(Andy Synn reviews the forthcoming, self-titled album by Norway’s Satyricon, and we also include a brand new song at the end of the review. We are so early with this that the album art still hasn’t been unveiled. What you see above is a place-holder.)
I can already tell that this is going to be a divisive record. Some will love it. Some will hate it. I don’t doubt that a few will simply have no interest in what it’s trying to say. And I doubt very much the band will care either way…
You see, their part is effectively done. Satyr and Frost have spent their time away from the limelight experimenting, exploring, and re-evaluating what they do. Branching out into other areas (both musical and non-musical) has clearly given them a chance to clear their minds and sharpen their thoughts. It’s no surprise then that they’ve chosen to inaugurate their return – and indeed, a new chapter in the tale of Satyricon – with a self-titled album.
And what an album it is. Challenging. Difficult. Resolutely uncommercial, yet subtly, insidiously compelling.
Its roots may be from the same shadowy dominions as its predecessors, yet it seems unburdened by baggage or the weight of expectations, constructed as it was far away from the pressures of fiscal accountability and the tyranny of the bottom-line. It’s an album made and measured and perfected to a wholly internal standard – it’s clear that there’s not even been a consideration for the band’s many fans involved here. The argument of art for art’s sake is strong.
It’s an album, in fact, that may well test the resolve of much of the band’s fanbase. Though there are elements to the music that recall almost all their albums – from the haunting darkness of The Shdaowthrone, to the bristling venom of Now Diabolical – it’s clear that Satyricon most definitely made this album for themselves and themselves alone. Thrusting it out into the world like this… well… it’s an almost arrogant gesture, contemptuous of the reaction it might get.
“Here is what we have made. This is Satyricon. Do as you will.”
It’s definitely an album that demands – and rewards – patience. Why else would it begin with the doomy, processional darkness of “Voice of Shadows”, a stripped-back, yet somehow grandiose, musical fugue? It sets the stage. It primes the mind. It readies the spirit. It promises more to come, if you are willing.
The dark medieval harmonies of “Tro og Kraft” have a lambent melancholy to them – restrained, patient, sorrowful, yet still powerful, backed as always by Frost’s martial kick drums and militant precision. There’s an almost Sabbath-esque quality to some of the riffs, blackened, but not bluesy, coldly compelling and hauntingly hypnotic. The song closes with a carefully woven interplay of eerie ambient sections and mist-shrouded, mountainous riffs – characteristically unpredictable, yet guided by Satyr’s inimitable bitter rasp.
Though “Our World, It Rumbles Tonight” is more immediate – choppy riffs and heaving volcanic rhythms erupting with carefully controlled force – it plays a clever game of sleight of hand. Beneath the familiar façade of the band’s black metal rock it conceals an undercurrent of riveting, mournful, melody; twisting traditional folkish forms to suit its own ends. It’s punishing, yet somehow achingly forlorn.
“Nocturnal Flare” is a piece of blackened, Machiavellian doom. Ominous, yet beautiful, its glacial riffs and melodies pierce the skies with gleaming clarity, borne along by an undercurrent of thrumming power. It never truly explodes, it simply builds and grows and forges unstoppably onwards, taking the grinding, hypnotic riffage which is the band’s trademark and stripping away much of the industrial mechanisation which seeped in after Rebel Extravaganza, allowing their bleak and sinister soul to flow forth with serpentine grace.
This flowing, doomy undercurrent permeates the album as a whole and seems to reflect the mindset behind the reborn Satyricon. Its darkness illuminates a band at peace with themselves, a band who have come to understand their place in the grand scheme of things – a place forged and earned by years of exploration and expression. A place where they are free to make up their own rules, judged and restrained by none but themselves. How else can you explain a song like “Phoenix”?
Instantly divisive, seemingly designed to be hated, its clean, almost bluesy vocals (courtesy of Sivert Høyem) and ringing guitars initially like a step beyond all bounds of the group’s history. But look closer. Those drums, those slow-blooming riffs, they retain the essence of the band. Listen to what the song represents. They have rediscovered their spark, their fire, and their roots – but not perhaps in a way that they, or any of us, would have thought. It’s strange. It’s unexpected. It’s provocative… It’s Satyricon through and through.
But if “Phoenix” represents one side of the band, the human side, then “Walker On The Wind” represents the other, the blackened, bestial half. Titanic chords, frenzied drums, callous, snarling vocals – this is the band’s black heart unleashed and unrepentant. Brutish, doom-laden crashes and tolling cymbals bring the pace to a crushing crawl, before rapacious, savage riffs thrust the listener mercilessly back into the fray. This is Satyricon at their most merciless.
These two sides to the band’s existence are brought together once more by the irresistible, diabolical grooves and immortal passion of “Nekrohaven”, where Satyr’s croaking, pitch-black vocals hold court atop a mountain of coiled riffs and swaying, slithering melodies, spitting forth an incandescent stream of spiteful hooks. It’s a perfect example of the band at their most focussed, most simplistic, and most deadly.
Torturous and tormented, “Ageless Northern Spirit” seems almost deliberately off-putting, its choking riffage and hanging, gallows-chords jerking and jarring dissonantly as Frost batters away at his kit like a man possessed. Yet it has a truly primal sense of focus, brooking no dissent even as it sinks into a brooding mire of angst-ridden ambience where, surrounded by clouds of electric unmelody and suppurating venom, it sows the seeds for a blasting, brutal climax.
Penultimate track “The Infinity of Time and Space” once more takes all that you know about the band and twists it into an unseen form. The howling riffs and avalanche drums soon give way to a clear and flowing ambience quite unlike anything we have seen from them before. In harmony with the doom-laden atmosphere which permeates so much of the album, this sense of calmness and completeness feels fresh and invigorating, the band content to let things flow naturally, to fall where they may, building ultimately to a violent crescendo where their black blood is given free reign, matching somnolent languor with imperious majesty.
The album concludes with the sombre strains of “Natt”, unfurling from a seed of grieving melody into a steady march of wounded, melancholy guitars before slipping away into the rain-swept darkness, bringing this path of sorrow to an end.
This is one of the most intriguing, most interesting, and most involving albums I’ve heard all year. Its total disregard for external expectations practically begs you to listen again and again, trying to unpick the threads of inspiration behind its creation, attempting to put yourself in the mind-set of its creators. It’s not a complete reinvention of the band’s sound – nor is it trying to be – but it is a reinvigoration, and indeed a resurrection, of their spirit.
Like the band with which it shares it’s name, Satyricon is an album of contradictions. Challenging, yet immediate. Hateful, yet hypnotic. Weighed down by a bleak and doom-laden legacy, yet soaring rapturously beyond all limitations. Burning brightly with cold, shadowy fire.
It’s the dawn of a new age.
Satyricon will be released by Nuclear Blast in North America on September 17 and will be available for pre-order here or from the band’s store here. According to a statement by the band on Facebook regarding orders from their web store: “There are also 50 handwritten lyric sheets, written by Frost and signed by Frost and Satyr, these will be put inside 50 random orders”.
Below is a new song from the album that was uploaded to YouTube by Norway’s Indie Records yesterday.