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Before drummer Wim Van der Valk formulated Centurian, he was part of the transitional outfit Inquisitor. Not only was the band famous for its condemnation of organized religion, Catholicism in particular - but also for featuring guitarist Erik Sprooten who would make a name for himself with Ancient Rites a few years down the line. Inquisitor existed from 1992 to 1996, and in that short time they released two studio demos, a live demo – and its sole cult album “Walpurgis – Sabbath Of Lust” through Belgian label imprint Shiver Records in 1996. The devilish, nearly hysterical falsetto vocals of Alex Wesdijk, and boycotting of shows helped in establishing the band’s reputation.

1545795_143139552523389_429390673075033842_nPrior to cutting its debut album Inquisitor released two studio demos “Blasphemous Accusations” (1992) and “Your Pain Will Be Exquisite” (1993). A live demo tape “Crush the Holy Church” was released in 1993 to stir further industry interest. Like many a debut “Walpurgis – Sabbath Of Lust” consists mostly of songs from the previous demo tapes, except ‘Deluge (The First Final Judgment)’ and ‘A Lifetime’s Lie’ that were omitted for a hitherto undisclosed reason. In many respects “Walpurgis” functions as a best-of anthology including three new songs. Even though Alex Wesdijk is a clear-cut speed metal singer Inquisitor is on many fronts of a more death metal persuasion.

A number of songs sound like Centurian songs in waiting, primarily cuts as ‘Consuming Christ’, ‘Jehova’s Downfall’, ‘Crypt Of Confession’ and ‘Fallen Missionary’ but they are thrashier than the latter. ‘Trial Of Denial’ has a more pronounced Iron Maiden influence in terms of riffing and bass guitar licks in its slower parts. The solo sounds as something you’d hear on Metallica’s “Kill ‘Em All”. ‘Consuming Christ’ and ‘Cry Of the Christians’ are the shortest tracks of the record. ‘Chaos In Eden’, ‘Unholy Seeds’ and ‘Inquisitor’ are far more compositionally dense in comparison to the rest of the album, the second of these is custodian to one of the album’s best solo moments.  Inquisitor plays much faster and heavier than the average thrash/speed metal band. For all intents and purposes they were a contemporary equivalent of Dead Head’s “The Feast Begins At Dawn”.

One of the record’s biggest strengths is just how unhinged and uncontrollably chaotic it sounds. Each of the songs is more decimating than the next, and the nearly hysterical falsetto vocals contrast heavily with the almost death metal that the band plays. Wesdijk and Van der Valk are the band’s calling cards, whereas Erik Sprooten plays far more evil sounding riffs at a truly relentless pace than his later work with Belgian death/black metal icons Ancient Rites would ever allow. Recurring in the post-Inquisitor band Centurian is the strong anti-religious sentiment but the latter outfit would draw inspiration from newer bands in the genre. Even though Inquisitor released a sole album in its original run said album was enough to establish its cult metal band reputation.

10496107_143110855859592_2102872788656278206_oThe album was recorded and mixed over a two-month period at R.S. 29 with Oscar Holleman and the band co-producing in 1995. Much like the Acrostichon album “Engraved in Black” it has a functional production that nevertheless is rough around the edges and not very tonally defined. Holleman’s production is adequate from a technical standpoint as all the instruments are distributed evenly in the mix - but in reality is nothing more than a slightly superior demo production. While the drum tone is far from the most optimal the crunchy guitar sound, and thick sounding bass guitar tone are what truly sells the record. Misja Baas was responsible for the amazing artwork. He had made a name for himself by providing visuals for the Marduk album “Those Of the Unlight”.

That Inquisitor only released a solitary album before its membership moved on to a full-blown death metal unit has only strengthened its cult status. The band’s entire recorded history: “Walpurgis – Sabbath Of Lust”, and its three preceding demos, were recently re-released by Dutch extreme metal label imprint Hammerheart Records. Even though its key members made a name for themselves with lauded bands as Ancient Rites and Centurian, Inquisitor reunited in 2014, with original bass guitarist Alex Bakker, and over a decade of inactivity seems to have only made them more dedicated and hungry.  With the renewed interest in traditional metal and the 20th anniversary of Inquisitor’s lone album coming up in 2016, it seems we haven’t heard the last of these Dutchmen.

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“Those Of the Unlight”, the second Marduk album, is still death metal for the most part but it already has a more pronounced early black metal riff style and the according chord progressions. While it is notably higher in tempo than the band’s “Dark Endless” debut, it is still thoroughly steeped in death metal stylistic choices. Like notable American institutions Autopsy and Deceased, Marduk’s drummer Joakim Göthberg also doubled as its vocalist. “Those Of the Unlight” was the second of three efforts to be recorded 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.

That Marduk had upped the ante considerably compared to its debut is instantly noticeable. “Those Of the Unlight” is far more violent in every aspect. The increased level of speed is the most notable change. The band’s usage of eerie melody remains intact even though it is part of a mostly death metal framework. As with the debut there’s a prominent place for the thundering bass guitar, which is now handled by Roger Svensson (B. War). Replacing Andreas Axelsson as frontman is drummer Joakim Göthberg. Göthberg is far raspier and serpentine than Axelsson, but he wouldn’t find his true voice until the successor to this album “Opus Nocturne” arrived. “Those Of the Unlight” is equal parts death metal as it is black metal, although the latter influence starts to take prominence over the former. For some reason Marduk isn’t entirely ready to commit to the sound yet, and a lot of times it sounds like a particularly barbaric death metal record with light atmospheric embellishments in the form of organs and such.

The death metal formatting doesn’t in any way take away from the blossoming black metal sound they are cultivating on this record. The prominent place for the bass guitar and the kickdrums, the frequent solo’ing and the reliance on grooving midtempo sections are what give these songs their staying power. It’s hard to believe that guitarist Morgan Steinmeyer Håkansson decided to forgo doing solos/leads upon writing “Opus Nocturne” as it was one of the signatures that set Marduk apart from the competition. Even the atmospheric instrumental ‘Echoes From the Past’ fits wonderfully with the rest of the album. The band’s tranformation from a crude and somewhat primitive death metal band into a lean black metal outfit is commendable considering the few albums it took. “Those Of the Unlight” is key in that regard as it is the missing link between the band’s early death metal past and the direction they specialized in on “Opus Nocturne” and its successors. It is here that the seeds are sown for the Marduk formula. The same formula that would cement the band’s creative downward trajectory as it is too limiting to inspire creativity with the narrow perimeters it sets for itself.  The creative decay hasn’t set it in yet as “Those Of the Unlight” was pretty novel sounding for its day.

As far as artwork, imagery and lyrics was concerned Marduk honed what worked on the previous release. The ghoulish artwork by Dutch artist Misja Baas (who would draw the incredible artwork to Inquisitor’s sole album “Walpurgis – Sabbath Of Lust” just three years later) was his only for the band. The robed skeletal figures have a striking resemblance to the revenant Templar Knights from the 1970s “Blind Dead” franchise by Spanish cult director Amando de Ossorio. This was perhaps done intentionally as they convey the spirit of the album title, and Håkansson is a known movie buff. The band has resolutely adopted the nascent genre’s imagery with all members wearing corpse paint and brandishing medieval weaponry. Whereas “Dark Endless” sounded like a particularly minimalistic death metal album, “Those Of the Unlight” readily capitalizes on emergent black metal genre, and the record’s visuals changed accordingly. Marduk no longer hides which direction they wish to pursue, and this record is the first step in the band’s transformation from a death metal band into a black metal unit.

“Those Of the Unlight” was the second of three albums that Marduk recorded at Hellspawn Studio (a later incarnation of Gorysound Studio before it changed its name to the popularly known Unisound Studio) with producer Dan Swäno. Much like the debut this record is incredibly bass-heavy, and thick sounding. Like before the bass guitar is an intrinsic part of the band’s compositions, and while the drums don’t sound that different from before they are dynamically more varied than on the preceding record. Göthberg remains intelligible despite adopting a far raspier style than his predecessor. In essence “Those Of the Unlight” is a speedier and leaner Swedish death metal album with the black metal stylings slowly coming to the surface. The death metal formatting still prevails on this second, and it wouldn’t be until “Opus Nocturne”, the third Marduk album, that they fully embraced their new sound. Much of the riff set that would come to define the Legion-era is first heard here. The band still double in death metal chord progressions, and dashes of atmospheric keyboards – but the foundation is laid already.

The combination of death metal song formatting and black metal styling is what makes “Those Of the Unlight” the strong record that it is. Many of these cuts play as atmospheric, often speedy genre exercises with rasped vocals. The chord progressions, rhythm sections, solos/leads and bass-heaviness squarely define it as death metal, while the rasped vocals, the imagery and lyrics put it in the black metal camp. Like many bands of the day at this point there wasn’t a clearly defined breaking point between both genres, and Marduk embodies it better than any other. The atmospheric instrumental ‘Echoes From the Past’ is the last trace of any subtlety that one is bound to hear from Marduk from this point onward. It is very much styled like the instrumentals on Swedish death metal albums of the day. “Those Of the Unlight” offers the best of both worlds, and presents them in a crunchy package that remains as consistent to this day. In many ways Marduk’s first era is far stronger than the more popular Legion-era that it introduced. It is the alchemy between genres that make this record as strong and compelling as it is. The constant evolution of Marduk’s sound is what makes them the pillar they are today. Even on “Those Of the Unlight” Marduk wasn’t afraid to push the envelope, and to try things that weren’t done before. This album defines that mindset better than no other.