Released: 2008, Roadrunner Records / Koch Records / Indie Recordings
Reviewer: Kyle Moore, the Metal Magnus
For a legendary band of any musical hemisphere, there is a variably thick-or-thin line that distinguishes an artists’ past and present works. Some musicians choose to retain whichever formula made them successful in the first place, and if you’re a loyal fan with certain expectations, there’s nothing wrong with this. Other groups attempt to grow beyond the boundaries of their initial success (occasionally with mixed results,) and in the process start cracking the boundaries of their “home” genres.
Norway’s Satyricon is among the latter groups. For having authored the so-called “anthem” of classic black metal “Mother North” on 1996’s NEMESIS DIVINA, Satyricon has since marched countless bloody leagues progressing towards a new, definitive sound. VOLCANO was the first step in moving away from the remnants of 90’s-era black metal – frontman Satyr cleaned up the production and kept some experimental instincts from REBEL EXTRAVAGANZA, and the result was a ferociously beautiful album that both broke new ground and remained rooted in true black metal. Follow-up effort NOW, DIABLOLICAL saw the band moving away from speedy blastbeats into crunchy, groove-based “black n’ roll.” While gritty anthems like “K.I.N.G” and “Now, Diabolical” stood out and perfectly showcased Satyricon’s new sound, the latter half of the album felt lost and unbalanced, insecure and lacking the razor-sharp bite possessed by its predecessor.
Two years later, we have THE AGE OF NERO, which attempts to bridge the gap between Satyricon’s previous two efforts and their legacy as founding members of the black metal genre. The warm, laid-back production of NOW, DIABOLICAL has been replaced with a thicker sound as cold as a coroner’s slab. Frost’s drums sound notably full and devastating. The experimental electronics have been peeled back, and absent are Satyr’s hummed vocal touches from NOW, DIABLOLICAL. What’s left is a minimalist guitar&drum-propelled approach that sounds fresh and still hits hard.
“Commando” opens with a quirky intro and some of the cleanest, most coldly precise blastbeat drumming I’ve ever heard. Satyr’s guitars sound suitably menacing without sounding too washed out and fuzzy. There’s an awkward transition from the grunt-along chorus to the opening riff that threw me off a little, but the vicious outro propelled me right into a track that could have easily been on the better half of their previous album. “The Wolfpack” epitomizes a flawlessly crafted black n’ roll tune, with headnoddingly groovy riffs and a strong chorus. “Black Crow on a Tombstone” continues the blackened feel of “Commando,” but the next track is slightly derailing and reveals some underlying problems.
“Die by my Hand” is the first song to feature some obnoxiously out-of-place keyboards on the chorus. These same keys return in later songs in the form of horns, usually doubling the bass guitar. This sound doesn’t feel right in context with the minimalist, back-to-basics approach found on the majority of the record. “The Sign of the Trident” is by far the weakest song present, clumsily blending the less desirable elements of NOW, DIABLOLICAL with a mishandled attempt at a successfully epic track like VOLCANO’s “Black Lava.” Follow-up track “Last Man Standing” isn’t much better, but still feels focused and has a nice groove. Ending track “Den Siste” is Satyricon’s first Norwegian language track since NEMESIS DIVINA, and its callously grim feel redeems the previous two songs.
With THE AGE OF NERO, Satyricon has come one step closer to perfecting their new musical direction originating on VOLCANO. Headbanging black n’ roll grooves meld seamlessly with refined black metal to create standout tracks like “My Skin is Cold.” Black metal purists will most likely be turned off, but those who passed up NOW, DIABLOLICAL should definitely pick this up. Satyricon hasn’t yet figured out how to evenly balance their new creation, but they clearly possess the drive and skill to make a terrifying musical beast that should instantly cleave itself to most fans old and new.