Twenty-four years since “Satyr” Wongraven and “Frost” Haraldstad came together in unholy musical matrimony, the core that makes up Satyricon have unveiled their ninth full-length album, Deep Calleth Upon Deep (Napalm). For the handful of uninitiated amongst thee, this was a band that initially set out refining folk-tinged Black Metal, before creating, defining and killing Urban Black Metal in one fell swoop (only Admiron Black – also Moonfog – by Gehenna came close) with the meisterstück and game-changing Rebel Extravaganza (Moonfog). Always one of the genre leaders, both in terms of quality and innovation, their boldness was rewarded with a profile turbo-boost courtesy of Pantera taking them out as main support.
What happened next propelled Satyricon to the next level in much the same way as In Flames did with, and after, Reroute To Remain (Nuclear Blast)… Over the course of the 00’s, Satyricon dramatically increased their commercial impact, while simultaneously isolating, in the main, their pre-existing fan base with the left-at-the-traffic-lights abandonment of extreme and challenging music and an embracing of a much simpler, 4/4 groove based approach over four increasingly stultifying albums.
All of which brings us to present day, and the heralding of a second sea-change, of a rebirth and redesign of the Satyricon oeuvre.
For it must be said that, despite the noise around this album being the dawn of new approach, while not quite being “second verse, same as the first”, there are still many of the same characteristics of the last fifteen years… resolutely mid-tempo, with head-nodding groove the order of the day, while Satyr’s laconic, monotone croak is as distinctive a blackened vocal as there comes.
Where the welcome reinvention comes to the forefront is in the lacing of the album more melodic guitar lines than Satyr has previously shaken a black leather glove at, at times icy and glacial and at others, such as in the glorious title track, reminiscent of a Gothic Iron Maiden, should such a thing exist.
Taking the template of ‘Black Crow On A Tombstone’ and ‘Wolfpack’ from The Age Of Nero (Koch/Roadrunner), there is a definite nod to commerciality and hooks, with vocal repetition, Death Rock leads and stomping beats fuelling ‘The Ghost of Rome’, while ‘To Your Brethren In The Dark’ is a distended crawl with a hypnotic Black Metal approach to repetition, with the title uttered in that indolent rasp as if a mantra.
Yet, while the guitars attempt to sluice splashes of colour and brighten proceedings, Deep Calleth Upon Deep is still to its core, and in its external garments, wintry grey, and those Joy Division touches are unable to imbue vibrancy to what is, ultimately, a fairly staid and steady album. There are also missteps as ‘Black Wings and Withering Gloom’ kicks off awkwardly before stumbling throughout its seven-minute duration, and ‘Dissonant’ is anything but, instead manifesting as a ponderous and sterile time filler.
Despite attempts to freshen and revitalise the formula, attempts that are warranted and beneficial to the album, and hinting that if the dynamics and progression of the direction can be worked on this could be a fruitful development to the Satyricon sound, Deep Calleth Upon Deep is, ultimately, a couple of iridescent moments in the murky grey aside, a decent, if mundane affair, enhanced by too few moments of exquisite flair.