Music » Music Stories

Black-Metal Blacklist

Is it bureaucracy, post-Sept. 11 paranoia or their own criminal records? Whatever the reason, Sweden's Marduk can't come here.


Hidden away in West County, wending among expansive lawns and expensive homes, is a sluggish ribbon of creek, part drainage ditch and part natural waterway. It snakes through and around a half-dozen subdivisions, a thinly drawn line of trees and small wildlife that occasionally opens into wide pools of brackish water encircled by shoals of rocks and soda bottles. These pools are often fed by a storm-sewer pipe jutting out of the creek bed, a shadowy concrete mouth large enough to swallow a child and partially hidden behind a twisted thorny curtain of poison sumac and broken branches. One of these openings into the earth is deep in the switchbacks of the creek, where the protective girdle of trees is at its thickest. Here the creek bed is almost dry, choked with large stones and the shreds of detritus flushed out of the sewer pipe. The pipe itself is cool and dark, and once you crawl inside, the outside world becomes muffled and indistinct, a soft din of faraway sounds. Surrounded by stone and trees and earth, hidden from the sky and any prying eyes, it's easy to imagine you're the first person to find this spot. But there in the cold solitude of secrecy, you see the crude black snarling wolf Magic Markered into the cement near your head, just inside the boundary separating daylight and shadow. Underneath the rough totem is a single alien word, scrawled in the same black marker, cold and hard as flint: MARDUK. And you know that a kindred spirit has left that other world behind and come to this secret place for comfort before you.

Marduk is, nominally, a Swedish black-metal band. Guitarist Morgan Hakansson founded the group more than 10 years ago with a single purpose in mind: "to create the most blasphemous music ever experienced by mankind." With a demo titled Fuck Me, Jesus and an ensuing body of work containing songs such as "Slay the Nazarene" and "Fist-Fucking God's Planet," Marduk might strike some as cartoonish, the aural equivalent of pro wrestling. Marduk is hellishly loud, demonically fast and capable of making both secular and parochial blood boil at 200 yards just from the palpable waves of virulent, head-snapping fury that emanate from stereo speakers when you play their albums.

But somewhere in the past 10 years, Marduk surpassed Hakansson's initial idea of blasphemy for blasphemy's sake. Marduk today is something more than a hissing, raging inferno of sacrilege; there is a saturnine, almost regal beauty in the band's crushing assault. Its overwhelmingly violent roar comprises dozens of streams of sound, some melodic and symphonic, most abrasive and discordant. The whole is savage and ugly and simultaneously arresting and fantastic. Marduk's blasphemy is to promote evil, and to do so they wage a war of art and ideas; wielding taboos and mores and religion like hammers, they batter their enemies and then smash their weapons into meaningless shards under a hail of guitars and drums and guttural shouts. Marduk wants to destroy contentment and conformity and safeness. They're the animalistic, protean force that lurks on the shadowed periphery of civilization; they're untamable, unbreakable and unrepentant. In every way, Marduk has become more like the wolf that appears on every album and less like a mere band.

Unfortunately, as a band they continue to battle, and lose to, an all-too-civilized foe: bureaucracy. For the second time in five months, the members of Marduk have been denied entry into the United States, forcing the cancellation of their U.S. tour (which means they will not be at the Creepy Crawl on Feb. 9 as recently advertised). Piecing together the whys and wherefores of this turn of events involves phone calls, e-mails and a whole lot of waiting, and at the end of January, the only certainty is the message posted by Marduk's vocalist, Legion, on the band's Web site: "The U.S. tour has been canceled. The embassy left the following message: No visas will be issued in at least 7-14 working days from next Monday since the documents they are waiting on has not showed ... We had an amazing time on our May 2001 tour and loved every minute in the States. Unfortunately, some U.S. authorities do not love us back."

In a phone interview a few weeks earlier, Legion was much more hopeful about Marduk's chances of making it into the country but admitted that a fairly large obstacle stood in their way: "The thing was, me and Morgan had criminal records, and because of that, when the big one hit New York and Washington [on Sept. 11], all of a sudden the embassy changed their policies and we had to start reapplying. It was so messy ... we had to work with three different authorities. The [U.S.] Traffic Control Group, they've been very nice, they have approved everything for us. But then it's up to the embassy, because they can check up on everything on us here in Sweden ... they only have phone hours, like, four days a week, two hours a day, and it's always a busy line. So your only chance is to travel to Stockholm, which is two hours away, and persuade the guards to let you in so you can talk to the ambassadors. It's kind of tricky."

Although no one involved with Marduk will say so directly, it appears that Morgan's and Legion's criminal records are keeping them out of the country. Strangely, for a band as outspoken as Marduk, no one other than Morgan, Legion and the Swedish authorities seems to know what crime they committed. The group's PR contact at Century Media could only concur that "there's a lot of red tape, stemming from their convictions, on their end, from their embassy," but even he didn't know what it was they had done. And to be honest, for a Swedish black-metal band, the possibilities are endless. The black-metal scene in Scandinavia has, since its inception in the late '80s, been plagued by musicians burning down churches, committing suicide, killing random citizens and murdering one another in half-assed attempts to prove the mettle of their metal. These activities garnered police and media attention throughout the Northlands, but Legion says that these days, media scrutiny of black metal is "totally gone. Media always sell stuff by shocking people, so they have to come up with something new. I guess we're not scary anymore." Maybe not in Scandinavia, but here in America, someone in the Immigration and Naturalization Service has doubts about the safety of the country if Marduk were to tour. Some sheep with a rubber stamp and a list of regulations must have smelled the wolf stench on Marduk's application and decided that a band that has filled out all the paperwork twice and toured the country earlier without killing Bon Jovi or hijacking a plane was still too dangerous to let back in. God bless America, asshole.

American fans will have to console themselves with Marduk's forthcoming boxed set, Blackcrowned, and the live video that will accompany it. Legion promises "a book with all our lyrics for the first three albums and also Panzer Division Marduk," as well as "two discs of different versions of old tracks, totally unreleased songs, covers, all kinds of shit.... We wanted to do something massive, something cool." Only 1,500 copies of Blackcrowned will be released here, so get 'em while you can -- if they're allowed in the country, that is.

In the meantime, Marduk's American cult should continue to seek out those hidden rifts in society where no one can see or hear them and public opinion means nothing. Carry Marduk in your heart. Return to the woods. And wait for the wolves to come.

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