Marduk w/1349, Withered, Weapon and Mutant Supremacy
Music Hall of Williamsburg
Sunday, June 3
Better than: Whatever soul-crushing award ceremony was apparently taking place on MTV.
For all the pixels that have been given over lately to the discussion of the so-called “mainstreaming of black metal,” it’s worth remembering that it’s still a fairly prohibitive genre. There may be a sort of prurient interest in the genre’s bloody, now decades-gone backstory, but its punishing tempos and scabrous vocals are not the sort of thing a person can slowly ease into in the interest of looking cool. In that way, it may be the only genre with a built-in fortification against carpetbagging.
Case in point: last night’s Marduk show at the Music Hall of Williamsburg was by no means empty, but it wasn’t exactly testing the venue’s capacity, either. To put it another way: there was plenty of room for a circle pit inside the circle pit. Some of that has to do with the strange place Marduk occupies in the black metal pantheon. Though they’re one of the genre’s oldest running practitioners—22 years and counting—they’re rarely spoken of in the same hallowed terms as many of their peers, and they don’t have the kind of lurid history that attracts the kind of trainspotters who are usually the subject of all those metal trend pieces. Which is ironic because, if there ever were a gateway black metal band, Marduk would be it. Though their early albums favored the kind of full-scale sonic annihilation synonymous with the genre, the albums they’ve made since Daniel “Mortuus” Rosten joined the band in 2004 have been increasingly fascinating, leavening the assault of blast beats and 78th-note riffing with long, churning melodic passages that play out like some sort of infernal aria. It’s not uncommon for a sullen, ghostly choir to turn up halfway through a new Marduk song, or for a host of synths to settle in softly, like mist at a graveyard. This has alienated a good number of people who preferred the simpler, angrier Marduk—perhaps another explanation for the roominess—but those who stuck around have been rewarded with some of the most consistently fascinating and fantastically unsettling metal being made.
They’ve also got a soft spot for showmanship. Eerie, doomy keyboard requiems played before the band took the stage and, between each song, they’d spin on their heels and face their amplifiers while a few seconds of booming, droning noise played over the PA. The rest of the show was an exercise in controlled brutality. “Nowhere, No-One, Nothing” sounded like someone firing a machine gun in a wind tunnel, a barrage of raw, churning sound that stopped suddenly short to make way for a bass line that slithered sickeningly forward like a hungry python. “The Black Tormentor of Satan” was simpler, a relentless stampede of sound that felt like being caught, panic-stricken, in the running of the bulls. On record, Mortuus’s voice is all gargles and villainous howls, but live it’s an earsplitting, agonized scream. He rarely strayed from the center of the stage, where he leaned forward on one leg, hand raised, back arched. The group performed beneath the furious flash of ice-white strobe lights, making the whole thing feel like some found footage of a lurid cult ritual.
As on their albums, the best moments were when the band stretched out. The guitars in “Womb of Perishableness” kept building, cresting and breaking and “Materialized in Stone” was built from long, slashing chords that were as cocky as they were menacing. Near the end of the night, Mortuus howled, “New York, are you still awake?” proving even a band with a reputation for experimenting isn’t above some good old-fashioned crowd-baiting.
Critical bias: I’ve often seriously thought about starting a Kickstarter project to fund a U.S. tour for Mortuus’s side project, Funeral Mist.
Overheard: “Your hair’s gotten so long. You’re a proper hesher.”
Random notebook dump: They’re tearing into this song (“Headhunter Halfmoon”) like a wolf going after a baby.