» Satyr - Satyricon

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Interview conducted August 28 2017
Interview published September 20 2017

The Norwegian old-school black metallers Satyricon put out their ninth album Deep Calleth Upon Deep on September 22nd and as the band's main man Satyr took a trip to Stockholm, Sweden to promote the new making, Metal Covenant seized the opportunity to get a few words with him in private.

"The pace in which we perform is much closer to black metal in its original form than the majority of the bands out there. So when people say something like that, it says nothing about Satyricon. It demonstrates their lack of historical understanding of the black metal genre."

Tobbe: So, a new album, once again, and what has been your main goal with this album?

Satyr: So outside the usual things, that are about trying to take the music to, you know, a new level for the band, because that's always something that we strive for. We try to think "Okay. So we know who we are.". We don't have to strive looking for our identity. Not at this stage. So it's more about constantly being on the move. Now, on this record, what we did feel was that the spiritual dimension was more important than ever. Not that the spiritual dimension wasn't present before, but this time around it was even more important.

Secondly: Just as the spiritual dimension was always there; passion was always there too. But I really wanted strongly this record to communicate our passion in a more concrete manner than ever before. And these were some of the really important key factors that we pursued in the making of the album.

Tobbe: Satyricon isn't so frequent anymore with putting out records, so aren't you a little bit afraid that maybe the fans will kind of forget about the band when you're only releasing albums every 4th or 5th year in this age of constant change?

Satyr: No, no. I'm not afraid of that. I trust that the artistic significance of what we do is strong enough to make an impact when it's there. I understand that, you know, there'll be different opinions about that, but that doesn't really matter to me. What matters to me is whether we can achieve the things that we would like to achieve for ourselves and I feel that we have, you know, succeeded in doing that and I think that without a shadow of doubt Deep Calleth Upon Deep will be one of the most listened to/talked about records of 2017 and I think that's because of the undisputable musical quality of the record and because of the band's passion and the band's strong urge to be on the move musically and I think that's what people expect from us and those are the people that we address with our music and not the guys looking for more of the same.

Tobbe: When I listen to the record I kind of hear different genres on it, but personally would you say that Deep Calleth Upon Deep is a full-blown black metal album?

Satyr: Yes. I was sent a quote the other day. I didn't have the time to read the interview, but I guess it was a guy from the Dillinger Escape Plan who was quoted, saying like "If there are rules, it isn't metal.". And I define black metal like I define blues, so it's about a feeling and if that feeling is there then it's black metal. So, for me, if someone tries to define black metal through a bunch of generic conformist factors… So let's just do a little experiment. So, kind of black metal roots go back to the '80s, and how fast was the music? Not very fast. So how come people today say that because our music isn't very fast it's not black metal? It's absolutely ridiculous. The pace in which we perform is much closer to black metal in its original form than the majority of the bands out there.

So when people say something like that, it says nothing about Satyricon. It demonstrates their lack of historical understanding of the black metal genre. If you listen to some of the pioneers and if you see the kind of Motörhead on amphetamine rock 'n' roll feel of the black metal record Bathory [1984] by the Swedish band Bathory it's very different from the more majestic and epic sounding Blood Fire Death [1988], which is a monumental black metal album. It's very different from the self-titled record, for sure, but there are very few years between the two, you know. To me they are both black metal records, but they are expressed in different ways, but what they have in common is that they have that feeling. And I would feel that if I stopped defining our music as black metal and let people with lack of knowledge steal the definition of black metal it would be, you know, sort of waving the white flag for no reason.

I mean, I dedicated my life to this. What do they know? I mean, they don't have half the experience that I have in consuming, living this life, understanding and loving this type of music. But, like you said, there is a variety of expressions here and when you hear a song like The Ghost Of Rome you hear that my love for melodic hard rock from the '70s is clearly expressed in that song. And in a song like Dissonant you hear that my love for music, which isn't necessarily melodic, but very percussive, is almost the main drive and the main factor of the song is the rhythmical as opposed to the melodies. But when you hear a song like Midnight Serpent you hear my deep and profound love for music at its very darkest and haunting. And it's that type of complexity which I find to be the strength of our band, really.

Tobbe: So, lyrically. What kind of subjects do you deal with this time?

Satyr: You know, I always think to myself that in an ideal world you keep on moving not only musically, but lyrically, but what I've understood when it comes to lyrics is that it won't move as fast as music, because lyrics to a stronger degree reflect your thoughts and your thoughts don't change as fast as your sort of musical progress in a way. So, it's existentialism, it's life and death, it is my own personal experiences, it's the abstract things, it's nature and I think that with lyrics really the most important things to do as an artist is A: Don't define the lyrics in front of your audience, because they will definitely create their own little world based on the lyrics that they read and let's not take that away from them, you know. I know that as a music fan myself you don't want that.

And then, secondly: I find that one of the most important things is, as a vocalist, that I understand and feel the words that I sing. That when I perform them it's not just a sentence, but I feel it. Sometimes I do that through channeling those words into emotions when I sing, but other times it can be so intense, you know, in terms of vocal performance, and, let's say, from maybe a rhythmical point of view, that I can't really concentrate on the words; I have to concentrate on the timing and everything. And like a good tool for me then is for example to print many pictures that represent some of the thoughts, with regards to the lyrics, and put them all over the wall in front of the microphone so that I see many of the things that are in the lyrics when I sing, so I feel closer to them. I find that to be very important.

Tobbe: All the songs are sung in English, but did you have some ideas about singing a couple of songs in Norwegian this time?

Satyr: On a demo level, yes. But in the way that the songs evolved, it ended up being all English. But there's no committee; we just let that happen in a natural way. So there aren't discussions about these things; they just happen in an unforced way and I find that to be the

Tobbe: In 2017, if you wanted to, to what extent could you vary your voice on the records, like you've done in the past a couple of times?

Satyr: So what I partially unintentionally and partially intentionally have developed since our second demo is to use a sort of spoken voice performance as a part of varying my performances and to introduce sometimes kind of a narrative element and other times to break up the dynamics. Thankfully that has become something that our fans also to a large degree associate with my vocal performances and I think on the new record that would be something that is particularly expressed on Midnight Serpent, Burial Right and Black Wings And Withering Gloom and also actually a lot of back and forth like that on Dissonant.

Tobbe: About the front cover. Why did you pick a cover like that?

Satyr: Actually it's an illustration by the Norwegian artist Edvard Munch [1863-1944]. Munch is not only one of the most significant artists to come out of Norway or Scandinavia, but basically in the world. When one of the four versions of The Scream [1893] was sold at a Sotheby's auction in New York in 2012 I think, including commission, the price was $118,000,000. [$119,922,500 according to Sotheby's] It was a new world record for a painting sold. I think he did that five years before he did Kiss Of Death [1899], which is a far less known and more obscure, but nevertheless highly regarded, piece of Munch. And Kiss Of Death is an illustration and obviously not a painting.

When you look for something in an album cover, what you are looking for is something that can, on an emotional level, represent the music, the lyrics, the atmosphere on the record and the overall thought and, you know, Munch is first and foremost known for, and totally and rightfully so, anxiety, sickness and death. They said that towards the end of his life there was definitely a much brighter phase, but he had a family history of a lot of mental illness and some really tough things happened to him, like the death of his mother, as a child, and one of his sisters basically ended up in a mental asylum. So he had some rough things happening to him in life that very deeply affected his art and some of the darkest stuff he did was from between 1890 and 1900 perhaps and this is from 1898-1899, so it's during that time.

We chose that because we felt that in all its raw, naked, primitive darkness, it represented the will and the emotion of the record. Munch had this fantastic diversity about him. You know, he could do very colorful things like, let's say Scream, and it's quite elaborate, but, you know, five years later he does Kiss Of Death and it's so primitive and so brutal. But here's a thing: Munch always said that if the emotion and the will is present, then it's a finished piece of art. And the greatness of art can not be defined by how technical it is or how many details it consists of.

He was very controversial in his time, because he came from a time where people said that art should be about, you know, mountains, or forests, or women, or a vase, or a flower and it was also quite photographic, so people said "So, that's a forest." and then Munch would probably paint a part of it and then he would add things that don't exist and fellow artists were like "What the fuck are you doing?", you know, because they were trained to "What you see is what you paint." and here comes this guy that starts adding stuff that's not there and you'd think "What's the problem with that?". Well, this was a different time and you were not supposed to do that. But it's interesting to see that what he does stirs up emotions in people.

Tobbe: A little tricky question. This far into your career, what can a ninth record really do for Satyricon?

Satyr: Well, to me it's the satisfaction that it gives on a personal level. I said to the guys, and that's what I honestly feel, actually for this whole decade which we are now soon at the end of since we are in late 2017 so we got a couple of more years to go in this decade, that the chances of Satyricon getting much bigger are basically almost nothing and the chances of this band becoming a lot smaller are almost nothing. I think that Satyricon can do records that are, you know, more successful commercially than people expect and some of them less successful, but it's not gonna be gigantic variations.

But that's sort of the commercial aspect of, like, how you come across, you know, with gold records and charts and this and that, and, you know, if the people that's spending money on making these albums feel that they get their money back in what they invest and all that. But from an artistic point of view: What can we achieve? Well, whether it's the first, the ninth or the nineteenth, what it really comes down to is its relevance. Our record is coming out on the 22nd of September and I can guarantee you that in the month of September there will be many first, second and third records released that are insignificant and the world's gonna say "Whatever." and they're gonna shrug their shoulders.

And then there's gonna be records coming out from people who have done music for decades that the world is gonna turn to and feel inspired by and motivated by. So, you know, to go back to Munch, it isn't really about, you know, what you do, but it's how you do it.

Tobbe: You know, some people say that rock is dead, foolish or not, but would a statement like that also include black metal?

Satyr: My most important goal is to enjoy the musical ride that we are on and to work with our music in a way that keeps me happy, satisfied, emotionally fulfilled and that can inspire and motivate, well, people's lives, but also other bands so that they can, hopefully, feel the urge to push harder and do great things that we all can enjoy. But I also hope that our contributions are helpful for, you know, the state of extreme metal music.

You know, I don't care about it and I think that things like "Rock is dead." and all of that stuff is just slogan talk. But if you look at Celtic Frost: So when I met those guys for the first time in 2004, 2005, something like that, then what I said to them was "I wasn't necessarily inspired by your lyrics or your riffs, but what I was inspired by was your bravery. You did one thing and then you did something else, which was clearly you, but it was so different from the last thing and that shows courage and bravery.".

So that was inspiring to me and what I think is important for, you know, you, as someone who writes about music, and those who are listeners that don't write or don't play, is that you acknowledge and understand that the influence that Satyricon or any other band can have doesn't have to come down to, like, if you hear a band that sounds nothing like Satyricon, that you like, and they have no riffs that sound like our riffs, they can still be very inspired by us, because maybe they considered doing things that they were afraid of doing and they saw us do it and then like "Fuck yeah! Come on! Let's do that!".

And that's a good thing and that's the kind of stuff that you think about. I know that Daron Malakian, the songwriter of System Of A Down, which is a huge band, selling millions of records, has so many sources of inspiration and one of the most important is Norwegian black metal. He's been loving this music for 15 years, you know, if not more. Actually, in his case, there are a couple of riffs where you hear that it's really inspired by Norwegian black metal, but for the most part I think he's looking at structural moves in the arrangements, general thoughts, musical attitudes and those things and it helps him in his own music. So being relevant and inspirational to other people in art is also a driving force, for me at least, and it helps keep rock and all its subgenres alive.

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