Essential Black Metal Listening: MARDUK's Panzer Division Marduk
Both black and death metal embody the most misanthropic, morbid, depressing, sickening, and rebellious traits of mankind—yet they are quite different from each other. While death metal is often cartoonish and easy to separate from reality, black metal is often grotesquely grim and starkly realistic. In particular, the war-obsessed brand of black metal popularized by Swedish black metal fireteam, Marduk’s iconic 1999 release, Panzer Division Marduk, fits the above description perfectly.
Although not a black metal band, Germany’s long-lived Destruction was probably the first underground metal band to utilize modern war-like imagery (such as their donning of bullet belts in their early days) and war-themed lyrics (although it was always about the pure pwnage of mankind and holy forces by unholy forces, and military jargon like “panzer” was never used). Panzerchrist from Denmark may be a younger band than Marduk, but they started peddling war-themed blackened death metal since their first full-length album, Six Seconds Kill, which was released in 1996—a good 3 years before Marduk’s first war-themed album, Panzer Division Marduk. Could these two bands have inspired Marduk to write this record?
Here’s the funny thing: Whether Destruction and Panzerchrist had inspired Marduk to write this album or not, both of them are not remembered by most extreme metallers for modern war-themed extreme metal music and imagery. Marduk is.
Let’s put aside Destruction already (for obvious reasons) and examine Panzerchrist’s early work. For the purpose of clarity and ease of narrowing in on the parts that really matter, let’s look at some lines from the track “Panzer” (a German word for “tank”) off of Six Seconds Kill:
Steel trust iron dreams
Metal taste in my mouth
Solid wheels, burnt flesh
We all know that tons of metal are wasted in wars, and see how three words related to metal all appear within the span of the first two lines.
The time is near
For their salvation
They will be set free
With my war machine
There can be no escape
A reference to a “war machine”, which I’m guessing is a tank.
Now, for the sake of clarity of comparison and focusing on the most relevant part again, let’s look at some lines from the track “Panzer Division Marduk” off of Marduk’s Panzer Division Marduk:
Black, fearsome and grim and mighty
Panzer division Marduk rolls over enemy land
Striking hard and fast against your lines
We blow your fortress into sand
References to tanks are made here, and their overwhelming firepower is described.
Behold the power of our killing machine
There'll be nothing but dust when the vultures have left
Panzer division Marduk continues its triumphant crusade
Against Christianity and your worthless humanity
Again, a reference to some sort of war machine is made (which is definitely a tank in this case), and the metaphor of the band being an armored division of war machines going on an unholy campaign of culling Christians and useless humans reinforces that war-like theme ever so strongly.
So why didn’t Panzerchrist go down in metal history as probably the first extreme metal band ever to utilize military motifs in both their music and imagery? Well, this could perhaps be attributed to a matter of making good first impressions. Marduk did, Panzerchrist did not.
While Panzerchrist may have released Six Seconds Kill three years earlier than Marduk’s own Panzer Division Marduk, their debut album’s title had a weaker link to modern warfare than said Marduk album—having the word “panzer” in an album title certainly creates a stronger impression in one’s mind than the more ambiguous word “kill”. Almost everyone remembers an album’s title more so than its individual tracks, and hence, telling your listeners right off the bat how WWII-ish you’re going to get in the album title earns you a merit point with their memory banks.
Sure, Panzerchrist does have the word “panzer” in its name, which should give them an edge over Marduk in this case, right? Wrong. Bands are still ultimately defined by and remembered for their music, and their albums play an important part in helping to craft a particular image or style that the band will eventually be remembered for should they ever grow in prominence. Six Seconds Kill featured a cartoonish death metal-styled artwork depicting a crudely drawn rendition of Jesus Christ on his crucifix, while Panzer Division Marduk’s cover featured crisp images of a bullet belt and a muthaflakkin’ Stridsvagn 104 (Sweden’s version of Britain’s Centurion tank) pointing its muthaflakkin’ muzzle at the viewer. How subtle can a band get? This was perhaps why Marduk, a band named after a Babylonian god by the way, was later on better remembered as the “premium” war-themed black metal band to listen to rather than Panzerchrist, a band that had a name so obviously hinting at war-themed material.
In fact, not counting Marduk’s 1997 EP, Here’s No Peace, every Marduk album that came before Panzer Division Marduk were hardly dealing with subject material pertaining to modern warfare. They had dealt with the usual occultic themes one would expect from a traditional black metal album. Furthermore, Panzer Division Marduk was the second in a trilogy of albums (the first being Nightwing and the third being La Grande Danse Macabre) dealing with “Blood, War and Death” respectively. This means that at that point in time, Marduk didn’t even intend to make war-themed black metal their trademark, because they were still evidently exploring other themes (although we should note that the band do touch on Third Reich and WWII history quite often on most of the records coming after Panzer Division Marduk). Again, this shows the importance of producing a single, impactful record over the consistent production of records with no positive shock value.
The attire of Marduk probably played an important part too, because they had always put on corpse paint and the usual black metal “battle gear” to enhance the aggressive feel of their war-themed music during live shows and album photo shoots. Comparatively, Panzerchrist’s dressing style leaned more towards death metal fashion and saw the band members almost always wearing casual T-shirts and jeans, with military camouflage vests and khaki pants seen on them only occasionally.
Of course, the deciding factor of the whole matter discussed here is still the music. Strictly looking at the sound alone, Panzerchrist was actually making fast, low-pitched, guttural death metal during the ‘90s (the “black” part can be attributed to their war themes, which were too dark and grim for conventional death metal of that era), which was not exactly anything special since that was an era that saw death metal flourishing. In contrast, Marduk was making even faster, intense, and scary black metal that had taken the traditional Stockholm chainsaw buzz sound to a higher pitch while still maintaining the sonic grittiness. The result was a razor-sharp aural bombardment of musical imitations of artillery and gunfire, something never before heard during that period in time. The music sounded exactly like how modern warfare works, dishing out swift and fatal blows relentlessly until you’re mentally left in pieces on the battlefield. It must have scared the holy faeces out of everyone back then, as it was the closest and most realistic aural experience of what modern warfare must sound like in music form. Track titles like “Christraping Black Metal” and “Fistfucking God’s Planet” instantly became classic examples of bloody blasphemous names with a dash of tongue-in-cheek humor, much akin to an explicit version of Toxic Holocaust’s track-naming style (think “666”, “Metallic Crucifixion”, “Nuke The Cross”, “Bitch” etc.).
Without doubt, Panzer Division Marduk is an essential black metal record. It may not have been the most intellectual of iconic black metal albums, but it deserves mention for having such positive shock value in 1999. The influence it has since had on the current war-themed black metal scene cannot be ignored too, for its legacy lives on through younger warriors such as Germany’s Endstille, Norway’s Vreid, and the UK’s Eastern Front. Certainly, the appeal of war-themed black metal has waned over the years. But so long as mankind continue its internal scuffles until Armageddon comes knocking on the door, modern warfare will always remain a grim and depressive part of being human—which is perfect inspiration for such a scarily realistic genre.