Oslo’s Satyricon are one of the survivors of the Norwegian black metal scene. Countless tragedies in other bands have notoriously marked the genre as a dangerous mechanism in metal, but Satyricon have always remained a pure entity, grounded by musical integrity and civility. With only a vocalist as an original member and a long-time drummer picking up the slack, Satyricon have returned for their first new studio album since 2008’s The Age of Nero. The band’s self-titled album is a decent return, but it doesn’t live up to the band’s past works and almost sounds drained, even before the halfway mark hits.
With the two main members of Satyricon taking control, their self-titled album is, conceptually, a condensed project. Lead singer Sigurd Wongraven (otherwise known as Satyr) follows the black metal book with a razor-sharp growl to his vocals; it’s aggressive, but not guttural, making the vocals much more bearable than those of their peers. However, the lack of percussive shouts does detract from the rhythmic nature of the vocal style, while the lack of melody makes it near impossible to consider it “singing.” Satyr’s vocals are nothing to write home about, but by black metal tradition, they are far from problematic.
But what drives Satyricon’s latest album so far is the drumming proficiency of Kjetil-Vidar Haraldstad (otherwise known as Frost). His suffocatingly intense fills thunderously roar in the background, while double-bass pedals rumble alongside Satyr’s vocals in songs like “Tro og Kraft.” Regardless of the tempo or the mood of the song, Frost is constantly pushing his speed and rhythmic prowess into aggressive territory. It’s odd considering the steadier beats from Frost appear at the most bizarre times; he slows down the pace rather inconsistently throughout the album, but negates this minor issue with undeniably fast rhythms. Like a lightning storm in the distance, the quakes from Frost’s drumming shake the very essence of the album.
But aside from Frost’s riotous drumming and Satyr’s snarling growls, Satyricon don’t do much to break their traditions of black metal. The guitars are tuned to a looming tone, but you won’t find many virtuosity infused solos or captivating soundscapes on Satyricon. The melody is very under-utilized, almost to the point where Frost’s rhythms are the only thing moving the band into new territory. Even the most elementary of doom or black metal band is able to use melody to imply a darker tone, but Satyricon, despite being veterans in their genre, keep this album flat and uninteresting. The brief moments of tempo shifting and tone experimentation like the thrashy “Walker Upon the Wind” or the siren psalms of “Phoenix” are buried under a cacophonous template moving entirely by Satyr’s snarls and Frost’s snare barrages. Clear as day: Satyricon are going through the motions with their self-titled album.
“The Infinity of Time and Space” is an oddity on Satyricon, with the band going through a number of musical shifts over the course of eight minutes. You’ll hear shrieking sounds from Satyr, some frequent tempo changes and an overall sense of epicness and broadened approach. While it’s not exciting from start to finish, “The Infinity of Time and Space” is a captivating track that demonstrates narrative and compositional complexity: there’s a progression here that is tragically absent from the rest of the album. One other unique track is “Nekrohaven” where the band lets loose their growing emphasis on hard rock influences. “Nekrohaven” doesn’t have obscure rhythms or doomy, downtuned instruments; at moments, it almost sounds radio-friendly. Despite the commercial appeal, “Nekrohaven” is shockingly different from the rest of the songs on Satyricon, making it a surprising star track.
Satyricon is not going to wow anyone, even if you’re a dedicated fan of Norwegian black metal. The band hasn’t diluted their sound to the bone, but they haven’t spiced it up either. The short bursts of creativity like the choral voices of “Phoenix” is only realized after the first four trudging tracks, with the other highlights being buried and overly condensed by the album’s conclusion. Black metal isn’t what it used to be, and while Satyricon’s attempts to keep their sound current and focused are appreciated, their efforts are ultimately left for naught. Satyricon is an album that feels soulless and too straightforward to recommend. If you’re a long-time fan of the band, the album is okay, a mild effort from a band synonymous with the genre. But anyone else, even metal fans will find the album to be uninteresting and far too dull to sit through the entire 52 minutes.