Looking back on the past few years of black metal history, I’m hard pressed to think of a bigger middle finger to genre elitists than Satyricon’s self-titling of their hugely divisive 2013 album. I consider myself a Satyricon apologist, but it’s considerably more monumental as a symbolic statement than one of sheer quality; if the ties between the band’s legendary initial trilogy of records and their modern material hadn’t yet been fully severed, the act of attaching no name but their own to such a minimalist and decidedly un-black metal affair certainly did the job. Yet going into Deep Calleth upon Deep four years on, my attention wasn’t divided by that particular affair, nor was it compromised by its controversial cover art or the notion of how Satyr’s battle with cancer might impact the material. Rather, I found myself focused solely on the music, a decidedly melodic and accessible affair that, barring some missteps, finds Satyricon on their surest footing in over a decade.
Initial spins of Deep Calleth upon Deep had me interpreting this record as an extension of Satyricon’s self-titled album, and while the albums certainly function well as a pair, Deep is unquestionably the more vibrant and diverse work. Kicking things off with the Now, Diabolical-esque rocking stomp of “Midnight Serpent,” Satyricon engages with a concise selection of tracks that speak in terms of duality. Infectious, melodic guitar lines clash with walls of dissonant power chords throughout the record like an ongoing conversation with death, though certain tracks decidedly tip towards pessimism or levity. The former of these two personalities is best exhibited in the creeping, sullen guitar performances of “To Your Brethren in the Dark,” while the latter rears its head in the title track. Though it sports one goofy fucking hook, this song sticks like glue, its simple rhythms and flowing riff progressions providing an unlikely highlight in a record chock full o’ unique and deliciously off-kilter excursions of blackened metal.
Perhaps more than any other Satyricon effort, Deep Calleth upon Deep is defined by the unique identities of each of its compositions, a varied collection of tracks that still manage to flow together perfectly in LP format. Of course, independently functioning numbers means that the weaker pieces really stand out, and Deep unfortunately sags on the back-end. Penultimate track “Black Wings and Withering Gloom,” the most traditionally blackened of the bunch, sports some of the album’s best riffs yet also its longest runtime, and ends up feeling stretched far too thin. Closing number “Burial Rite” is similarly disappointing, albeit for different reasons, as it sports good riffs yet ultimately feels too basic, lacking the personality required to stand toe-to-toe with Deep’s array of charismatic offerings.
Like Satyricon, Deep Calleth upon Deep is somewhat of a minimalist affair in that it restrains its power chord count in favor of single-string picking in many instances. This makes for a record with an appealing, almost laid-back instrumental approach that allows Satyricon’s experimental tendencies to really shine. Ominous, ethereal wails and inspired implementation of horn and string instruments underscore the album’s mystical air of darkness in a mix that, despite giving short shrift to the bass, is fairly well balanced. If there’s one area that Satyricon could stand to focus on improving with their next outing, it’s in making their explorative tendencies more pronounced. There’s nothing as surprising here as the clean vocal on “Phoenix” from their prior album, and a few major curveballs coupled with Deep’s strong sense of character could potentially yield monstrous results.
A lackluster final quarter aside, Satyricon has accomplished in Deep Calleth upon Deep a thoroughly appealing record that’s the band’s most accessible effort to date without fully sacrificing their blackened majesty or their long-standing progressive tendencies. I have a feeling that this album is destined to be the most divisive of Satyricon’s works; currently, Deep is my favorite of the band’s post-Volcano output, but it barely qualifies as black metal, and I’m curious to see how interpretations of it will evolve over the years as I may very well be in the minority. Even so, this is a very recommendable album for fans of modern Satyricon, and for the first time since Now, Diabolical, I’m legitimately intrigued to hear what comes next from this legendary duo.