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“Storm Of the Light’s Bane”, the only album to be released through German conglomerate Nuclear Blast Records, was supposed to be the breakthrough effort for Swedish melodic death metal hopefuls Dissection. In comparison to “The Somberlain” the record went for a more traditional and streamlined death metal sound. Much what made “The Somberlain” unique had been jettisoned for a more marketable sound. The album was given the required marketing push by its label, but extracurricular activities of frontman Jon Nödtveidt would capsize the band at the height of its power.

Before settling down to pre-produce its second abum Nödtveidt busied himself with two projects in between the “The Somberlain” and “Storm Of the Light’s Bane” songwriting sessions. First there was the very shortlived Terror, a grindcore project that existed for about three weeks, and released a single demo tape. Second, Nödtveidt recorded the “The Priest Of Satan” album with The Black, with whom he had some involvement a year before the recordings of Dissection’s own “The Somberlain”. Once both projects had run their course Nödtveidt focused on the completion of the second album from his own project for its new label home.

Due to internal conflicts (which some sources attribute to apparent laziness) co-songwriter John Zwetsloot was ousted from the band prior to the recording sessions, but was allowed writing credits to two of the album’s most celebrated songs. ‘Night’s Blood’ and ‘Retribution – Storm Of the Light’s Bane’ were co-written by John Zwetsloot. All music was written by lead guitarist Jon Nödtveidt with input from other members. ‘Unhallowed’, ‘Thorns Of Crimson Death’, and ‘Soulreaper’ were co-written by Johan Norman. The outro piano piece was written and performed by Alexandra Balogh.

The album was the recording debut for rhythm guitarist Johan Norman, who had previously only recorded a live demo tape in 1992 with Runemagick. Returning from “The Somberlain” are vocalist/lead guitarist Jon Nödtveidt, bass guitarist Peter Palmdahl, and drummer Ole Öhman. As expected of a unit on to its sophomore offering “Storm Of the Light’s Bane” is far more streamlined and concise in its writing. One of the biggest improvements was that the acoustic guitar breaks, previously provided by former guitarist John Zwetsloot, were now fully integrated into the band’s music. Öhman had improved in leaps and bounds from the debut, displaying some incredible flexibility in regards to his footwork, and creativity with fills, rolls, and cymbal crashes.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4LGq3KKNbJ0

“Storm Of the Light’s Bane”, an album released during the death metal explosion of the mid-nineties, is more straightup death metal oriented than “The Somberlain”. This was probably due to the popularity of the Florida death metal sound. One of the most lauded tracks is the uniformly savage ‘Unhallowed’, which deals with Viking conquest lyrically, almost borders on black metal stylistically. ‘Where Dead Angels Lie’ was written around the time of the “The Somberlain” sessions – and was part of the band’s “Promo ‘93”. It was never properly recorded before its appearance on this album. In comparison to the rest of the album it is a semi-ballad. ‘Thorns Of Crimson Death’ and ‘Retribution – Storm Of the Light’s Bane’ are the most compositionally ambitious.

There are two notable guest vocalists to be found on this effort. ‘Soulreaper’ has contributions by Tony Särkkä (IT from Ophthalamia, and Abruptum) and Erik Hagstedt (Marduk frontman Legion) lends his throat to ‘Thorns Of Crimson Death’. Hagstedt would appear on the Ophthalamia album “Via Dolorosa” the same year before being enrolled in the more established death/black metal force Marduk. As before the lyrics are well-written with an poetic quality. While various dark entities are alluded to the mythical figure of Satan (or its related figures) is never mentioned by name. The band’s connection to black metal is tangential at best, and non-existent at worst. Only Nödtveidt’s serpentine rasps, and his ideological convictions tie him to the Scandinavian black metal of the day, but musically Dissection is most obviously a death/thrash metal, albeit it a very majestic and traditional metal one.

“Storm Of the Light’s Bane” was recorded in just over two weeks at Hellspawn Studio (a later incarnation of Gorysound Studio before it changed its name to the popularly known Unisound Studio) with prolific producer Dan Swäno. The studio had earlier produced the formative works of former death metal band Marduk and Norsecore pioneers Dark Funeral. Typical of the time the bass-heavy production possesses a lot of crunch and weight. The drums sound very concrete with powerful snares and toms. The kickdrums provide much of the record low-end together with Palmdahl’s throbbing bass guitar that sounds both tonally deep but clear-cut.

An early rough mix was released on cassette format in late 1995 that had a different track order, and included the ‘Feathers Fell’ guitar instrumental from the debut album. In its final form the record omitted the ‘Feathers Fell’ track and switched a few tracks around for the album to reach optimal flow and better pacing. As before the stunning artwork was rendered by the much in-demand graphic designer Kristian Wåhlin (Necrolord), a respected scene veteran famous for his work with legendary Swedish proto-death/black metal band Grotesque, who was becoming a household name.

Touring for the album included a jaunt with headliners Cradle Of Filth as part of the “The Rape and Ruin Of Europe” tour in 1997, that also included up-and-coming Norwegian band Dimmu Borgir as openers. This touring campaign would later be immortalized by the band’s appearance at the “Gods Of Darkness” festival in Köln, Germany that was recorded for the “Live & Plugged: vol. 2” video tape, which also included a young Dimmu Borgir. A recording of Dissection’s appearance on the Wacken Festival in Germany would see release in 2003 as the belated “Live Legacy” album.

After Dissection fell into disarray rhythm guitarist Johan Norman, and touring drummer Tobias Kjellgren regrouped with new musicians in Soulreaper. Jon Nödtveidt meanwhile released an album with De Infernali, an industrial/techno hybrid before a manslaughter conviction effectively put Dissection on ice permanently. Tobias Kjellgren himself had featured on the lone Decameron album “My Shadow…’ in 1996 before figuring into the newly formed Soulreaper, a band that capitalized on the growing interest in American-styled death metal (specifically Morbid Angel) after the second wave black metal boom. However, Soulreaper itself fell into disrepair after releasing two mediocre albums. Ole Öhman (drums) resurfaced with populist industrial metal band Deathstars, whereas Peter Palmdahl featured on two Deathwitch albums before disappearing into the anonymity of civilian life.

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By the time “Nightwing”, the fifth Marduk album and second with vocalist Erik Hagstedt (Legion) behind the microphone, hit the market the band had become familiar with its new style. Released a year after “Heaven Shall Burn…” it is a continuation of that album’s sound with overall increased levels of density. The line-up remained identical from the preceding album, and that internal stability paid off dividends in terms of consistency, and performances from each of the members. While it does not quite have the same impact as it its immediate predecessor “Nightwing” is a reliable but unimaginative follow-up to a great breakthrough album. It is, however, the last good Marduk album for quite some time, as the band would fall into a rut and lose steam shortly after its release.

To say that “Nightwing” is intense would be an understatement. The performance of drummer Fredrik Andersson borders on death metal territory considering the breakneck pace and percussive density he brings in said department. The bass-heaviness of Marduk’s early albums is carried over, and Bo Svensson (B. War) provides thick, oozing licks that propel the riffs from mainstay and creative force Morgan Steinmeyer Håkansson to the front all while holding down the bottom-end heaviness. Two albums into his tenure with the band Erik Hagstedt (Legion) delivers his last worthwhile performance, as his voice would rapidly deteriorate on the successors to “Nightwing”. Some of the lyrics reek of process and latter-day Deicide (say “Serpents Of the Light”) too with memorable passages as: “Slay the Nazarene / Die, die, die!” Both ‘Of Hell’s Fire’ and the aforementioned ‘Slay the Nazarene’ have particularly poor lyrics to go along with the highly efficient but hardly exciting Norsecore. Was a bit of eloquence and verbosity too much to ask in black metal at this point in time? The theological sub-branch of the genre was still a couple of years away from exploding – but other big name bands such as Ancient Rites, Dissection and Emperor were lyrically more ambitious.

Marduk_old-lineup“Nightwing” is divided into two specific chapters. The first four songs encompass the "Dictionnaire Infernal", Marduk’s now patented attack on all things religious. Chapter two "The Warlord Wallachia", comprising of the last four songs, further fleshes out the Vlad Tepes narrative of the preceding record. ‘Nightwing’, the title track, is omitted from the tracklist altogether as it fits with neither chapter. “Nightwing” is the second part of the ‘blood’ chapter in an abstract tribute to Bathory’s landmark 1988 “Blood, Fire, Death” album. Further records include the preceding “Heaven Shall Burn” (blood), “Panzer Division Marduk” (fire) and the duo of “World Funeral” and “La Grande Danse Macabre” (death). In retrospect it makes the albums part of the movement a lot more interesting as up to this point in time Marduk changed a lot musically, but the way they structured their album has remained identical from yesteryear when they were a death metal band.

It is no surprise that there are more cinematic references to this album than you’d initially expect. That Håkansson loves cinema in its many forms is no secret, and “Nightwing” is littered with references in that regard. The spoken intro to ‘Slay The Nazarene’ is taken from the 1973 movie “The Wicker Man”. The main riffs of ‘Nightwing’ were adapted from the score of the 1991 vampire film "Subspecies". The lyrics are also based on the plot of the movie. The album’s main concept (and entire second half) is dedicated to further detailing the historical account of Romanian warlord Vlad Tepes. While the concept was initiated on the preceding “Heaven Shall Burn…” the subject appeared at its earliest on “Opus Nocturne” with the track ‘Deme Quaden Thyrane’ which was re-recorded here. This was probably done for completeness’ sake, but also out of convenience because this meant the band needed one less new song to write to complete the concept. That ‘Deme Quaden Thyrane’ fits the slower direction is rather opportune, as Marduk didn’t went all out high-speed black metal until “Opus Nocturne”.

The songs dealing with Vlad Tepes suffer from the same defect that made the “Heaven Shall Burn…” prologue a test in patience more than anything else. All these songs are directionless slow trudging cuts that work miracles in terms of pacing when they appear sparsely on each album. When taken back-to-back as the second half of an otherwise blisteringly fast genre effort they are poorly paced and constructed, supposedly epic songs to forward the Vlad Tepes narrative started two albums ago. Even in its death metal phase Håkansson never really excelled at writing slow material (‘Holy Inquistion’, ‘The Sun Turns Black As Night’ and ‘Within the Abyss’ excepted, if you are feeling charitable – or plainly adore that old dirgey death metal sound). Not only are these slow tracks horribly paced and constructed – they sit poorly with the preceding blisteringly fast tracks that serve to open the album. There’s no sense of journey with the narrative cuts, and Marduk’s musical frame is too limited (and limiting) to truly make something from these tracks. Since they had worked years to find their sound they weren’t going to revert back into their death metal form to make this work, which would have benefitted these tracks tremendously. Only ‘Anno Domini 1476’ sounds truly ominous and atmospheric in its eeriness, and this mostly due to the haunting choirs that appear sparingly and the militaristic percussion. Not only are these tracks listless and dull, they don’t sound very ominous either – which is the entire raison d’etre of black metal in the first place. Most of these tracks don’t build up to a climax, and what little there is of mentionworthy payoff isn’t worth sitting through most of them in the first place.

Marduk, to its credit, is consistent and reliable in what it does, and how it goes about accomplishing its very specific objective. In an almost Mortician sense, Håkansson relies on the tried-and-true formula established on “Opus Nocturne” and deviates not an inch from what worked in the past. Once again the album was recorded at Abyss Studio in Sweden with much in-demand producer Peter Tägtgren. Whereas “Heaven Shall Burn…” had a smooth sounding production that was richly textured in its digital gloss, “Nightwing” instead comes with a hostile concrete-and-steel sounding death metal production job. In fact this is the type of production that I’d wish Kataklysm’s “The Temple Of Knowledge” had. It’s certainly a headscratcher to see a black metal band do a death metal production better than an actual death metal band. The artwork by Belgian painter Kris Verwimp and Swedish artist Stefan Danielsson fits the early catalog. After this record Marduk would go into a different direction visually. “Nighwing” is a sturdy and reliable Marduk album – but its early death metal direction was plainly better.