It's hard to overstate the influence of the long-running Norwegian band Satyricon on the world's extreme heavy metal scene. Its tenacity alone is amazing -- the core of the band, frontman/songwriter Satyr and drummer Frost, has been playing together continuously since 1992. On albums and tours, an all-star cast of supporting musicians has come and gone, but it's in the back-and-forth between these two that lives the band's arresting musical alchemy.
Entire subgenres have sprung from single Satyricon albums -- its 1993 debut album, Dark Medieval Times, for instance, is credited with birthing so-called "medieval metal." But, driven by a truly Scandinavian work ethic, the band's sound has evolved with each new release, its sound becoming more and more technically and thematically intricate.
Still, the arcane world of Norwegian black metal from which the band springs is often seen in the United States as cartoonish and grotesque. But Satyricon may be among the best candidates to change that blanket perception. Eschewing the obvious, cheesy Satanic stuff, the band instead focuses on reality, on the dark pockets of the human spirit, translating it into haunting, moody passages whose sublime power is breath-taking. And somehow, Satyr and Frost harness these moods into real, structured songs, traversing a range of emotion in a way that can be, dare we say, almost catchy.
The band is hoping to truly grab America on its current tour. Diehard fans, of course, are ecstatic -- the last time Satyricon toured the states was in 2004, and even then, visa problems prevented Frost from coming (among others, Joey Jordison from Slipknot filled in on drums).
The occasion is, of course, an album -- the band's seventh proper full-length, The Age of Nero, was released in the United States this past November. With just eight tracks, it's succinct but sweeping, the apotheosis of Satyricon's efforts to date. Recorded at Sound City Studios in Van Nuys, California -- the same place where Metallica recorded Death Magnetic -- the record was produced by Satyr, but mixed by the famed engineer Joe Barresi, who's worked with bands like Isis, the Melvins, and Kyuss.
"From what I understand, he's quite into the more extreme types of metal music," says drummer Frost, "and had no problems understanding our ideas. He was not alienated by the extremity of our expression."
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Neither, Frost says, have been the hordes of fans storming the band's shows on the tour so far -- perhaps America finally gets it. New Times spoke with Frost by phone recently to discuss the grueling creative and recording process for The Age of Nero, and the success of Satyricon's U.S. tour so far.
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New Times: The last time Satyricon toured the United States was in 2004, but you weren't even able to come because of visa issues. Was the five-year wait since then because of these continuing issues?
Frost: That's true. We feel very happy and very relieved that I can come along now. This feels like the place for Satyricon to come to work, basically. And to be denied the opportunity to go here with the band before has been really depressing, and felt very wrong. But finally the paperwork is all okay, and I can come here. It feels like a victory, finally.
I've been looking forward to that for many, many years, and also being on the tour feels really good, because the response that we get every day is so good. We are really, really getting well received by our audience. Every night these people that have been waiting for years and years, and these people that have been traveling for a very long distance to see Satyricon, are having the night of their lives.
But you know, the band, they tour without me. There was one tour done with Trym, the drummer of Emperor, and one with Joey Jordison from Slipknot. It wasn't really my situation there that held them back. They did go here. But we have been spending our time in the meantime creating new music, and we have been touring Europe.
And to make an album like The Age of Nero is a very time-consuming process, really. It is also a fact that to do a record deal for Europe doesn't automatically include a record deal for America. Sometimes that means that you can release an album at a certain point in Europe, and then after that release, you will start to negotiate a separate deal for America. And this obviously means that the album will be released at a later point.
So sometimes that also means that it's hard to coordinate the touring plans the way that you really want to. You have to take into consideration practical circumstances. We also feel that we have gotten on a level where things will work out much smoother, and that we can coordinate the happening to a much larger extent.
What was extra time-consuming about the recording process for this album in particular?
In Satyricon, we have put it on ourselves that we always had to take significant steps forward with each album that we make. And after many years in the business, with several records out, we really had to take it far to push ourselves really hard to go further.
This involves the creative work, but definitely also the way that we perform technically, and the recording process, the mixing and mastering and all that. We feel that if it takes time to have a full album, with only killer songs on it, it will just have to take time.
Sometimes you have a lot of inspiration flowing, and you can create four absolutely top-notch songs that you are deeply satisfied with over a time span of a couple weeks. Other times, it will take half a year just to complete two songs that you are fully satisfied with.
We cannot really take it upon us to have a deal where we have to record an album every year, for instance. That might mean that some of the songs on the album will be just filler material. And that's completely not how we work. We put our souls into it, and we have devoted our lives to this band,and as a live project, we have to feel 100% satisfied with each album. That means lots of work, but also that we have to feel that we have everything working for us. We have to have the inspiration there, and whenever a song doesn't feel completed, we have to work on it until we feel that this is the best that it can possibly be, that it's a perfect fulfillment of an idea we had for a specific song.
We worked for like two to three years on the creative process on The Age of Nero, and at that point we felt that this is absolutely the best Satyricon album that we've ever had. And then of course the recording process was also as demanding as the creative process. We were extremely focused on every single detail, and we were extremely focused on sound and how to create that kind of very vital, organic, authentic sound that this album needed.
We never leave anything to chance. We always supervise every single detail. These things take time, but the end result will be so much better. The whole recording process for this album took several months. And finally, we ended up with what we feel is the ultimate Satyricon album, The Age of Nero.
It's kind of funny that you recorded this album at the same place where Metallica recorded Death Magnetic, Sound City Studios in Van Nuys, California. Why did you decide to record it in the United States, and at this studio in particular?
We wanted to head for United States at a pretty early point in the process of making the album, because there is a good culture there of having good recording studios. The old custom of having a fantastic drum room, and so on isn't found in too many places any more. So many people are turning to digital equipment and different kinds of recording. But the traditional rock and roll style of recording is how we feel we can really bring in the human energy and that vital feeling to an album.
You find the best traditional analog recording studios in Los Angeles, so that's the reason we thought about it in the first place. You find good recording studios in Europe, but they're better in Los Angeles, and the price you pay is better. It's not within our reach to go to a studio as good as Sound City anywhere in Europe. But here, some of those studios are within our range even if they are expensive.
Second, we wanted to have a really good engineer on the album. We have known Joe Barresi for many years, and he knows what the band stands for. He's the one who can take your ideas and turn on the right noise to make them reality. Joe, he works here in Los Angeles, it's his home ground, and he told us that Sound City would be the right place for us to go. He knows that the drum room is fantastic, that they have excellent microphones, that they have one of the better mixing consoles that there is, and I know this turned out to be right also. We trusted him on that one.
We felt that if the technician means so much in this process, then why not pick a place where we can feel that he can really be on top of his game. So we did that. We are now certain that this was the right choice, because the drum room was really fantastic, and the mixing console was too. Joe really felt at home in the studio while working there. We felt that we had everything we needed at our disposal.
How did you hook up with Joe Barresi, since what he's mostly known for is working with bands like Kyuss or the Melvins, sort of a more stoner-rock sound than an extreme sound like Satyricon's?
Satyr has known Joe for many years. He met him here in Los Angeles when the band was here about eight years ago. They had mutual friends. Satyr is a guy with a very huge network of people in the music industry --- musicians, producers, and others. And hence they came to talk, and it turns out that they had many mutual interests and viewpoints. So they found a very friendly tone, and then he was very high on the list when we were searching for engineers to work with on this album.
Knowing that we needed a skilled engineer more than a producer, he felt like simply the right guy. He's one of the best craftsmen there are. He also works as a producer, and has a pretty good reputation as that. But he's much more renowned for his technical skills.
Because he's also known as a producer, how much did he influence your album's final sound?
We produce our albums ourselves, more or less, but we simply need that technical know-how in order to get the sound we wanted. Hence, Joe didn't really influence the sound that much. It was more that he fulfilled the idea that we already had.
It was more that in that process, we explained to him how we wanted it, how we pictured what the album needed to be. And hekind of understood as well that we needed this and that microphone, and we needed to take care of this and that. The whole time he made sure that he could control all those factors. For instance, if you have the drum kits, he made sure that we could isolate basically every single element of the drum kit, and control that in the recording process, and make everything as present as we wanted. Understanding things like that is really Joe's field.
Sometimes he would come up with solutions, but he was never absolute. He was presenting different angles, perhaps, and sometimes his approach would work out for the better. But his role was really to be the technically skilled craftsman. At that point, he was really good.
And he understands our music. From what I understand, he's quite into the more extreme types of metal music, and had no problems understanding our ideas and he was not alienated by the extremity of our expression. He was right there with us immediately. We felt very comfortable, having him there with us. He basically agreed to everything we wanted to do.
You mentioned earlier that the creative process on the album took the last three years, but your last album, Now, Diabolical, came out in the United States in 2006. Had you been working on these two sets of material simultaneously at any point, or was there just a delay in releasing Now, Diabolical?
Yeah. I guess that now, the local release in America happened a long time after it happened in Europe, due to this deal situation that I talked about earlier. Sometimes we will not have a deal for America in place by the time that an album is being released in Europe. So it was with Now, Diabolical also. By the time it was actually released here in the U.S., we had come a long way starting the work on The Age of Nero.
Basically as soon as the work was done in Europe for Now, Diabolical, we set off to work on the next album. We had a one-year period where we worked intensely, and we had entire nights that we spent in the rehearsal place. Satyr and I would be having a couple bottles of good wine, and we would be jamming, and just letting the inspiration flow, and trying to let magic happen. Which it did, on many, many occasions.
We recorded what we did, and later we listened to it and wherever we felt we had gold material, we started to isolate those pieces and bring that further, to let it be the idea for a new song, for instance. There was a lot of back and forth.
Satyr would on some occasions take the material that we had recorded, and he would go to a cabin out in the mountains, and he would just spend several days writing material guided by what we already had, trying to build upon that and fulfill the songs. And then he would take whatever he could come up with to the rehearsal place, and he would show his new ideas to me, and we would take it from there, and jam on that again.
That was a really intense process, but also a very rewarding one. We feel that the band grew up in that process, and we had many moments where we had never had so much fun while also being so hard-working at the same time. And that's when it really feels good to be in a band, when you feel that you definitely have moments where you grow a lot as musicians, but that you're having a lot of fun and feeling a lot of excitement and enthusiasm.
That's really important, having been around for so many years, to still feel like it's rewarding, that you can develop, and take the band to new places spiritually.
Did you then personally feel more involved in the songwriting process this time around?
Taking part in the creative process, just being there, and creating the rhythmical structures is huge work in itself. And when we have the most ingenious songwriter in this whole genre of music, why should I try to go in there and mess up his ideas?
It's a bit like having a Mozart or Beethoven in the band. And if you are an assistant to Beethoven, for example, you don't go in and try to put in pieces of work in his compositions. Those compositions are a whole, they are total pieces of work from the composer's hand from beginning to end. There's a certain sense to it, a certain flow, a certain energy in every part.
I think at that level, one person will necessarily have to be in control of that entire process of building up and releasing energies and all that. So that's basically what Satyr does. Nowadays, he creates very whole pieces of music, where every single bit has a functional element to it. And therefore I see it as my task to help him out in that process, and to perhaps bring in something that inspires him, and something that enthuses him.
When we jam in the rehearsal space, for instance, I try to go along with whatever he does, and catch the kind of spirit that the material has, the vibe that it has, and interpret that through the way that I drum. And when I do that, I also add to the present in the rehearsal place. And that will probably help Satyr in getting the inspiration that he needs, in order to build upon the material that he already has, and get this sense of flow that we're on the same frequency, which is always really good for inspiration.
So I see that there are basically two core elements to my participation. One of them is like, being there during the creative process, and sharing and tearing out the vibe that's materialized. Two, is to create rhythmical structures and to perform them and thereby add my own particular expression. And that is a huge task, I can tell you.
To wrap up, considering you're undertaking such a large-scale tour of the states now, what do you think is your biggest challenge still in trying to bring your music to this country?
I guess that here in America, people come from a different place than we do musically. We have very strong roots in Satyricon that I'm talking about -- our musical history, where we come from, and what has inspired us. And I think here, most people lack that kind of references that we have, and they have a different foundation for understanding our music.
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So we feel that perhaps we don't really share a common ground musically, but then we also think that, fuck that, it doesn't really matter that much. The whole point is to present something that is so unique, so powerful, so convincing, that no matter where people come from musically and no matter how they understand it, it will just hit them full force and make them, you know, turn around just because of the sheer, raw energy, and because of the convincing quality of the expression.
So this is something that perhaps bothered us a little more before,that so many people failed to see our music in the right perspective. But we have gone away from that, so even if people perceive the music in ways that we ourselves don't, it doesn't really matter as long as they are able to appreciate it.
And that's what we see now every night that we play. There are people who have been following this band since our early days, as well as youngsters who perhaps who have never even heard about the band before, and they are right here with us. And they are so fired up with that energy and the exposure of raw musicality that they see onstage. They are jut like, Wow, this is the shit! And we can see the glow and the fire in their eyes, and these are probably people who will b e there when we come back. We are getting new fans every evening, and it's very rewarding for us to see that.
We don't care how they perceive or describe or define or categorize Satyricon, as long as we see that they are fired up by the energy. And if they catch the vibe in the music, they can call it whatever they like. We share something with them, there and then. We are here to share magical moments with our audience so that both the band and the guys out there can have these electrical moments, where you feel that everything is just a strong flow of energy and enthusiasm and fire. That's excellent.