After a series of mediocre “Black & Roll” albums in the 2000’s, it seemed the once legendary Norwegian black metal band would never again release a worthwhile album, especially one as good as the likes of Dark Medieval Times, or The Shadowthrone. However, the 2013 self titled album is a surprisingly incredible release, It sees a remarkable shift in style; they’ve created a progressive and forward thinking metal album, and one of the best metal albums of 2013.
On this album the band has forgone their recent approach at making Black & Roll, no longer trying to write live anthems and crowd pleasers – they instead went away and wrote a fantastic studio album in the intervening five years since The Age of Nero. The guitar playing across the album is incredible, each track is filled with memorable, fantastic riffs, and they’re really the driving force behind what makes the album so successful. While rarely breaking out of mid pace, they meander and weave their way through the album, and they’re all brilliant, epic, and catchy. They’re not particularly heavy however, and in fact the album sounds somewhat soft and mellow, yet still fantastic and epic sounding. There are excellent leads too, especially on the track Nocturnal Flare, a dark, mid paced riffy track. And rather than thundering the album along with the constant high octane blast beats and energy he’s known for, Frost’s drumming is more there to keep the pace of the album, but this matches the tone of the album perfectly. He plays some interesting fills and really keeps the pace fantastically, it’s a great performance without being particularly flashy. Satyr’s trademark growl is in place throughout the album, harsh while still being intelligible, his vocals fit excellently with the rest of the music.
Phoenix is one of the more different tracks on the album, featuring a guest vocalist in the form of Sivert Høyem, who provides clean vocals to fantastic effect. He has a deep, rich voice, really suiting the song well. It’s one of the longer tracks on the album, but definitely one of the best. It seems strange at first to hear clean vocals on a Satyricon album, but when an album sounds as forward thinking as this, it’s not really much of a surprise, and it matches the song perfectly. It’s epic in every way, musically, lyrically and vocally. At the other end of the spectrum, and possibly the most familiar track to the rest of their back catalogue is Nekrohaven, being the most catchy song on the album, and a great live track, but it lacks the over the top wannabe anthem status that Now Diabolical had, rather its just a catchy well written metal song. The Infinity of Time and Space is another sprawling epic, the longest track on the album at nearly 8 minutes and it is rather varied. With a terrific chorus, sprawling drawn out riffs, acoustic quiet atmospheric sections, and blasts of speed and intensity in places, its another fantastic track.
The production on this album is absolutely incredible, it sounds very warm and atmospheric. The band made the decision to record the album entirely in analog, and it really shows due to the sheer warmth in every aspect of the recording. This incredibly clean production will add to the discussion of whether this is a black metal release or not, an inevitable debate for every legendary black metal album who changes their sound and breaks the mould. But when an album is this good, it doesn’t really matter. To me however, it is a black metal album, despite the lack of tremolo picked riffs, raw cold production, and blast beats. It’s certainly a progression away from the early 90’s Norwegian style, but it still sounds dark and atmospheric, and it just seems to have that original Black Metal spirit and atmosphere. Black Metal was never defined by a certain set of rules anyway, and comes in varying flavours, Satyricon’s self titled just pushes the genre in another direction. But anyone who gets too tied up in the genre discussion will threaten to miss out on a fantastic album.
“And when the fire’s work is done, Our time to be reborn.” This quote from Phoenix really sums up the album, Satyricon have redefined their sound, and proven that once again they can release fantastic material, filled with excellent songs and especially riffs. Rising from the ashes of their 2000’s mediocrity they have delivered a dynamic release and one of the best metal albums of 2013, certainly the biggest surprise. The album really coheres as a whole, and each track is brilliant. Special mention must also be given to the great artwork too, it gives a sense of the warmth the production of the album has. If you’re one of those people who wrote Satyricon off after Nemesis Divina then it’s definitely time to give them another go with this new release.
Listen to Phoenix here: