The annals of rock’n’ roll are full of cliche and superstition, of iconic references like the famous ‘third album’ – or the eponymous one. As far as ‘the third’ is concerned, Norwegian black metal masters Satyricon certainly delivered something extraordinary in the form of ‘Nemesis Divina’. Back in 1996 it instantly placed them at the centre of one of metal’s most intriguing genres, at a time when that movement undoubtedly reached an early creative peak. The eponymous one is the one we now have in our hands, more than twenty years after the band’s birth and almost five years since their last album, ‘The Age Of Nero’. Naming it simply ‘Satyricon’ is a gesture of confidence, which the band’s creative mastermind Satyr never lacked. So what has changed?
Quite a few things have changed, but to ask that is missing the point. The most important thing is what hasn’t changed and that is something you wouldn’t naturally expect from an experienced band that has toured the globe. One word: Hunger. The hunger to go somewhere no one has gone before. The hunger that extinguishes the status quo that can so often come with the routine of a 20 year career, with a set list of ‘hit songs’ that should easily satisfy their army of fans for at least another 20 years. The hunger to create new ideas from the destruction of the old. “Nothing else counts”, says Satyr about the thought process that eventually led to the most challenging, but also the most rewarding Satyricon album to date. His focus point was similar to that which proved so fruitful for 2006’s ‘Now, Diabolical’: submit yourself to a set of rules. When technology promises boundless musical possibilities, the pieces often converge into the most generic results. This insight led Satyr to a radical solution: full analog production with the bare minimum of sound processing – he didn’t even use effect pedals for his guitar. The result is a dynamic and musical sound and the first obvious challenge to the listener – this is black metal without screaming it to the rest of the world.
Admittedly, when you hear ‘Phoenix’, the song with Sivert Høyem, former vocalist of Norway’s celebrated indie act Madrugada, or more specifically the song Satyr wrote for Sivert Høyem, you probably wouldn’t even call it black metal. But only if you fall into a trap of attributing genres according to musical formulas – which since the beginning hasn’t been Satyricon’s game. The song is a typical example of how hunger and instinct guided Satyr: He simply sat in front of his TV when Sivert performed one of his songs, he heard and he knew – and he made it happen. Don’t ask for reasons, because black metal doesn’t follow reason and shouldn’t follow rules.
Indeed, the only point where this album is totally synched with the usual preconceptions about black metal is Satyr’s ‘modus operandi’: a remote cabin in the woods, a man, his vision and his guitar. Which actually says nothing about what makes this album so unique. Now visualise the process. First getting the recording equipment into that place, then the six months spent in self-imposed isolation to get to the core of things; these ten songs that span a greater musical spectrum than ever without losing focus. Imagine the resolve in rejecting everything that is ‘just doing the job’ – even if it means yet another indefinite time away from the comforts of life. Just listen to ‘The Infinity Of Time And Space’, Satyr’s ‘Magnum Opus’ on this album and the one song that pretty much sums it all up: The obvious root in all that is great in his previous works, the sequence of exciting, surprising breaks that form a new narrative for the old themes, one that goes so much deeper to the core of it all, beyond any generic gestures, beyond the cheap effects or elaborate, overly technical showboating we are all so used to. Pure blackness, perfectly executed.
Finally, let’s not forget the other big surprise, and that’s what Frost – undoubtedly one of black metal’s most iconic drummers – contributes to this new album. Naturally, he still blasts with the best of them, but that’s almost no longer relevant. His restraint, his intuitive way of not doing anything, safe in the knowledge that the stripped down ambience of these songs keeps us, the listeners, perpetually on edge. There are more than enough fist-pumping moments on this album, but the real reward is the same as it was for Satyr and Frost when they created this music – it’s when we leave our comfort zone and feel that the hunger for something new is still there. And feel alive.
Taking in ‘Satyricon’ as a whole certainly is a demanding experience for the listener – and that’s just what Satyr intended it to be: “It will take many, many spins and it will grow on you as you dig into it”, he promises. “To me that is the most intriguing quality of the record. I think we have made something that will last a very long time.” And there you have it: The single biggest justification to title this album, simply, ‘Satyricon’.