Review by Jonathan Smith, Photos by Albert Mansour
Late November seems as good a time as any to take in a performance by Swedish metal veterans Marduk. A concert centered around a black metal band known for its own distinct take on imagery and songs centering on everything from war machines to religious blasphemy to paganism seems strangely appropriate for a grey month squashed between the twin commercial juggernauts that are Halloween and Christmas. It’s a time when the harvest season has more or less passed and the snow hasn’t yet arrived to cover up the increasingly bare trees, and a time when every retail store in the area insists on playing an endless loop of stale variations of holiday music. It was perhaps not so surprising, then, that it was welcome news for blackened metal fans in the GTA to hear that Marduk had finally made it into Canada for the first time and would indeed be performing for them at the Annex Wreckroom.
My fellow concert-goers and I arrived to stand in line just after seven. To our initial horror and then our disappointment, we heard the strains of familiar French black metal floating down the Wreckroom’s stairs. It turns out that Merrimack, apparently unbeknownst to the band until their arrival, had been handed the short-straw position of going up on stage first that night. However, a quick survey of some of the crowd regarding the performance seemed to lead to a general consensus that they were “fucking awesome.” Hopefully the band members themselves heard such response.
Next up was New York City’s Black Anvil. Supporting a recently-released debut album, the group belted out their brand of early-style blackened thrash with great enthusiasm. Their music has a “thicker” sound than Merrimack’s. It served as the opposite end of a sonic spectrum, the middle of which Marduk could fit right into with their Swedish black metal sound. From a vantage point near the stage, Black Anvil seemed almost ridiculously loud for the venue’s space. Nonetheless, their intensity was hardly misplaced.
Smack in the middle of the night was Mantic Ritual, the odd duck of the bunch. The Pittsburgh-based group seemed out of place with their more thrash-focused sound and aesthetics, and for a large chunk of the crowd seemed to serve more as a break between the black metal acts than anything else. The band seemed unperturbed, however, promoting their album and future appearances and eagerly encouraging the crowd to get ready for both Nachtmystium and Marduk. The last of the line-up’s shorter sets, they finished up and cleared the stage for the heftier acts on the bill.
Chicago’s Nachtmystium took to the stage with a confidence that threatened to upstage that of the head-liners. Like Black Anvil, at times their sheer volume almost consumed the individual contributions from band members. From certain vantage points, a lot of what vocalist Blake Judd had to say was lost in a muddled fuzz. The group played a high energy set, drawing heavily from 2008’s Assassins: Black Meddle Part 1. Their belting out of newer tune “Hellish Overdose” was a particular treat, emphasizing the band’s continuing willingness to experiment and draw from a larger metal background than their earlier albums suggest. After giving the crowd an appropriate sonic beating, they exited the stage for the main event.
Wasting no time once they took to the stage amidst a droning hum, Marduk immediately launched into their recognizable base-heavy, pummeling style of metal. Even with the small venue, the stage lighting bathed the combat regalia-wearing musicians in a deep red hue the majority of their set; various other lighting effects contributed to the battle-torn urban ambiance that the band was seeking to project. Their latest effort Wormwood was represented mostly with its longer, doomier cuts. Mid-tempo heavies “Phosphorous Redeemer” and “To Redirect Perdition” were placed alongside faster-paced choices like “Panzer Division Marduk” and “Beyond The Grace of God.” The tempo changes ended up working fairly well, providing a few select moments of still-heavy distinctness from the hammering pace of the majority of the set. Vocalist Mortuus made sure to stalk both sides of the stage, working with the enthusiastic horns and head-banging coming from the crowd’s front lines and proving that he remains a worthy addition to the band’s line-up. Similar to Nachtmystium’s singer, however, his spoken words were largely lost in a mess of echoing distortion. Despite all the pre-show buzz and Marduk’s having a exciting line-up in tow with them, in the end the crowd wasn’t as thick as it could have been. This did not stop the blackened Swedes from blasting out a mostly energetic set for the eager fans who had crowded up to the front of the stage to see them. After a teasingly long pause following their first and only encore, Marduk left the most enthusiastic members of the crowd reassured of the particular punch that comes with live bombastic black metal.