Amidst the history of suicide, murder, and church burnings, it’s important to note that bands from the second wave of black metal still make noise today. Holding an important role alongside the early founders of the sound like Mayhem, Emperor, and Immortal, Norway’s Satyricon still represent the evolution of bands who, when they throw horns in tribute of metal and the big red guy, really mean it. After three albums steeped deep in the primal hiss of necro sound their 1999 release
Rebel Extravaganza signaled a maturing of sorts, incorporating industrial elements that subverted their previous lo-fi trend. While some die-hard black metal fans may still turn their backs and lobby cries of “sell out” at any band moving forward in style and production values, Satyricon continues to embrace evolution, and their latest, Deep Calleth Upon Deep, continues their journey.
Despite their experimental excursions Satyricon’s longtime two-man show of singer/guitarist/keyboardist Satyr and drummer Frost generally return to a tried and true rough vibe. Opening track “Midnight Serpent” starts off with a seasoned black metal sound, but the overall mid-tempo vibe makes everything feel more rock and roll than fire and brimstone. “Blood Cracks Open the Ground” is more complex, balancing traditional buzzsaw guitars with a surprising synth sneaking out of the background. Frost shines on this track, with solid double kicks and tasteful drum fills in between the start-and-stop riffs.
Orchestral influences and collaborations in modern black metal have become common, from Cradle of Filth’s rich keyboards to Dimmu Borgir playing in concert with the Norwegian Radio Orchestra.
Deep Calleth Upon Deep features members of the Oslo Philharmonic, but their contributions are far more subtle them any of Satyricon’s symphonically-inspired colleagues. Lead single “To your Brethren in the Dark” deals in atmosphere: sludge chords and ominous riffs come together in a slow, doom-laden vibe, but listen close enough and you can hear short backing from brass instruments.
The title track is another mid-tempo slugger with contributions from symphonic strings and, rather beautifully, opera singer and tenor saxophonist Håkon Kornstad. It’s not overwrought or bombastic; everything in the texture feels necessary and placed, the added working with but never overshadowing what Satyricon does as a band. Konstad returns with ethereal moments on the otherwise rawking “”The Ghost of Rome,” yet it’s not the most successful moment on the album. His wordless vocals could have easily been performed on guitar or keyboard, and it distracts a bit from everything else Satyr and Frost put together on the track. While his singing feels a bit misguided there, Konstad’s John Zorn-inspired sax playing on “Dissonant” is beautifully chaotic.
“Black Wings and Withering Gloom” and “Burial Rite” close out the album with more riffs and shifting rhythms, excellent work by Satyr and Frost, but overall the music feels a little tired after the preceding onslaught of distortion and double kicks. Satyricon has said that
Deep Calleth Upon Deep represents “Day one of a new chapter” for the band. While some of the textures and structures represent undeniably interesting directions for the band, most of the album sounds like a return to what they know best. Nonetheless, the risks they take succeed, and while the album doesn’t break much new ground, perhaps chapter two will.