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Satyricon: “This Is A New Beginning”

Satyricon frontman Satyr talks to Simon Young about their upcoming album, Deep Calleth Upon Deep.

Norwegian black metallers Satyricon are set to release their ninth studio album, Deep Calleth Upon Deep, on September 22.

Their follow-up to their 2013 self-titled effort, in the band’s own words, has been described as a “new beginning” for the veteran Oslo outfit and features a drawing by the late Ådalsbruk artist Edvard Munch as the album’s macabre cover artwork.

We caught up with frontman and songwriter Satyr to find out more…

Satyricon Album

Above: Artwork for Satyricon’s new album, Deep Calleth Upon Deep.

Does the title-track represent the album as a whole? It’s got a riff Tony Iommi would be proud of writing…

Thank you. That’s very nice of you to say. When you pick a single, what you try to do, or what I at least try and do is find a song that will say a lot about what people can expect from the record. It’s difficult when you have a record which has great variety. For me, this song is melodic, dynamic, it has a great groove, I think it’s catchy. What I’ve felt it has something else; it has a spiritual feel to it. When we were making this song, Frost said that it’s like being on a journey to somewhere. I think people will also like the diversity of the album too.

Was that a natural path for these new songs?

When I was writing the album in the beginning, I felt the songs we were making were really good. I listened to the demos recently and I asked myself why did we abandon them; they were good songs. Then I started thinking back and I remembered why; it was because I felt that they were nothing more than good songs. They were lacking the spirituality and a sense of depth I was looking for. I remember when I told [drummer] Frost, he said, ‘Well, many bands would be happy if they had just half of these riffs in their own catalogue, but I hear you. I understand what you want to do.’ I wanted the songs to have a greater purpose. That motivated me throughout the making of this album. It’s a really dark record. It’s rare that albums feel like albums anymore. It’s become more of a collection of songs. We really made an effort to make an album, the totality approach. We always have, but even more so this time.

So, you’d say this is something you need to invest your time in, then?

I mixed it with Mike Fraser, a seasoned veteran who’s worked with AC/DC for the last 25 years. I mixed Now, Diabolical with him 11 years ago. During the mixing sessions, Mike said, ‘It’s like with everything else in life – it’s going to come full circle.’ People get tired of this track-by-track, playlist this and that, back and forth. They’ll come back to where it all started – records, full albums. As a kid myself, when I bought albums, let’s say they had 10 songs. I would like six of them, but I wouldn’t skip the other four songs. I’d think maybe that there was something that I didn’t understand so I’d listen to those songs even more. Sometimes, it wasn’t for me, but most of the time, I’d start to get into those songs as well. Sometimes, you need to invest a little more of yourself to truly understand. When I played records, I listened to them from start to finish. With Deep Calleth Upon Deep, it’s worth spending your time with it. It’ll give you so much in return, I feel.

Above: The lyric video for the album title-track.

This is the ninth Satyricon album with Frost. What’s the secret of your enduring musical partnership?

I think the most important thing in our relationship has been the mutual respect. That’s what makes it possible to do the things we do together. I think the fact that both of us look upon Satyricon as an institution which is far greater than us as individuals. Both of us are willing to step aside for the greater cause and that’s very helpful, to have this shared loyalty towards the band. I think my music taste is much more varied than his. He’ll be the first to admit it, that he’s rather narrow-minded when it comes… he listens to black metal and that’s pretty much all there is to it. The few things he listens to outside of black metal are extremely dark! My background and heart is in heavy metal, first and foremost the art of black metal. I enjoy many other things as well. Death does influence me as an artist. We’re both very passionate about black metal; that’s a good thing because I’ve played with so many people who like black metal, but it’s one of many things they like in metal. They don’t have this passion for black metal in particular. For example, some of the people who’ve played in our live band throughout the years are excellent musicians, they love Satyricon and black metal, but they don’t necessarily love black metal more than heavy metal or death metal or thrash metal. To make this music and to record it, you have to have a different approach. Frost and I have that passion and it works well for Satyricon.

If Frost is purely into black metal, doest that help anchor the band’s sound when you personally experiment with other genres during the songwriting process?

I’m not sure he’s anchored any more in black metal than I am, but what is interesting is that we both feel very strongly for this genre, which was very common in the early ’90s but not necessarily any more. But that’s an age thing. I don’t have to go further back than last night when I had a conversation with another metal musician who’s 10 years younger than me about the same kind of things. He enjoys black metal, too, but some of the other things he said he truly loves are metal bands from back in the ’90s. Back then, hardcore black metal fans, they didn’t listen to Pantera, to put it like that, but today, people do. Today, people can enjoy black metal and Pantera. Go back 20 years, that was unheard of. Unthinkable.

Satyricon Headshot

Above: Frost (left) and Satyr (right).

Will the album surprise even your biggest fans, then?

Yeah, I do (laughs). But I think that’s what they expect from us. It’s not like we try and reinvent ourselves or the genre, but what we try and do is to musically go somewhere we’ve not been before. That in itself, is an incredibly motivating and inspiring journey to be on. I like feeling like an artist, not an entertainer. I would be ashamed of myself if I sat down to write music thinking, ‘I wonder how this will go down with radio’ or ‘This is going to go down really well with the Americans’ or ‘The Germans are going to like this’. I never have thoughts like that and I never will have them. A lot of people think like that and best of luck to them, but it isn’t for me. When I sit down to make a record, I think, ‘What is it that I want to do? Where is it that I want to go? What’s going to make this exciting to work with?’ You have to make music that when you get up, you’re looking forward to rehearsals. That’s the most important thing. As you make music, your direction will unfold and slowly reveal itself to you. It will take time, not over the first five months. When the vision is in place, you have to stay true to it. Musicians are easily distracted and when you sit down to make a record, someone might say, ‘We could try that, but how about this and that?’ And I tell them, ‘No, forget about that’. We’ve just agreed that we’re going to try this and they want to try another three things. If what we’ve agreed to do doesn’t work, then we’ll try something else. We’re not doing four different things half-heartedly. When musicians do that, it’s not because they’re stupid and weak and don’t know how to do things, they just get excited and say, ‘I have an idea.’ But instead of thoroughly pursuing one idea, they’ll play around with a few without any real focus and effort on any of those ideas.

Is it hard to be the boss in those types of situations?

Both. As an example on this record, we had a whole chain of equipment that was analogue with tubes and one of the engineers was saying it might sound more crisp and energetic if it had less analogue gear in the chain. I was like, ‘Yes, you could be right about that,’ so we tried that and it didn’t work at all. They said, ‘But it should work in theory,’ and I said, ‘Listen, it’s over. Your idea was interesting, we tried and it didn’t work. Get over it and move on.’ Sometimes as the boss, you have to say, ‘Stop.’ Sometimes, people will get a little bit insulted, but then it’s my responsibility to think about what we’re trying to do and make a record, and that’s is more important than one person’s feelings, because tomorrow it’ll be forgotten about anyway.

Listen to the band’s recently-released track, To Your Brethren In The Dark.

How did you get permission to us an Edvard Munch drawing for the album artwork?

I used to work with a graphic designer in the ’90s, a Norwegian guy who was probably considered one of the best in northern Europe. He moved on to do other types of visual art. I thought that, given the spiritual dimension and the depth of the record, I felt he was right for it. I said to him I knew he didn’t do album covers any more, but would this be something for him. He got back to me and said it was an offer he couldn’t refuse and said he was onboard. He said I should really see what was in the archives at the Munchmuseet [Munch Museum] in Oslo. There are so many crazy things down there that many people wouldn’t have seen and he thought some of them would be good for the album artwork. He told me that he’d been working on two rather large projects at the museum and he said it should be possible. I looked at many things which were intriguing, then I saw this piece and it was love at first sight. I knew that this was my album cover. I didn’t want it to be a committee where people sit down and pick there favourite out of a selection. It was an unforced, organic process, which is what it has to be. When I saw it, I felt an emotional connection. It felt like it was something Munch did for us, like I’d played him the songs and he understood. That’s why it felt like a natural choice. It represents the album so well.

What did you see in the drawing?

I liked the duality. I made an intriguing observation with regards to that. Its Norwegian title is ‘Todeskuss’, which directly translated is ‘Kiss Of Death’. I was talking to family, friends and colleagues about it and how the emotion is very interesting. Some of the people who saw the illustration, felt as if someone was being grabbed by death itself and trying to get away. Munch made the illustration for a German magazine called Quickborn and gave it a German title for that purpose, but it wasn’t a direct translation. He called it ‘Totentanz’ which is ‘Dance Of Death’. It says a lot about Munch’s duality and perhaps had different ways of interpreting it himself. That makes it even more interesting.

What has the fan reaction been like to the artwork?

When we posted the album cover, we had a record amount of likes, shares and comments. The overwhelming majority was positive, but what was interesting was the people who didn’t like it, really hated it. The people who loved it were really upset with those who didn’t like it. Then you start thinking back and that was Munch’s life. I spoke to a woman on Sunday who’s sitting the foundation looking after his properties on behalf of the city of Oslo and she said that’s Munch for you, right there. No matter what he did, it always caused reactions. People in one way or another were always emotionally affected by his art. That’s probably the greatest thing you can achieve as an artist.

Deep Calleth Upon Deep will be released on September 22 through Napalm Records. Satyricon play London’s Heaven on September 29. 

Words: Simon Young

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