Satyricon have been held in the highest regard for more than 25 years by all who worship at the charred pulpit of black metal. Their new album, their ninth, Deep Calleth Upon Deep, should bolster the congregation numbers further.
Not that Satyricon have been hiding their light under a bushel. The last couple of years has been notable for a couple of particularly significant releases, The Live at the Opera album (2015) closely followed by the 20th anniversary celebration release of one of their masterpieces Nemesis Divina.
But rather than just going through the motions, Satyricon have been emboldened by their latest opus with Satyr declaring it signals something of a change in direction for the pair rather than an extension of the journey already completed. The experience of working with a full-scale orchestra clearly impacted on the pair as some of that sense of epic grandeur rises again here.
Members of Oslo’s Philharmonic Orchestra have in turn contributed pieces with violin, cello, contrabassoon and bass clarinet, while the operatic embellishment is further enhanced by the presence of tenor Håkon Kornstad on the record.
“The rules of the game have changed,” Satyr boldly declares. “This is day one of a new chapter.”
So to continue with Satyr’s bookish train of thought, we’ll turn to the first page of Deep Calleth Upon Deep and the stomping opener that is the compelling ‘Midnight Serpent.’ It’s carries a real mid-tempo methodical menace, allowing Satyr to dictate his tablet of doom on top of the dense plodding beat laid down by Frost.
‘Blood Cracks Open the Ground’ is a more disorientating piece with the time signature switches leaving you struggling to keep up at times as Satyricon spin their usual webs of musical mystery. The song is more unnerving than the opener, pacier and more frantic, almost with a nervous energy running through it.
To Your Brethren in Your Dark’ is a moodier composition with some spiralling Satyr riffage including freshly sharpened hooks, while Frost is largely happy to keep his drum patterns in the shadows, of which there’s never any shortage on a Satyricon album. It’s a captivating track, vibrant, and inspirational. The layers are built so high you just need to invest time in slowly unwrapping them to really feel the full force of this epic sprawling composition.
The album’s title track is possibly the most melodic, although the operatic background cries do alter the demographics a little. The main riff pattern and vocal journey is delightful and Frost’s rat-a-tat kick at the peak of each surge helps keep the black metal waters flowing nicely.
On ‘The Ghost of Rome’ the operatic sequences feature prominently once more providing a challenging juxtaposition alongside Satyr’s snarling barks. The song has a terrific sense of momentum and races towards a rousing finish like a chariot race around the Colosseum.
‘Dissonant’ is more aggressive, a less forgiving track, with more of the old riff licking black metal rushing through its veins. ‘Black Wings and Withering Gloom’ seeks inspiration from traditional Norse terrain of mountains and forests and has an epic soundscape to match.
Closer ‘Burial Rite’ has some stop-start riff patterns but the duo as ever never lose sight of the end game. The peaks of the angled guitar work are lost in the clouds while the rumbling groove holds the line, freeing up Satyr to go through his growls like a hungry bear.
For the record, Deep Calleth Upon Deep was recorded earlier this year in part in their native Oslo, and also in Vancouver, under the auspices of Mike Fraser who worked with the pair on 2006 release, Now, Diabolical.
Diehard Satyricon fans can stay up all night debating the merits of this album when held alongside the Norwegian pair’s previous work. It’s certainly a strong enough album to hold its own in that company and while the icy blasts still blow through the epicentre of their work, Satyricon’s skilled songwriting ensures some wonderfully melodic free-moving moments within the mix.