrical preoccupation with war and its accoutrements, specifically tanks; and a cycle of vocalists who have become only more wretched over the past twenty years.
This version of 'Dark Endless' comes to us via Regain Records, who have reissued a bevy of 90s metal gems in the past several years (bone fide classics and cult favorites both), featuring five live bonus tracks and a quirky keyboard opener. The latter sets a dreamily macabre tone before the album begins in earnest with an early highlight,'Still F**king Dead' (as the tracklist names it), in an amusing nod to censorship amidst all this anti-religious gratuity. Two minutes into that blackened madness, the song throws down a chugging sludge riff that would do Tom Warrior proud: simplistic to the utmost, the groove is the forerunner for Celtic Frost's monolithic 'Monotheist', which would not arrive for another 15 years. On later albums, such slower passages would turn into moody black metal stomps like 'Dracul Va Domni Din Nou in Transilvania', but in '92 Marduk's affinity for death metal still held sway. A similar interlude turns up in 'The Black', and the downtempo breaks in the song's latter half evoke the obscure hypnotism of The Chasm much more than Transilvanian black metal pomp.
The album's production, partially owing to the band's early roots in death metal, has a fullness and body that is missed on some other reissues of their early discography. Too, Marduk had not yet developed the reverb fetish that is the mid-90s hallmark of the genre, so the entire album has an unadulterated presence that is unexpectedly modern. Musically, the style of 'Dark Endless' is not without its charms, but is still queerly given to extended passages of two-bar phrases that sound more like scale practice than actually inventive riffage. Although standout passages do occur, as on every Marduk record, it isn't too often that they form a cohesive arc, and many songs' riffs might as well be interchangeable. For atmosphere, though, it doesn't get much authentic than this, and fans of primal groups like Master's Hammer or Hellhammer may find 'Dark Endless' to be the best of Marduk's output.
As for the bonus tracks, they are of poor quality even compared to the production job that precedes them. But after a couple songs our ears acclimatize, and genre historians will no doubt appreciate the raw character of these 1991 performance recordings. Occasionally the distortion on the microphone even eases enough to even make out the crowd's obvious enjoyment, and to close things out the band unleashes a perfectly horrific cover of Death's 'Evil Dead'. Sound quality notwithstanding, these clips are a compelling time capsule back a full two decades, when black metal was still an abhorrent scourge, an abomination, and the members of Marduk could hardly know that they would become a worldwide institution. That said, solely based on the strength of 'Dark Endless', the name of Marduk would likely not have been enshrined as unassailable--as opposed to other one-album wonders like, say, Vinterland--but it did establish them as serious players in the formative years of Swedish metal. What's more, years after the great swarm of "Darkthrone clones", this reissue reminds us of how many bands today have just moved on to mimic Marduk--fully two decades late to the party.
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