I don’t know what’s more unusual — the fact Satyricon are still around or the fact that one of the most pivotal Norwegian black metal bands are signed to Roadrunner. It’s probably fairer to judge the band by their merits instead of their label, and their laurels are notable. With such 90s classics as Dark Medieval Times and Nemesis Divina still held as black metal masterpieces even now, it’s hard to question their relevancy in black metal history. They’ve also had some arguably decent albums in the past decade too, but what about now and how does their self-titled LP stand up to its forbearers? Well, it stands about as well as the figure on the album cover. That’s right — it doesn’t.
Satyricon is a mid-tempo drudge through all of black metal’s blandest offerings. When listening to Satyricon I got this weird feeling that I was listening to sections of the same song strung out over ten tracks. It’s almost as if you could cut sections out of one song, put them in another and make it seem like it was an intentional songwriting choice. Within the tracks themselves you get this eerie sense of deja vu and nearly every one has the same structure. Mid-paced, thick lead guitars with a plodding pop metal drum beat with the tired sounding vocals of Satyr, then crudely interrupted by a rolling drum beat with a slightly different riff — repeat ad nauseam. It’s as if someone sucked all the energy out of Keep of Kalessin — you know, the most important asset they have.
The few attempts it makes to change-up the monotony makes it all the worse due to how cringe-worthy they are, but none takes the proverbial black metal cake like Sivert Høyem’s contribution to “Phoenix” does. Seriously, I haven’t heard a more mismatched and confused contribution to a black metal since Taake‘s banjo solo. Black metal requires conviction, something Sivert Høyem doesn’t seem to understand at all and his low, clean vocal performance ruins the entire song. It’s a shame because structurally it’s probably the most rewarding tune here. It’s not that Sivert Høyem is a bad vocalist either — he just doesn’t sound like he knows what on Earth he’s doing in the context of this album. And he’s not the only one seemingly at a loss here either. It’s difficult to know whether Frost is equally as unconvinced by this material or whether he’s just bored out of his mind. The result is the same either way.
The tracks without a quirk are a complete bore, yet those that attempt to break from the mid-paced drudgery such as “Walker upon the Wind,” come up empty of any merit and lack the band’s old energy. Other selections like “Our World, It Rumbles Tonight”‘ go for an anthemic quality that simply isn’t meant to be due to how tired the band sounds. Each and every cut is evidence of a weary band going through the motions. The album does at least end on a lighter note; “The Infinity of Time and Space” actually shows the band making an effort to make music capable of keeping your attention.
It does make me wonder though — what kind of producer would take this album and say “Hey, you know what we should do to Frost’s great drumming? Make it near-indecipherable!“? Anyone worth their salt in the black metal realm can tell you that Frost is a great drummer and the mind-boggling decision to bury his performance sucks out whatever energy Satyricon might have had. Atmosphere and energy are the two things black metal should have — if they don’t have one, they should at least go heavy on the other. This has neither. Not only is Frost’s playing veiled in a complete haze, but his performance is unusually sedate, spare a few fleeting moments. The guitars are mechanical, unusually warm, but largely uninteresting and though they occasionally churn out an interesting riff, it isn’t anywhere near enough to save this album from itself.
It doesn’t blow the mind that this album is unimpressive — it blows the mind that it even exists. At best this consists of The Age of Nero and Now, Diabolical B-sides and at worst it’s an album crushed by dreadful decisions and a flat production. It barely scrapes mediocre most of the time and that’s pretty disgraceful when you consider this band’s contributions to both black metal and modern metal as a whole.