On September 2017 Satyricon released their awaited ninth album Deep Calleth upon Deep on Moonfog Productions/Napalm Records. After 2013’s polarizing self-titled release which was specially celebrated with the well-documented concert with the National Norwegian Opera Chorus, many wondered what the next step of the Nordic duo would be. The album Satyricon saw the band departing from the sound they established during the 2000s –even more so from their 90s output– opening the doors to different musical explorations and sounds, explorations the band seems quite proud of. Given that fact, it is not surprising that this new album feels strongly connected to its predecessor, though it certainly comes along as a stronger and more focused effort.
Kicking things off with “Midnight Serpent”, the album is off a thunderous start, in a song that fuses speed and blastbeats with slower, spaced out parts in a very natural way. The pace changes completely halfway through with the appearance of a characteristic Satyricon riff featuring a(n almost) chromatic progression, followed by an atmospheric, tremolo-picked, middle part that is highly reminiscent of “Mental Mercury”. There is also a brief section with a syncopated, dissonant chord riff which gives a faltering nod to Rebel Extravaganza, but that is pretty much the only direct influence of their 90s output. Despite the abundance of riffs, the (undoubtedly memorable) chorus ties the whole thing together in a coherent whole. “Blood Cracks Open the Ground” comes up next, presenting yet another face of the band. An energetic number with melodic parts that are counterbalanced by a strong rhythmic element, it is an interesting song that is quite progressive in structure, especially by Satyricon’s later-era standards. With “To Your Brethren in the Dark”, we return to the musical pathways of the self-titled album in a song with a subtle folk essence, that focus mostly on building up atmosphere.
The next two songs are, to me, the weakest songs of the album. The title track in particular is sturdily based on a main theme, which essentially originates from the opening riff of the song, although it uncurls in various ways throughout its length, leading up to the characteristic melody of the chorus. While the songwriting is aptly done, the whole song is based on riff that comes short, and that certainly is not going to make it a standout number in any way. It still works well as a bridge between the choruses but is not a strong opening riff. “The Ghost of Rome” is a song driven by strong melodies and a song that articulates Satyr’s hard-rock influences the most. Although there are other black ‘n’ roll moments in most of the songs, this one feels quite different from the rest of the album, as it follows a simple, rock structure. At this point, I have to mention that these songs lack in the lyric department as well, as they seem rather generic and with trite metaphors. Despite the (overly) simple writing (that is applies to all the songs more of less), the lyrics are not devoid of meaningful content and work well with the music.
Moving forward to “Black Wings and Withering Gloom”, we are presented with an interesting piece which is certainly one of the highlights of the album. Lyric-wise, it is an existential view of the primal essence of war –a soldier’s sacrifice and will to stay alive– inspired by the Norwegian resistance to the occupation of Norway by Nazi Germany. Of course, that very rush of anxiety portrayed by the lyrics is strongly supported by the tremolo picked riffs and the blasting drums. While there are tangible black metal moments in almost all songs, “Black Wings”, together with “Midnight Serpent’s” chorus and middle section, is the most (straightforwardly) black metal offering of the band in a long time, even if such black metal riffage is not akin to the relentless and hateful approach of Nemesis Divina.
There are also some discreet experimentations to be found in this new album, such as the use of classical instruments, operatic vocals, and saxophone. These embellishments do enhance certain parts without being in the forefront of each part. The production of the album, courtesy of Mike Fraser, is also noteworthy, maintaining the organic sound presented with the self-titled, albeit with a punchier edge to the sound. All instruments sound amazing and perfectly balanced in the mix. The only thing to be mentioned critically would be Satyr’s vocals which sound fatigued and spiritless; they would have certainly benefitted from the layered approach he used in the past (which produced his distinctive “venomous” vocals).
In conclusion, Deep Calleth upon Deep sees the band continuing progressing their sound even further. It is neither as dark as Volcano or Now, Diabolical, nor features the powerful wall of sound of The Age of Nero, but it still pertains that conquering nature Satyricon is precisely known for. Although mid-paced and seemingly uneventful for the most part of its length, a certain element of aggression seems to have returned to the band’s sound, especially in comparison to the “toothless” self-titled album, and that is something that is always welcome when we talk about black metal music. Deep Calleth upon Deep is definitely the most melodic the band has been; a solid effort that summarises what Satyricon is about in 2017.
1. Midnight Serpent
2. Blood Cracks Open the Ground
3. To Your Brethren in the Dark
4. Deep Calleth upon Deep
5. The Ghost of Rome
7. Black Wings and Withering Gloom
8. Burial Rite