Daniel “Mortuus” Rostén has been busy. Marduk, the black metal band for which he’s served as vocalist since 2004, is about to release its first album in three years, Viktoria. Meanwhile, his solo project Funeral Mist has just released its first album since 2009, Hekatomb.
Before Rostén joined, Marduk were just okay. Their music was fast and hyper-aggressive, but also kinda samey, and the lyrics were dumb as hell. With him up front, they’ve changed a lot, almost entirely for the better. The songs on their first four albums with him—2004’s Plague Angel, 2007’s Rom 5:12, 2009’s Wormwood, and 2012’s Serpent Sermon—have more dynamics, speeding up and slowing down and occasionally getting noisy or doomy as the mood requires. Samples of sermons and movie dialogue, as well as ominous sound effects, give them greater depth. And Rostén’s croaky, guttural rasp is just more interesting, vocally, than his predecessor’s barking.
Unfortunately, the quality of their output has diminished in the last half-dozen years. On their 2015 release, Frontschwein, they turned their backs on the weirdly philosophical Satanism, almost worthy of Deathspell Omega, found on the four albums before it. Instead, they fell back into the rut Rostén had dug them out of, singing about Nazis (N.B.: Marduk are apparently not Nazis themselves, though two members were recently accused of buying Nazi propaganda and have denied it) and making less complex, less interesting music, returning to the head-down blasting of albums like Panzer Division Marduk and World Funeral. It was a disappointment, plain and simple.
And their new album, Viktoria, is more of the same. Packing nine tracks into just 33 minutes, it kicks off with “Werwolf,” a weirdly punky barrage that sounds like they brought in a classroom’s worth of nine-year-old girls to shout the title as a chorus. That’s followed by “June 44,” on which Rostén attempts to lay Laibach-esque theatricality atop ultra-generic blast beats. It doesn’t work, and neither does the bizarrely named “Equestrian Bloodlust” (“The Funeral Seemed to Be Endless” remains Marduk‘s weirdest song title, but this is a close second), another sprint to nowhere. The slower songs, “Tiger I” and “Silent Night,” aren’t much better. It’s not a bad album, but it’s really, really uninspired, both in terms of subject matter and musical approach (it’s reasonably well produced, though the drums could definitely have been louder). Even the cover art is recycled; it’s the same German propaganda poster used on Manitoba’s Wild Kingdom‘s …And You?, way back in 1990.
Fortunately, the new Funeral Mist album is a much, much more inspired and impressive effort. With no one to veto his crazy ideas (he plays everything but the drums, which are handled by Lars Broddesson, who also appeared on Marduk‘s Wormwood and Serpent Sermon), Rostén goes all-in on the dramatics, reciting his lyrics like he’s holding aloft a skull filled with blood at all times. His voice transforms moment by moment from a hoarse croak to a choking gurgle to a leonine bellow—whatever it takes to get his message across. (I have no idea what he’s on about, but Funeral Mist‘s track record, and song titles like “In Nomine Domini,” “Naught But Death,” “Within the Without,” and “Metamorphosis” suggest that it’s a little deeper than rehashing World War II history.)
Musically, too, Hekatomb is a much, much more interesting album than Viktoria. While there are still plenty of blast beats and fast black metal riffing, they’re frequently interrupted by crawling doom sections, droning ambient/atmospheric interludes, and long passages of relentless, unaccompanied drums that permit one track to bleed into the next. The way “Cockatrice” slides directly into “Metamorphosis” is fantastic; the former track is structurally wild, wrong-footing the listener at several turns without ever feeling like a collage of moments, while the latter has an ominous, ritualistic feel reminiscent of Rotting Christ. And that’s before the liturgical male choir comes in…and long before the possessed-sounding kid starts ranting on the album-closing “Pallor Mortis.”
The bottom line is this: If you want to hear what Daniel Rostén is truly capable of, Funeral Mist is your best bet. All three of his albums under that name are demonstrations of just how genuinely assaultive and unsettling black metal can get, worthy of space on the same shelf with Deathspell Omega, Antaeus, Drastus, and Aluk Todolo. Marduk are in kind of a slump at the moment, but only relatively speaking; their first four albums with Rostén up front were so good that even when confronted with lesser efforts like Frontschwein and Viktoria, there’s still hope that they’ll go nuts again.