With winter approaching, I’d venture to say that some of us are dusting off our spiked gauntlets and bullet belts to don into the grim forests of… America? Whatever. For me, winter time usually means that I start digging back into classic black metal for a few frosty months. One of the (somewhat overlooked) gems of the second wave of black metal is Satyricon‘s sophomore album The Shadowthrone. Satyricon didn’t quite gel with the “blood, Satan, death” ideas of the rest of their contemporaries, but The Shadowthrone is an essential Satyricon album and an essential black metal album, period. For that reason, it has earned a place among our Retrospective series.
As a stern, overly serious teenager who found black metal a beautiful escape from the mundanity of life in rural southern Ohio, something about Satyricon’s primitivity, as well as their relative accessibility (as accessible as black metal can be, that is) resonated deeply with me. The Shadowthrone remains my favorite album by them; it’s a more developed and more mature take on their heavily rhythmic and not-as-grim take on the Norwegian sound, and for as young as the band was, it was an album that basically said to me, “Hey, you can be young and still make great art. Go for it, sport.” It’s also an album that regularly finds its way back onto my headphones every winter, and not just for nostalgia’s sake. While obviously not as refined as their post-2000 output or even the heralded Nemesis Divina, The Shadowthrone bristles with a thick atmosphere, memorable riffs, and a youthful energy that the band don’t quite have anymore.
One of the biggest changes from their debut album is the production values: Dark Medieval Times had a raw, unhinged quality, with the guitars particularly toeing a line between being gritty and just a wash of white noise. The Shadowthrone, while still a bit brittle in low end, is remarkably clear and tight, and it stands in contrast to the “necro” sound that most 2nd wave BM is known for. Tighter reins are in the songwriting as well, and the disconnect between the keyboards and the guitars has been bridged, namely on the long-running “Dominions of Satyricon.” Other elements remain unchanged, such as the riffs that are indebted to Norwegian folk melodies, acoustic interludes, Frost’s savage drumming (remarkably bare-bones at some point, such as on the opener “Hvite Krists Død”), and Satyr’s ever-present, throat-shredding rasp. Samoth of Emperor serves as a session member for the rhythm section, and his presence is most definitely known through the gnarled yet triumphant riffs that mirror the majesty and vastness heard on the early works of Emperor. “In the Mist by the Hills” could very well be a precursor to Satyricon’s later works, as it relies upon a driving 4/4 stomp to carry it through. Keyboards are used heavily here to add an aura of majesty, and from the eerie minor key arpeggios on “Hvite Krists Død” to the regal pomposity of “Dominions of Satyricon.”
Lest we forget that, hey man, this is BLACK METAL, there are some ripping moments to be found in the flurrying blastbeats and skin-shredding tremolo riffs in the latter half of “In the Mist by the Hills,” “Woods to Eternity,” and melodic, anthemic “King of the Shadowthrone,” my all-time favorite track by the band. The band are obviously not perfect here — “Vikingland” is a little hokey and not quite executed as grandly as the band would have hoped — but from top to bottom, The Shadowthrone is a hugely important album and solidly written black metal that still stands up all these years later. There’s a fine balance of atmosphere and savagery, and The Shadowthrone has, for better or worse, become the prototype for Satyricon’s heavily rhythmic sound that they are now known for.
Brb, gotta touch up my corpse paint before heading out into the cold.
Addendum: If you haven’t caught the news yet, Satyr has recently been diagnosed with a brain tumor. According to initial reports, it is most likely benign, but either way, it’s still an awful thing to have to deal with. Our hearts and thoughts at Nine Circles go out to Satyr, his family, and the rest of the band during this very uncertain time.