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Album Review: Satyricon – Deep calleth upon Deep

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Despite the group holding their genre’s banner high for over 25 years, Norwegian black metal mavens Satyricon are a band that aren’t as revered as they deserve to be.

Satyricon - Deep calleth upon DeepWhen extreme music followers are asked what their favourite black metal act is, the usual suspects are almost always brought up: Mayhem, Emperor, Gorgoroth, Darkthrone, Behemoth, Celtic Frost, Bathory and so on and so on. And the main reason the long-established duo of Satyr and Frost aren’t mentioned as readily as other unhallowed pioneers is probably their group’s sheer eclecticism. In the 21st century especially, Satyricon have prided themselves on fusing black metal with a more harmonic and atmospheric edge, taking cues from classic rock n’ roll and melodic death metal to create a more polished and less frenetic approach. Their ninth record, Deep calleth upon Deep, continues very much in this same vein.

As is regularly the case with melodic metal, the highlights come in the form of the guitars and vocals, both of which demonstrate a masterful balance between the extreme, the subdued and the harmonic. While front-man and founder Satyr growls throughout the entirety of Deep calleth upon Deep, choruses like those found on the title track and ‘The Ghost of Rome’ unite the nihilistic and Gothic tones commonplace in heavy music with rock structuring, often repeating the name of the track in question as anthemic refrains.

It is with Satyr’s guitars, however, that the album’s more accessible edge hits a zenith. Traditional black metal shredding usually demands inordinately fast picking paired with equally blistering chord strumming, with the echoing and repeated notes crafting a discordant and ultimately unsettling aura (listen to Mayhem’s ‘De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas’ riff for a perfect example). Meanwhile, despite entries like the lengthy ‘Black Wings and Withering Gloom’ remaining closer to this formula, Satyricon’s use of the axe here finds a home closer to groups like Dark Tranquillity and Paradise Lost: it mixes more palpable and measured rhythm guitars with solo-inclined leads, a common hallmark of melodic death metal. ‘Blood Cracks Open the Ground’ regularly interrupts its own chord-driven verse to display a very brief, higher-pitched lead guitar section, ultimately letting the latter technique take over in the build to the main chorus. ‘The Ghost of Rome’’s opening perpetuates a brilliantly doomy take on melo-death, as does ‘Dissonant’’s, which adds an avant-garde edge thanks to the inclusion of a saxophone.

However, this doesn’t render Deep calleth upon Deep as merely a diluted take on one of music’s most dangerous subgenres. The previously mentioned ‘Black Wings and Withering Doom’, bar a big chorus and clearer production, is a seven-minute call-back to full-blooded black metal, letting drummer Frost steal the show in a flurry of pure adrenaline. It, like the rest of its parent record, is also coated in the most bizarre sense of enjoyable gloom, the pure angst on display leading into a great many moments dictated purely by atmosphere. ‘Deep calleth upon Deep’ and ‘The Ghost of Rome’ in particular craft an operatic sense of nihilism through their use of an extravagant yet ominous backing vocalist, his ghostly wails punctuating a sense of unease that drives archetypal black metal. ‘Midnight Serpent’ also makes for a glorious opening cut, its six minutes of doom truly enrapturing and serving as the perfect lure for the seven more, unhallowed tracks to follow.

As a record, then, Deep calleth upon Deep is probably most ideal as an introduction to extreme metal. It blends the genre’s inherently dark nature and mighty growls with, for the most part, a more accessible song structure, inheriting a plethora of rock n’ roll mainstays in the process. Even for avid metal fanatics, there is still a great deal of brilliance to be found here thanks to the melo-death sensibilities. Ironically, the only demographic that may find themselves disliking this black metal record are the black metal fans, who will most likely expect something more subversive and “dangerous”, as has been the way ever since the style’s foundation.

Be that as it may though, don’t let Deep calleth upon Deep’s lack of adherence to one style of metal stop you from giving this glorious record the multiple listens it truly deserves.

Deep calleth upon Deep will be available via Napalm Records on 22nd September.

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