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Serpent Sermon

Century Media (2012)
Rating: 6.5/10

Black metal is fast approaching its 30th anniversary and many of its founders and heroes have lived to see middle age. Though many of the truly great bands live short lives and die in glorious self-destruction, there is a place for bands like Marduk who march on with seemingly boundless enthusiasm for their art.

The Swedes have released 12 albums in 20 years and their ability to periodically reignite their dedication to the, quite frankly, very repetitive world of black metal is rather heartening. The question, of course, is whether their fortitude is still leaving them with fresh and interesting music?

They’ve started by taking the initiative with production and giving Serpent Sermon a loud, modern mix which is unlikely to split opinions in the way that other recent efforts have. The full bass presence sounds best at high volumes and allows melodically-driven tracks, of which there are several, to remain consistent with the more traditional blasting affairs. The album fluctuates naturally between those two moods but guitarist and founder Morgan Håkansson’s massed experience in forging them lends him only competence, not brilliance.

The lyrics, however, are another story. Two decades of unerring blasphemy have not dulled their instincts but rather refined them, and the style with which Mortuus breathes life into this the most tired of topics is the album’s greatest strength by some way. To quote the title track: “Guileless doctrine turned into teachings on how to love The Lie. Our mastema is great – even on the preacher’s tongue. Ever moving – above and so below.” It’s a real shame that lyrics of such elusive brilliance are used on riffs so common.

And that’s what’s disappointing about this slick, well-produced and consistent album. The know-how with which Marduk forge their work shouldn’t really be knocked, and Serpent Sermon sees them in finer form than they have been for some years, but such assuredness sacrifices some of the danger and theatre on which the best metal music is based and upon which Marduk originally built their name. This is sturdy, well-built music but unfortunately just another piece of furniture. Christ-raping black metal in spirit but not effect.

Duncan Geddes

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