Written by: EW on 16/10/2013 15:07:34

The concept of the experimental or self-titled release late in a band's discography is a statement of confidence, a pronouncement that we, the band, are releasing our magnum opus after 20 years and you, the listener, shall worship at its altar. Satyricon are not the first experienced metal band in recent years to go down this route nor the first to leave a bitter aftertaste in the palette once the drug has been consumed; for "Satyricon" read "Suffocation", "Cryptopsy", or worse, "Illud Divinum Insanus" - a line of once giant bands flailing in the waters of mediocrity.

"Satyricon", however, dares to be different more than those examples, a choice that I'm sure is to be the deathknell for this album in the ears of those with an extreme metal inclination even still listening to the works of Satyr & Frost. It is the culmination of a journey that has been signposted for years now, at least as far back as 2002's "Volcano" (an album that I love to this day despite its questionable status) and has been steadily moving into view ever since, culminating in the cleanly sung "Phoenix" here. That track, which bears gothic overtones nodding to In Solitude's recent opus and the recent works of Beastmilk, stands out from the others here like a corpsepaint-clad warrior does at Sunday mass, but not for the reasons one may hope: it is surrounded on all sides by plodding, uninspired dross created in the hope of capturing a wider audience but devoid of a plan of how to do so.

Without the benefit of hindsight opening intro "Voice of Shadows" could be a powerful dramatic piece centred on Frost's slow beats but, knowing what comes after, it is merely emblematic of the lack of vigour that follows in "Tro Og Kraft", "Our World, It Rumbles Tonight" and "Nocturnal Flare". "Tro Og Kraft's" opening passage shows intrigue but I cannot hear this followed up in the remainder of the song. In these circumstances where slow is the game, a welter of incisive riffs and atmosphere (of which there is none in a stale production devoid of edges) are essential to maintain interest. To test, try getting through the break in "Tro Og Kraft" without yawning. "Nocturnal Flare" is a little better at harnessing the spirit of post-"Volcano" Satyricon after the obligatory dull opening has been passed but the lack of any bite in the guitars nullifies its effect. The "Phoenix" that follows is a grenade waiting to explode. The pop sensibilities with the launching of soft vocals following the uninteresting opening herald a new dawn for Satyricon; and I really like it. In contrast to the earlier tracks this has the atmosphere and tempo nailed perfectly to fit the feel of the song and is the highlight of the album, although being sung by Sivert Høyem, a mainstream Norwegian rock singer, is a big problem in my mind considering how central he is. It this really Satyricon supported by Høyem, or Høyem backed by Satyricon?

The album's fastest and heaviest track not surprisingly follows, "Walker Upon the Wind", and it's thrashing Absu-isms fight to erase any soft sentiment left off from that previous track. "Nekrohaven" begins like pure "Fuel for Hatred" but Satyr's distorted vocals are a drawback from what is otherwise a solid beat at the heart of the song and more of the pop-flecked chorals. Through "Ageless Northern Spirit" and "The Infinity of Time and Space" the duo at least sound a little more spirited but by this point it feels as if the album is petering out short of target, a sense only encouraged by the desperately dull closer "Natt", four minutes of pump organ nothingness that spits in the face of the timeless recommendation to have a strong beginning and end to a record.

I am fully supportive of bands willing to experiment and expand their creative horizons as "Satyricon" clearly is, but whether by design of stripping down their sound or unintentional consequence these Norwegian BM legends have cut most of what was interesting out of their sound and left a shell of a record. I have similar complaints with their past two records as well but have seen how much better certain tracks from those work on stage. We will soon see on their impending European tour if the same applies here but as a work five years in the making it is hard to get enthralled by this.


Download: Phoenix, Nekrohaven
For The Fans Of: Vreid, recent Enslaved, Beastmilk
Listen: Facebook

Release date: 09.09.2013
Roadrunner Records

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