Satyricon - Now, Diabolical - 2006 - Roadrunner Records
1. Now, Diabolical 2. K.I.N.G. 3. The Pentragram Burns 4. A New Enemy 5. The Rite of War Cross 6. That Darkness Shall Be Eternal 7. Delirium 8. To The Mountains 9. Storm (Of The Destroyer)
In the year 2007, it would appear as though the metal community has finally come to the consensus that Satyricon have officially moved on from their roots. This has been an ongoing debate for the better part of the band’s career, which picked up most vehemently once the band transitioned to major record label status for 2002’s ‘Volcano’. Some were surprised by this, others resigned, while still others boycotted the band entirely with cries of ‘sell-out’ among other less civil accusations.
But for what? A strange nostalgia surrounds Satyricon’s early days as if they were once deities purely black metal ad unsullied by popular gimmicks or unorthodox instrumentation. But in reality Satyricon were trailblazers from the beginning, exploring new realms and sounds that others would or simply could not. Black metal began as a reactionary movement, yes, but not a retrograde one—it did not retread grounds from previous generations, and used its primal nature to forge an entirely new style. Disgruntled fans would also do well, as further evidence, to remember that ‘Dark Medieval Times’ pioneered the use of keyboards in extreme metal. So why the backlash in this millennium, after those precedents and continual hints? Was ‘Megiddo’ not enough of one, with its remixes and Mötorhead cover?
Perhaps this stubborn mindset has survived so long because Satyricon were viewed by some less as musicians and more as anti-establishment pundits, resisting the modern mainstream in all its facets. And while the band has given some ground on that front—it’s difficult to flick off ‘the man’ with one hand when you’re signing a major contract with the other—their status as an outsider has remained largely intact. In recent years the band has turned down major festival tours (Ozzfest included), avoided most merchandising opportunities (a keyword search on Hot Topic’s website still yields zero hits), and engages in none of the rock star braggadocio actions to which they are legitimately entitled. Yet many still refuse to acknowledge this, and instead point to the superior production and ‘catchy’, more rock-oriented riffing of 2002’s ‘Volcano’ as evidence of Satyricon’s fall from the halls of that Dark Castle in the Deep Forest.
Finally, after four years of silence, Satyricon started bringing those naysayers to heel. No matter how disgruntled ‘Volcano’ may have left us, when listening to ‘Now, Diabolical’ it finally in that even through their slick production and groovy ‘hit singles’ Satyricon are as sinister as ever. In fact, ‘Now, Diabolical’ may even be a step up. Gone are the keyboard arrangements, the acoustic passages, the interludes, all relatively light-hearted exercises. Satyricon has been stripped to the bare bones: Frost’s martial drumming backing Satyr’s dark, persistent riffing and his terse, inimitable snarl.
The formula becomes a rather predictable one over the album’s course, but with an atmosphere this thoroughly bleak the repetition is but a minor detraction. Too, it is also clear that both Frost and Satyr have greatly matured as musicians. While seminal in caliber, their early efforts lacked finesse, while on the other hand one of ‘Now, Diabolical’s greatest strengths is its subtlety. Satyr’s riffs may be less ferocious than the once were, but his light touch and frequent minute bends gives his melodies an unsettling urgency, as if the strings themselves were flexing beneath his fingers. Coupled with his acerbic, spitting vocals and couplet style delivery, ‘Now, Diabolical’ remains harsh and lean even through its catchiest moments (of which there are more than a few).
Having settled on this approach, Satyricon make few deviations. A few songs include supporting horn melodies that fall just short of tongue-in-cheek, but the only real surprise on ‘Now, Diabolical’ is the bonus track, ‘Storm (of the Destroyer)’. Here, Satyricon return to the blastbeats and chaotic riffing we are more familiar with, and do so in fine form. The track is interesting also in that it was co-written by Snorre Ruch—perhaps it is suggestive of Thorns upcoming material? Regardless, the decision to make it a bonus track was a wise one, as its character does not fit in with the surly distemper of the rest of the album and new Satyricon as a whole.
So, as a whole perhaps ‘Now, Diabolical’ is not equal to the majesty or level of influence enjoyed by ‘Dark Medieval Times’, and perhaps it could use a few more songwriting sparks here or there. Yet in the end, it is still a strong outing from a veteran act that is not as toothless as we’ve come to believe. And besides, considering the recent direction of their old compatriots—Varg still in jail, piddling away with his MIDI keyboard and Darkthrone engaging in gangsta-rap style street cred battles with ‘Too Old, Too Cold’—Satyricon’s role as black metal’s sell-out scapegoat is beginning to look rather absurd. ‘Now, Diabolical’, with classic Satyricon focus and force, reminds us that this pair deserve more credit than many of us are willing to give.
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