While they’ve never received as much credit for their artistic spirit as have the Enslaveds and Ihsahns of the world, Satyricon has shifted and morphed subtly throughout the years, and have always followed their own muse. After helping to define the Norwegian black metal sound, they violently deconstructed it on Rebel Extravaganza. After seemingly settling into an arena-friendly black’n’roll groove, they flipped that sound on its head with their goth-tinged, strange self-titled effort.
Each step along the way helped to provide better insight into what came before — for example, after listening to Satyricon, going back to The Age of Nero makes it seem less like a black’n’roll album and more like some odd arthouse blackish metal aimed at folks that love “Rock You Like a Hurricane” — while leaving fans guessing about the subtle shifts the future would bring.
Label: Napalm Records.
More than just the core sounds, however, is that Deep Calleth embraces the band’s artfulness more than ever before. It is an expression of sadness as much as it is a statement of triumph, restrained while oozing with personality, and extremely focused while flowing freely through a variety of moods. Like every previous step in their career, nothing seems forced because this is just two guys doing what comes to them naturally, still letting their muse carry them where it may, and letting the quality of the songs speak for themselves.
Each of these songs speaks loudly in its own way, giving the album a surprising amount of range despite a run time under 45 minutes. “To Your Brethren in the Dark” finds the album at its most barren, never taking on heightened intensity but remaining focused on darkness. It stands in strong contrast to the ensuing title track, which combines a severe earworm of a chorus with some essential background wailing to become one of the catchiest songs the band has ever panned. The range of the album’s moods is further expanded by the two closing tracks, “Black Wings and Withering Gloom” and “Burial Rite.” The former is handily the album’s most vicious song, blasting and tremolo riffing its way across “snow covered mountains of North,” while the latter mixes a foreboding tone with some of the album’s heaviest passages, ending things with a bang.
Plus riffs, riffs, and more riffs than you can shake an Uruk-Hai gauntlet at. Satyr’s axe slashing here runs the gamut from almost insultingly simple to deceptively complex. He’s daring you to say he’s being generic as much as he’s challenging you to accuse him of self indulgence. That crazily basic upbeat rock of “Blood Cracks Open the Ground” could have been embellished, sure, just as much as the chromatic descent during the slippery bridge of opener “Midnight Serpent” could have been simplified, but the key is knowing when each fits. Throughout all of Deep Calleth, Satyricon hits the nail on the head–crisp and spry as much as they are slick and sly.
It is a testament to the quality of the band’s songwriting and riff craft that the album sounds so textured and lush despite the production lacking in any flairs whatsoever. There is no reverb or echo on Satyr’s dry, harsh vocals or his guitars, which feature a very straight-from-the-amp sound. Frost’s drumming, meanwhile, features a similarly flat, “close” sound as that used on the self-titled album. It’s a decidedly regressive approach that has worked for Satyricon in the past, but it’s particularly key to the success of Deep Calleth because it helps to showcase the occasional use of “extra” elements. Several songs feature the background choral wails — a Satyricon favorite — while others have touches of organ or a smattering of bonkers sax (the nearly avant-garde “Dissonance”). These additions are typically treated with the same stripped-down production, never drenching songs with their presence, helping to fill out the songs as much to enhance the album’s just-eerie-enough vibe.
If anything, the restraint shown by Satyricon is evidence of their deep confidence in this material, confidence that is absolutely warranted. Frost and Satyr absolutely do not care that they will forever be linked to the Second Wave of Black Metal, because they’ve been too busy moving forward basically since day one. If groundbreaking classics like Nemesis Divina were an unrelenting expression of youth, Deep Calleth upon Deep is their most comfortably mature album. Expressive and nuanced in all areas, but never over-calculated or pretentious.
The album also seems to refuel a career that in no way was running on fumes, providing intrigue and excitement for the future. A decade from now, we might look back on this album as the start of Satyricon’s latest phase, or we might see it as yet another step along their always-slightly-veering path. But to call this merely a hint for the future discounts what the band achieved with Deep Calleth upon Deep, which was to make one of the most striking and intriguing albums of their career. Just insanely cool stuff.