Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Satyricon - The Shadowthrone (1994)

In the spring of 1995, Satyricon entered the studio to begin work on their sophomore effort. Within a few months, this music, that had been composed between 1991 and 1993, was recorded and mixed. In September 1994, Satyr and Frost joined the ranks of Norwegian bands that continued to make rapid progression. The Shadowthrone is very much a continuation of what they began of Dark Medieval Times, yet it shows a band that has already matured by leaps and bounds. It retains the feeling of the previous album, while not being plagued by any fear of experimentation.

To be quite honest, my knowledge of this album is fairly inadequate. I've owned it for many years, but Satyricon has never been a band that I listened to very often. When such a notion does cross my mind, I'm more likely to reach for their debut album than this one. It's a shame, since I always find myself remembering how much I like certain songs (or, simply, particular riffs) when I do take the time to give it a listen.

"Kampen mot Gud og hvitekrist er igang!"

Satyr's voice is filled with a vicious hatred as these venomous words spew forth to open the "Hvite Krists Død". From these earliest moments, it's quite clear who this is. Satyricon's style was cemented on this release. Though bearing similarities to some of their Norwegian contemporaries, they forged a style of their own. Everything sounds a bit tighter and more crisp, with the passage of time. Even the vocals are more concentrated and lethal. The keyboards are ever-present, which is probably one of the key factors in keeping me from this album. Like so many others, I have a bit of prejudice when it comes to this, though Satyricon are one of the few bands that manage to pull it off well. I still say that a lot of their music would be just as effective (or moreso) without this. A few minutes in, there is a very somber section which features only some keyboard lines and a spoken word part. His accent is quite thick and, though he's speaking Norwegian, he might as well be conveying his message in Romanian. Perhaps, I'm alone in this impression. Musically, the song has an epic sense about it, consisting of various melodies and a wide range of tempos that all flow together, seamlessly. There's even a bit of piano, later in the song. The choir of clean vocals, near the end, fit the atmosphere as well.

The next song is one of my favorites from this band. "In the Mist By the Hills" features some of the best riffs of the band's discography. It begins with an open-arpeggio riff, soon joined by a tortured scream and faint use of keyboards to accentuate the mood. The typical Satyricon style of riffing soon rears its head, having what I would have to call an almost folk-like quality to the rhythm. The drumming is fairly relaxed, not unlike what one might find on a mid-paced Burzum track. A couple minutes into the song, the pace quickens and the listener is assaulted with deadly-accurate drumming and a freezing cold tremolo melody that is one of the finest of the era. However, it's all too short as the riff changes and the keyboards become slightly more dominant. As on the previous song, the music is very dynamic. They don't stick to the same thing for too long. Despite his fragile appearance, Frost certainly displays a lot of power and skill behind the kit. As the pace alternate back and forth, more cold tremolo riffs are unleashed, lulling you into a trance. The only real complaint is that the one melody, from earlier in the song, never returns. But they make up for this with the incredible and epic guitar riffs that annihilate you in the latter moments of this piece.

"Woods To Eternity" wastes no time in getting right down to business. The opening riff is ephemeral, as it is soon replaced by a more generic tremolo melody that reminds one of Emperor's debut L.P. As before, nothing remains the same for too long. There is another transition to a mid-paced riff, followed by a section featuring only the guitars and the hateful vocals. Once the drums return, they carry the maelstrom of northern fury right into your blackened heart, as a chilling tremolo riff carves you to pieces. Just when you think you can take no more, it all stops. All is relatively silent, as an acoustic melody takes over, with the electric guitars in the background. If you enjoy getting lost, deep in the forest in the middle of winter, this is certainly the music you'd want to take along with you. Despite the aggressive sound, it's actually quite peaceful.

This is followed by "Vikingland", which starts out with a pretty catchy riff, with vocals that alternate between clean and harsh. Don't let the title fool you into expecting anything similar to the 'Viking-era' Bathory material, for this is something far different, being more akin to Isengard or Storm. This song is solid enough, though nothing about it really stands out from the rest, aside from the really memorable riffs. A few minutes into the song, the music fades out and is replaced by the sound of cold winds and Satyr sounding menacing as ever. A mid-paced riff follows, accompanied by some chanting, to finish out the track.

At nine and a half minutes, "Dominions of Satyricon" is the longest song on here. It opens with some sort of pompous intro, sounding almost like a war march. Another folk-inspired guitar riff is joined by a mid-paced drum beat in the early moments. You get the sense that this is all building up to something spectacular. And then it hits. From :59 to 1:53, a mournful, icy cold tremolo riff is unleashed. Such pain as it tears right through your flesh, staining the snow on the ground with your crimson life-force. It's so cold that it almost burns, yet it hurts so good. It is the single greatest minute of music that this band ever composed. And this is why I hate Satyricon. They give you this great riff and then it's gone. They fail to build on this and never even think to return to it, throughout the remaining seven and a half minutes. This is completely unacceptable. It's an act almost criminal. The rest of the song features a variety of tempos and riffs, all coming together to create one of the most epic tracks of this band's existence. The atmosphere is so cold and dark that you can practically feel the winds biting at your flesh. There are still some similarities to Burzum, found here, and this is one song where this is evident. The keyboards are utilized, throughout, but not in a poor manner. Satyr sounds nearly possessed, later in the song. His screams are filled with a deadly passion, though still not as unrestrained as on Dark Medieval Times. This very well may be the best song on the album, though I've never gotten over the disappointment of that first time. I remember listening to this monumental song, unable to fully appreciate it because I was waiting for that one melody to return, even if for but a minute or so. Nearing the conclusion, there's a keyboard section that begins to take your mind to some other place, but it's all too brief. You only get a quick glimpse into this other reality; not long enough to even form a memory.

"The King of the Shadowthrone" is up next. In the early moments, they utilize some very nice melodies that are actually reminiscent of something from Lunar Strain, by In Flames. It is nicely blended with Satyricon's trademark sound, so that it isn't easily noticed by all. While maintaining a faster pace, throughout much of the song, this one is not unlike the rest. It is far from static. This song goes to show, just like the previous one, that they really had less use for keyboards than they thought, as they were fully capable of creating a majestic atmosphere through guitar riffs, alone. Also worth mentioning is that the vocals seem to draw less inspiration from Varg (As on Dark Medieval Times) and are more in the vein of Nocturno Culto. There's another acoustic section, near the end, which makes it apparent that they got better at working these parts into the songs, this time around. On the last album, these parts could, sometimes, cause the songs to sound a little disjointed. However, on The Shadowthrone, they've really come into their own in more ways than one.

"I En Svart Kiste" is synth piece, serving as a mystical outro. It bears some otherworldy feeling. It is dark, yet you are drawn forth by some unknown force. You cannot see, but you can somehow feel that you are meant to follow it. This meaningless existence is but a mere nightmare from which you are soon to wake up. This is the impression you get. It's like those dreams where you wake up and remember nothing more than a feeling that you belonged there more than here. This is what this song conveys. It doesn't matter that it may be luring you to your utter demise; you can feel some strange connection to the unknown; like memories embedded in your soul, from a previous life. The sound of the organ signifies your passing from this realm to that of darkness. Into the unknown you fall, willingly, as you know there must be something more than this feeble reality. As it all fades to black, you have no regret, for this miserable existence is nothing to mourn...