Black metal greats Satyricon recorded a live album with the Norwegian National Opera Chorus (Scandinavia, eh?). While they have added operatic and symphonic flairs to their music in the past, going all in on a full live album with a major choral group is a bit unexpected. Beyond just that, live albums are tricky, particularly within metal. So in lieu of a normal review, here are six thoughts on this unexpectedly satisfying release.
1. ACTUALLY WORKS, REALLY
If you didn’t actually roll your eyes when you first saw that Satyricon had recorded a concert with a full choir, then you are either less skeptical than most, or have never heard S&M. Unlike Metallica’s thrash, however, Satyricon’s black metal is made for and used to some classical ensemble augmentation. But key to the album’s success is still its roots; the metal always remains the focus, while the choir is added delicately, providing more drama here, or more punch there.
Satyricon famously shifted from their raw and blasty early days to a very black’n’roll style over the years. Much of Live at the Opera focuses on the latter, which may give fans pause as memories of an orchestral “Fuel” fill their heads. But Satyricon isn’t trying to change these songs, rather aiming for maximum pomp. Nowhere does it work better than during the mid-paced, grooving “chorus” from “Die By My Hand,” which conjures as much theatricality as it does a raging rock fist pump.
3. EPONYMOUS TEXTURE
Wisely, the album features several songs from the band’s self-titled 2013 album. Already dark, textured, and moody material, the addition of the choir increases said texture by great lengths, while adding extra emotional weight. Album highlight “Phoenix” is especially memorable, with vocalist Sivert Høyem repeating his performance from the studio version. His gothy croon is even more expressive here, as if he is bolstered by the pressure of all those voices behind him. Chilling, unforgettable stuff.
4. SHORTAGE OF THE EARLY DAYS
These things being said… Where’s the early stuff, boys? And no, this is not some caveman metalhead plea for rawness and evil (everything that is included works great), but a lament for a missed opportunity. Other than “Mother North,” nothing here comes from before Volcano, and certain Shadowthrone and Dark Medieval Times tracks are just begging for this treatment, not to mention more songs from Nemesis Divina. Add epic to epic, I say.
5. BOTTOM DROPOUT
The only other possible complaint would be one aspect of the production. For the most part, Live at the Opera adequately captures the live experience. The guitars are thick but have space, the vocals are up front without being overbearing, the opera is mixed beautifully, and the level of crowd noise is appropriate throughout. The bass, however, is almost nonexistent, which detracts a touch from the overall lushness.
6. THE EXTRA MILE
If there ever was a golden age for metal live albums, it ended long ago (and was mostly ruled by Iron Maiden). Today, it seems as if a regular live album just won’t cut it. Devin Townsend used a crazy story, actors, a choir, and Anneke Van Giersbergen to make Retinal Circus a true career highlight, and Satyricon brought in a full choir, connecting their more recent output with the atmospheric music of their youth. Perhaps, in this day when every concert is available via Sammy Smartphone’s shitty upload, it takes that extra mile to earn attention for a live offering, even for a band as iconic as Satyricon. Fully committing to making Live at the Opera was undoubtedly a risk for the band. At any point – arrangements, performance, or recording – the entire thing could have blown up in their faces, and it likely would have for a lesser band. Thankfully, Satyricon is more than capable, and the result is one cool, unique live album.