Released: 2013, Nuclear Blast Records
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
Never ones for convention, Norway's Satyricon have been all over the black metal map during the last decade. 2002's Volcano followed up 1999's bleak, meandering Rebel Extravaganza with full-bodied black n' roll. 2006's Now Diabolical stripped away much of Volcano's production value for simplicity and sonic desolation and then the band – really just the duo of frontman/instrumentalist/composer Sigurd “Satyr” Wongraven and drum savant Kjetil-Vidar “Frost” Haraldstad – did another about face with the groove-laden, bold sounding The Age of Nero two years later.
Satyricon's self-titled eighth album has a bit of a split personality, seeming at once familiar and unpredictable - for better or for worse. Its minimalist sound echoes Diabolical, but that Spartan rawness is countered by a wider variety of moods and material – including, depending on how you look at it, some of the band's most daring or inexplicable work.
Certainly the most puzzling track here is “Phoenix,” a jangly, goth-rock torch song that finds Satyr yielding the lead vocals to guest singer Sivert Hoyem, former frontman of the Norwegian rock band Madrugada, who croons a la Nick Cave. The song is so utterly out of character, save for Frost's pitter-patter double bass, that is feels like a mistake - a factory error where a track from someone else got dropped into the middle of a Satyricon album. Hoyem's quavering delivery doesn't help – he seems ill at ease throughout, as if he knows this really is a thing that should not be.
And then there's “Nekrohaven,” which may be the first ever black metal power pop song. It's buoyant hooks and light, springy tempos are impossibly catchy. Were it not for Satyr's scabrous vocals and lyrics about, well, “Nekrohaven,” whatever the hell that is, it would sound almost like a Green Day song – seriously.
“Our World, It Rumbles Tonight” is in a similar vein, but with its cutting guitar groove and propulsive beat it bears the threatening, throat-ripping tenacity of like-minded earlier works “Fuel For Hatred,” “Now, Diabolical” or “K.I.N.G.” And the less friendly, the better, as evidenced by the far more satisfying “Ageless Northern Spirit,” the furious “Walker Upon The Wind” or the sung-in-Norwegian “Tro Og Kraft,” even though it's overlong. With Frost unleashing his drum roll fusillades around the churn of Satyr's chafing riffs, they scratch the full-on black metal itch here, but leave you wondering just what’s going on with the rest of the album.
“Nocturnal Flare” and the more complex opus “The Infinity of Time and Space” drag along with their spoken-word passages and dull slow segments, and the album starts and finishes with instrumentals that it easily could have done without. So while .400 is a great average in baseball, for an outfit with the history and stature of Satyricon, that’s a lot of swinging and missing.