The world of black metal has moved on considerably since Satyricon announced their arrival on the scene way back in 1994 with “The Shadowthrone.” Trends have come and gone, churches no longer get burnt and some artists even win Grammys. It’s fair to say that the Oslo duo have done their best to move with the times, from the medieval Second Wave-isms of “Nemesis Divina” through the harsh industrial dread-scapes of “Rebel Extravaganza” to the blackened arena rock of “Now, Diabolical.” After a five year absence Satyricon have returned with their eighth album, a self-titled opus that looks to build on the commercial appeal of their last two releases. Unfortunately, they appear to have lost their way somewhat.
The stripped-down, writhing guitar work that has become so familiar is here in abundance, propelling tracks such as ‘Tro Og Kraft’ forward but never really going anywhere. The band appears listless, songs break up for no apparent reason into passages of introspective clean-notes, with the transitions feeling forced and utterly pointless. The toothless riffing of ‘Our World, It Rumbles Tonight’ just doesn’t have the impact it should have, despite Frost’s reliable-as-ever battery, keeping time in the background. The lapses in pace rob the song of any momentum so that the impression is of a world lightly shivering rather than rumbling.
One of the big talking points on “Satyricon” is the song ‘Phoenix’ which features famous Norwegian singer Sivert Høyem, whose languid croon gives the song a vaguely Western feel. The music itself is unremarkable, coming across as more like an Audrey Horne B-side rather than something one would expect from a band as established as Satyricon. The parallel with Watain and their recent flirtation with more melodic territory is all the more stark when you realise just how well they pulled it off and what a damp squib it is on this record.
There are some instances of black metal bite still to be found however. The frantic attack of ‘Walker Upon the Wind’ has enough venom to sit amongst older material with ease while the deliciously old-school ‘Nekrohaven’ harks back to the school of classic rock that Darkthrone attend, complete with an irresistibly catchy groove and hook. Satyr’s trademark throaty growl has lost none of its potency but it just doesn’t fit over riffing as uninspired and insipid as what makes up the vast majority of “Satyricon.” The production is neither trying too hard to be Necro nor overly commercial and shiny, it just has nothing to work with. In the live environment with a full band, some of these tracks may well work better, but on record it’s sadly apparent that whilst Satyricon haven’t run out of ideas, they just haven’t had many good ones over the past five years. Here’s hoping next time will be better.