Satyricon – Deep Calleth Upon Deep

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Here’s a thought to chill the bones: it’s been 21 years since Satyricon released the exemplary Nemesis Divina, an album which rightly stands as one of the pinnacles of second wave black metal. Since then, the duo of Satyr (vocals, guitars, keys, bass) and Frost (drums) have sought to redefine what black metal can be, whether through the experimental Rebel Extravaganza, or the black’n’roll of their albums from Volcano onwards. Yet there’s been a sense of something missing from their most recent albums – for all their classic rock-derived swagger and confidence, for every self-assured razor-sharp riff and lead, and for every pummelling drum performance, the rock’n’roll edge has been at odds with their grim, black metal tendencies. New album Deep Calleth Upon Deep is being described in the press release as the beginning of a new chapter for Satyricon; in one sense it is, with a more pronounced bleak atmosphere; yet the leather-clad, slicked-back sound and character of their previous albums hangs heavy in the air, making this an album that – though enjoyable – sits uncomfortably between two contrasting natures, and feels like it’s less than it could have been.

Whilst the likes of Volcano and Now, Diabolical seemed unashamed in their extroverted, commanding natures – aspects best summed up by the sexually charged videos for tracks such as ‘K.I.N.G.’ – Deep Calleth Upon Deep is a much more morbid, darker affair. Songs such as the title track (one of the best Satyricon have written in their modern incarnation) and ‘Black Wings and Withering Gloom’ are charged with black metal energy, with the latter in particular – including tremolo-picked leads, blasting drums, and lyrics about mountains and forests – the most typically black metal song the band have written since Nemesis Divina, whilst still possessing hints of the modern Satyricon swagger. Satyr’s vocals still fall somewhere between a rasp and an Abbath-esque croak, and in this classic black metal context, it’s as effective as ever. It’s a delight to hear these old masters channelling the spirits of old to such tremendous effect, and if the duo had written an album full of songs such as this, Deep Calleth Upon Deep would rank among the finest black metal records released this year.

Deep Calleth Upon Deep Satyricon

Yet, despite the regression into more traditional black metal sounds for significant parts, Deep Calleth Upon Deep doesn’t totally abandon the black’n’roll sound Satyricon shifted to since the turn of the millennium. The likes of ‘Blood Cracks Open The Ground’ and ‘The Ghost of Rome’ still carry the shadow of modern songs such as ‘Fuel For Hatred’, drawing as much from AC/DC and other classic rock acts as they do anything grimmer, and though there are more traditional black metal melodies present, there’s also a level of swagger and nimbleness than allows for these songs to be be accurately described as grim or cold. Sixth track ‘Dissonant’ lives up to its name, opening with strangled trumpets, and featuring bright leads and melodies that sit uncomfortably with the more powerful riffs and Satyr’s snarled vocals. Even the title track opens with a slithering, almost buoyant movement that is too energetic, too bright to sit well alongside grim black metal.

This, then, is the dilemma that 2017-era Satyricon find themselves in. Deep Calleth Upon Deep neither embraces the sound of Satyricon’s last few albums, but nor does it entirely reject it. Nor does it achieve the kind of overly enjoyable, stadium black meal sound that Immortal perfected on All Shall Fall, where frost-bitten black metal managed to co-exist with accessible, enjoyable riffs and leads; or the headbanging, no-fucks-given abandon of later-day Darkthrone (whose shift from grim monochrome black metal to metalpunk and classic metal are comparable to Satyricon’s own changes). There are some excellent songs on Deep Calleth Upon Deep, including in ‘Black Wings and Withering Gloom’ one of the best songs that Satyricon have written in 21 years, but the dual nature of the album cause it to work against itself. Deep Calleth Upon Deep is both promising for what the future of Satyricon may hold, but also an album that is less than the sum of its parts.

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