Most human beings mellow with age. I’m only thirty-four and it’s already happening to me. I’m no longer the guy who wants to close down the bars three or four out of seven nights a week, stay up all night writing with a pack of smokes and a sixer resting next to my keyboard, or go rage at every single metal show that comes to town no matter how big or small. I’m turning into the guy that changes into his pajamas and becomes one with the couch the minute he gets home from his soul-sucking corporate job. The guy who skips shows because it means having to leave the house and deal with people. The guy who gets sleepy after a few beers.
This is a perfectly acceptable course for an average schmuck like me. But if you’re in a metal band and you start to mellow out, Satan help you. In metal, you’re expected to be as angry and fucked up at forty as you were at eighteen, or else people say you’ve lost the plot, your riffs are limp and you might as well already be dead. Metalheads don’t seem to understand that not everyone can be Lemmy, and as a result all metal musicians are held to an impossible standard that quite literally only applies to one in a million.
If their self-titled eighth album is anything to go by, Satyricon are mellowing with age. The tempos are slower, the riffs and arrangements are even more stripped-down and simplistic; for fuck’s sake, there’s even a song with *gasp* clean vocals! But listen when I tell you, dear reader, that this is no bad thing; indeed, Satyricon is an exercise in restraint, minimalism and maturity that most bands would never even think of attempting for fear of alienating their fanbase.
Of course, Satyr and Frost are no strangers to alienating their listeners; they’ve been doing it ever since the trad black metal trappings of Nemesis Divina gave way to the futuristic filth-grinding of Rebel Extravaganza, which in turn lead to several albums worth of cold and clinical black ‘n’ roll. Satyricon takes that sound and refines it even further, softening its edges and imbuing it with a weird, dreamy quality that’s quite unlike anything they’ve previously recorded.
This otherworldly journey begins with instrumental intro piece “Voice of Shadows” and is maintained for the next four tracks, including the churning, majestic “Tro Og Kraft,” first single “Our World, It Rumbles Tonight” and the eerily excellent “Nocturnal Flare.” With its minimal yet infectious arrangement, “Tro Og Kraft” sets the tone for the rest of the album and is an early standout. “Our World, it Rumbles Tonight” admittedly came off as rather underwhelming when yanked from it’s context in order to serve as a teaser track, but works much better within the confines of the opium nightmare that is the album’s first half. For “Nocturnal Flare,” bludgeoning, mid-paced black metal gives way to haunting, slower paced sections that benefit greatly from the album’s subdued, somewhat hazy production scheme.
Side one of Satyricon culminates in “Phoenix,” which features guest vocals from Sivert Høyem (formerly of the Norwegian alt-rock band Madrugada). Hoyem’s tonally rich, emotive crooning meshes surprisingly well with Satyr’s icy guitar-work and Frost’s distant double-bass; it’s a mash-up that shouldn’t work yet somehow does, and as a result it’s the album’s standout track. I’ve probably listened to this song a hundred times since getting ahold of the album, such is its mesmerizing nature. Many metal fans will probably loathe this song, but I for one would love it, and would similarly love to hear further collaborations between the band and Høyem in the future.
The album isn’t entirely devoid of aggression, as Satyricon pick up the pace immediately following “Phoenix” with “Walker Upon the Wind” and carry it over into next track “Nekrohaven” which is easily this album’s “Fuel For Hatred” or “Black Crow on a Tombstone.” I’m not sure what or where Nekrohaven is, but for some reason I imagine it as a black metal version of Disneyland (C’mon kids, get ready for thrills and chills in Count Grishnakh’s Castle! Go for a wild ride on Blashyrkh Splash Mountain!); that’s not a knock on the song, it’s easily one of the catchiest things Satyricon has ever written and could be a real crowd-pleaser should the band choose to trot it out for the inevitable tour.
From here, the album strikes a balance between between the crawling dreaminess of the album’s first five tracks and the more vicious approach of the aforementioned “Walker Upon the Wind” and “Nekrohaven.” “Ageless Northern Spirit” and “The Infinity of Time and Space” feature some devastating (though not nearly as ripping as his work in 1349, mind) drumming from Frost, yet Satyr’s guitars move glacially over them, giving the impression that the songs are moving both fast and slow at the same time, which in itself is quite the hypnotic effect, before the album closes out with the somber instrumental stylings of “Natt.”
A great deal of credit must be given to Satry and Frost for following their muse into previously unexplored territory rather than repeating themselves, or even worse attempting to muster up some hollow semblance of trad grimness in order to please the hordes. While other bands of similar vintage continue to beat a dead horse, more often than not coming off like nothing more than man-children in the throes of a tantrum, the duo have wisely embraced their maturity, resulting in their most vital and interesting album in years. Indeed, Satyricon is mellowing with age, but if Satyricon the album is anything to go by, they’ve chosen to age gracefully.