SATYRICON have long been defining – and defying – just what that thing might be, “black metal”. They define it by their very background, while defying the prevailing, largely unreflected notions the conservative metal scene loves to stick by.
SATYRICON’s statement is of Black Metal as the indefinable, the obscure energies that pierce through us, while demanding their musical expression. Black and bottomless in their epistemological obscurity, the solitary existential hero is resolved at bringing them to artistic shape.
An intellectual framework is essential for understanding black metal, namely the black metal of which Satyricon maintains to be prime source and example. Indeed, there are no other tamers of energy like Satyricon, not swerving an inch from the pit of their inspiration.
There is simply no drummer like Frost. And Frost’s monstrous tribal power is situated within an intricate structure, provided by the band leader/composer.
What is unique about SATYRICON, and in our humble opinion puts them in a position above all, is the interplay of contemplation and aggression, which they deliver organically. While in other masterful bands (e.g. Enslaved, but also the whole tradition of “dark” and/or extreme progressive metal) these dialectics are apparent in the counterpoint of dreamlike versus harsh lines, there’s no telling apart of both these aspects in SATYRICON’s music. Both sides are at fine interplay here, but in reality indistinguishable. SATYRICON is meltingly intense with the cool awareness of passion being the mistress to rule their act.
SATYRICON are warriors of sincerity. The battle for the Truth black metal has had as its slogan, is but a battle for ourselves. And while this might sound trivial, it must not have been easy for Satyr to free himself from the burden of demands placed upon him. Metal fanatics could crush any aspiring, sensitive, ingenious artist with their narrowness. It is interesting to note that many artists have broken out of punk rock and into their unbounded artistic legitimacy, while metal artists’ vastly valuable but slightly different projects have been spitefully crushed and the artists’ wings broken.
Black Metal, in its individualistic pathos, can afford not to care. If the “genre” (in big inverted commas) can be defined by anything, it is the downright resentment of limits. This all important message SATYRICON has made sure to reiterate verbally, as well as musically. If you want to know what black metal is, refer to SATYRICON. Name it very, very intense rock music, and also be safe – while being aware “rock’n’roll” is but a Negro euphemism for libido. Black metal should then be the act of ultimate liberation of these ecstatic, violent potencies.
In the musical manifestation of SATYRICON, everything’s allowed. This is a progressive band in the most authentic sense. From the early outlines of black metal as genre, through the complex compositional infernalia of Rebel Extravaganza, from there transitioning into the works in the overall frame of “rhythm-and-metal” (popularly referred to black’n’roll, that notion not exhausting Satyricon’s exploration of slightly more minimalistic limits), and to the lush contemplation of their last studio delivery, this is a band the seriousness of whose music has culminated in its choral arrangement with Live At The Opera.
Whether chorally and orchestrally emphasized, or delivered in underground clubs, Satyricon’s music is equally poignant. It is Romantic per se. In the club where the author of these lines had the privilege of seeing them, our souls were torn out.
The atmosphere of sunset warmth the last studio album emitted somehow pervaded the show. There was no pretense, no showing of muscles, and no lustrous image. There was simply the promise: we’re here, and we’re not leaving without you.
The pre-history of such a commitment would be the extensive tour the band did in 2008/9, which left them pressed by the expectations and demand of their product, so successfully executed. It might have been that the imposing artistic output of 2008’s Nero had distanced Satyr from his soulful calling. The mantra of the “truth” in art, of the inseparability of art and existence, rings loud within the artist. It is down with grandiose presentation and all about essence now – a delight for the fan who is interested in the psyche of the loved artist, rather than in hearing “the old songs”.
What is not to love about Satyr – the perpetual wink in the eye, the occasional clumsiness, the intolerance for ignorance, the uncompromising professionalism, not least the vulnerability and surrender to her majesty, the Music. There’s no need for an artistic mask, for there’s nothing more compelling than the man in his integrity, who, after exploring his diverse aspects in consecutive albums, is now giving us himself. There are art-rock greats that are entertainers. There are prophets of humanity like the blues masters, who enamor us by wearing their hearts on their sleeve, skipping intellectual distance.
Satyr has chosen to be the latter kind. His doom might not be much different from the heavy-hanging blues, and he is now showing us that his musicianship and interaction with the audience are marked by a warm spontaneity not unlike the very first originators’ of our genre: making one feel at home, wanted, and liberated. There’s no menace in SATYRICON any longer, there’s the need to be together, and a passionate appeal for the audience to participate. The “existential fear questions” have seemingly dissolved, and with our newly embraced strength, we can get down. There’s no “us” and “them” anymore; the extremity of genuine expression celebrates our communion. It was a feeling like no other to scream the lines together with Satyr. The concert was a gift, and the musical gems – and jams – deeply appreciated.
The soundscape seemed subdued, while enthralling in its tension. SATYRICON are such masters. There’s hardly anything about them which hasn’t been thought out in great depth. The lighting was also impressive, reflecting the atmosphere. It felt like a continuation of the tour for “Satyricon” (2013), an album which has been underplayed live, and perhaps needed longer time to take root.
The setlist was a wisely calculated balance between all albums, with other underplayed songs able to render the fan ecstatic.
Shortly after the intro, the gripping Rite Of Our Cross sets in. Satyr’s vocal phrase cuts through, but unlike the sharpness of Metal God Halford, there are the roughs of a blunt edge that sting. I cannot get enough of Satyr’s vocals, and would have undoubtedly placed him at Number One in a recently published chart of Best Extreme Metal Vocalists by a popular magazine. “Fear!”, “Rage!”, “Lust!”, the spat-out lines cannonade.
The density is somewhat relieved through the amplitudes of the three subsequent songs (Our World, Diabolical, Crow), allowing us to merge with the dynamics, and eventually prepare for another burner: Filthgrinder. The tentative “act two” of the set brings more of the new, followed by an input of the old, getting the “die-hard” traditional fans fully onboard.
The logical center of the concert consists in another three pieces, namely A New Enemy, Die By My Hand, and Infinity Of Time And Space.
A New Enemy deserves a whole chapter of its own. It is a song which Frost himself has claimed “a favourite”, a vessel of that “magical energy”. The fan will forever be puzzled why the song has hardly been played live in the past few years. It was Frost’s playground, his field to deploy all the powers that work within – powers known only to him, but tangible and elating to all. The response was quick, the room illuminated by the audience’s exaltation.
Die by My Hand introduced keyboard sampling of the band’s choral arrangement for the Opera. Disappointingly but predictably, it didn’t work quite well. It never does – and here’s for hoping Satyricon does as many more live orchestral collaborations as it truly deserves. The song carries intricate dynamism which the choir in the Opera performance lifts and emphasizes – as it does Satyr’s genius in general. In a rock’n’roll setting, however, the song is best left speaking as originally intended.
Infinity Of Time and Space launched us into Satyr’s introspective dreamscape. It was a breath of space, and an allowance of time to sneak into the artist’s intimate withdrawal. After favourites such as Pentagram, the artist formally announced his defiance of being “entertainer”, and his fondness of free jamming – an inclination the more perceptive of his audience have witnessed throughout.
There were the audience’s favourites still to follow and challenge our necks, with Repined’s absence being felt on this tour. Another thrilling piece I seem to be missing, is Nocturnal Flare; and it would just be brilliant if SATYRICON revived The Scorn Torrent in the future.
The overall feel was indeed that of jamming. Of unassuming unpretense. Of being one with the fan. Of being a fan. I didn’t sense a distance between Satyr’s banging head and mine, between the band’s timing and the audience’s.
And this is what leaves blissful expressions on people’s faces. Metal legends or otherwise. The Dawn Of A New Age tour has, by all accounts, been nothing short of a declaration of mutual love.
(after The Dawn Of A New Age tour at Szene, Vienna, 19.4.2015)