You can’t help but bring your own imprint to a record. Objectivity and impartiality are a lie: you come to a film, a book, a piece of music with the sum total of your experiences coloring your perception. Marketing preys on this observation, but even stripping that away (who reads press releases anymore) I can’t help but come at Deep calleth upon Deep, the ninth and latest album by Satyricon colored by my history devouring the band’s music, the knowledge of this being the first new music by frontman Satyr since being diagnosed with brain cancer, and the stark despairing image displayed on the cover. Put together, the album presents a vicious attack that resonates deeply as a highlight for both the band and 2017.
Having come right on the heels of the birth of the second wave with Dark Medieval Times in 1994, you don’t often hear Satyricon uttered in the same breath as luminaries such as Darkthrone or Emperor, but there’s always been something striking about the duo of Satyr and Frost and their musical trajectory. In some way they’re similar to Darkthrone, moving through different phases, the early raw and atmospheric black metal giving way to the industrial tinge of Rebel Extravaganza and Volcano before hitting a dark stride with the cold, hook-laden songs on Now, Diabolical and The Age of Nero.
If there’s a hiccup in their discography it’s the 2013 self titled album. There’s a hesitancy and overall feeling of reluctance to take the hooks to the midnight spaces of anger the previous two albums did, and gives the overall impression of being reigned in rather than more expansive and dynamic (it’s also about 20 minutes too long, IMO). That ability to fuse catchy rock hooks with real grim cold and still feel a sense of grandeur where Satyricon have always excelled, and that sense is perfectly captured on Deep calleth upon Deep.
“Midnight Serpent” lashes razor sharp out of the gate with a wicked riff, folding in on itself a breath before racing out again. The sound is massive: at this point there’s a chemical link between Satyr’s guitars and Frost’s impeccable drumming, and Frost can seamlessly blend black metal and rock beats together to accent different parts of the riff, going from four on the floor rock to blast beasts to doom in the course of one song. That it never feels disjointed is a testament to what he brings to the musical partnership – there’s a measuredness and barely restrained fury that reminds me of what Dave Lombardo brings to every project he touches.
If “Midnight Serpent” sets the tone for Deep calleth upon Deep, “Blood Cracks Open the Ground” solidifies it: this is an unburdening of anguish and rage punching through a crumbling wall of despair. The fury of the first two tracks make way for the metallic melancholy of “To Your Brethren in the Dark” before moving to the angular and off-setting title track, with its twisted blues riff slowly steamrolling to fist banging anthem. Satyr’s lyrics bring us back to wolves and forests as an ethereal voice sighs over the chorus, informing us that Deep does indeed calleth upon Deep. Though the title originally comes from the Book of Psalms in the Bible, its message of connection resonates strongly throughout the album. The remaining four tracks echo the first half of the album, moving from bursts of frenzy to more contemplative moments, exhibiting a sonic palette that succeeds where the previous self titled failed. In particular the final two tracks – “Black Wings and Withering Gloom” and “Burial Rite” – restate the intent of the record as much as the opening tracks do.
I don’t really know if Satyricon had anything to prove on this record – their longevity and consistently great discography are statement enough – but Deep calleth upon Deep feels like a proclamation. It feels like a band re-energized and hungry and desperate and willing to learn and expand. If that doesn’t come across as objective it’s not supposed to. I’m bringing my entire life to each album I listen to, and I suspect Satyr brought his to the making of this one.
What you bring to the table is entirely up to you.