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SATYRICON


Satyricon - Battle Cry

Interview by Dr. Abner Mality



Let's start by defining a few terms....

  1. SATYR: Function: noun Etymology: Middle English, from Latin satyrus, from Greek satyros
    1. often capitalized : a sylvan deity in Greek mythology having certain characteristics of a horse or goat and fond of Dionysian revelry
    2. a) a lecherous man
      b) one having satyriasis

  2. VOLCANO: Function: noun Inflected Form(s): plural -noes or -nos Etymology: Italian or Spanish; Italian vulcano, from Spanish volcán, ultimately from Latin Volcanus Vulcan
    1. a vent in the crust of the earth or another planet from which usually molten or hot rock and steam issue; also : a hill or mountain composed wholly or in part of the ejected material
    2. something of explosively violent potential

  3. BLACK METAL: ...ah, now here's where we dive into murky waters. For this style of music is not as easy to get a grasp
    on as the former terms we discussed. And that's the way that Satyr, mastermind of Satyricon, likes it. He's been poking and prodding the standard idea of "black metal" for many years now, working hard to keep any rigid definition from applying to it.

For proof, check out Satyricon's "Volcano" record. This is a challenge to the black metal scene...and a fist in the face of those who would seek to keep it contained. It holds true to many of the tenets of the Norwegian movement and yet it twists and subverts them. The result is something truly dark, experimental and "volcanic".

Thanks to the EatUrMusic label run by Daron Malakian of System of a Down, "Volcano", originally released in Europe back in 2002, is now getting a proper US release. Not only that, but Satyricon is touring America once again. Thus, it was a perfect time for me to speak to Satyr about his vision not only for Satyricon, but the entire black metal movement...

[NOTE: As we went to press, we learned that Satyricon's American tour was abruptly cancelled when touring Satyricon members Steiner Gunderson and A. O. Grenbech were arrested on suspicion of rape in Toronto. A young woman asked onto Satyricon's tour bus claimed she was drugged and raped by the men. At press time, the situation was unresolved and Gunderson and Grenbech were facing possible prison time. It is certainly to be hoped that they are exonerated, but in any case, it's another horror story for Satyricon in America.]


WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: I know you're getting ready to tour the States, but there's been an awful lot of frustration putting the tour together, especially since your drummer, Frost, was barred from playing here. Have you ever thought that maybe playing here was too much trouble?

SATYR: Initially, Frost got a work permit to come over here, but not a visa. His visa got turned down. We had a couple of attorneys look at the situation. When the second attorney said that there would only be a 5 to 10 % chance of Frost getting through if we resubmitted the application, we thought it would be a waste of money. We'd have to wait for time to help us out. I just decided to give up because I was tired of spending all this time and money on it. Then I started thinking about how Joey (Jordison, Slipknot drummer...Mality) offered to help out if Frost's immigration case wasn't solved. That inspired me to have another go at it. It's been really difficult to make this happen because of Joey's schedule but we made it work and we're going to do the tour, which is 18 dates in 21 days so...whew!!!

WC: You've worked with Frost for such a long time. How difficult is it for you to get into sync with a new drummer like Joey? What are some of Joey's differences from Frost?

S: Strangely enough, I think you're actually the first person to ask that and it's a good, important question. Their similarity, which you don't find that often in extreme metal music, is that they both hit hard. You get a lot of guys in extreme metal who play very fast but don't hit that hard. These guys both do that. It's a good thing because Satyricon's signature is power and authority in the music and the drums are a big part of that. He's a very powerful drummer. Joey fits Satyricon very well that way.

As far as differences go, I think Frost has a little more stamina and more natural flow playing extreme metal than Joey has. It doesn't come to Joey in the same way it does to Frost. He's more used to straightforward groove rock oriented stuff. Joey can do those songs in a second and make them sound even more natural than Frost can. Maybe Frost's weakness is that he can play metal but not so much any other style while Joey is probably a more versatile drummer but doesn't have extreme competence at certain fields. For example, Frost can play very fast with the same kind of strength forever and ever...his stamina is tremendous.

WC: How important is coming over and touring the American market? In Europe, you play at Wacken in front of 40,000 people. In America, that's gonna be pretty hard to duplicate.


S: (chuckles) The first time we were in America was four years ago and we've only been there two times. First time we were over there, we were only over for two weeks, so we didn't get to go to Texas or California or a lot of other places. My impression then was that there was some sort of following for us, but there wasn't a movement like there was in Europe. When we returned and opened up for Morbid Angel this year in April and May, that just proved to me how little loyalty there is when it comes to fans in this kind of extreme music. You don't see the same faces and the same people coming to the shows. We were there four years ago and did pretty well and when we came back in early 2004, everybody had forgotten about us. When we come back now, I'm sure we'll have a lot of the same people coming who saw us open for Morbid Angel as well as a whole bunch of new people. It seems to me that to tour in America, you need to be there all the time in order to have any chance at all to establish your band. In our case, it's even more important, because I think we have the possibility of shaping a whole new scene in America. I think America is on its way to having its first real black metal scene, but if its gonna last, the fans will have to eat, drink, sleep black metal like they do in Europe. European black metal bands are going to have to come over and tour constantly and express opinions and ideology and philosophy on black metal and its lifestyle.

WC: Black metal in Europe seems strongly related to the culture, mythology and history over there. We don't really have that background here. Do you think black metal can recreate itself in America despite that lack?

S: It's very much up to the American kids, I guess. What's interesting is what I saw on the Morbid Angel tour. is that the people who were most passionate about it, who related it best to mythological subjects, were the Navajo Indians we met.

WC: Really? That's the first time I've heard that. Is there kind of a connection between pagan mythologies?

S: That was my impression, yeah.

WC: I know Daron from System of A Down has been a great help to you. His new label EatURmusic has put out "Volcano" in the States. How did this relationship come about?

S: "Volcano" came out a couple of years ago in Europe. We were looking for something new in America. The two records previous to "Volcano" came out through Century Media and Nuclear Blast. I wanted something different and I was willing to take extra time to find it. I met Daron through a mutual friend, Casey Chaos of Amen, and Daron started talking to me, telling me how much he liked my record. He also started telling me about his new label and he said it was a pity that the folks at Columbia, who basically own EatURmusic, wouldn't understand it and see the potential in what we were doing. He would have liked to put the album out himself. Well, I said, I'm not so sure that that's the way it works. When we started out in Europe, things were very, very small as far as record sales and show attendance went. It was just for a selected few. I explained to him how "Volcano" came out through EMI in Europe and how it picked up a Norwegian Grammy for best metal album and how it entered the charts at second place in its first week over there. I tried to make him understand that black metal isn't strictly an underground phenomenon, that a lot of people have picked up on it through the years.

That triggered more interest in him and he spoke to some people at Columbia, who were actually interested. It was a good move for my band and a good start for his label as well.

WC: Because "Volcano" was done so long ago, how would you say you've progressed since then?

S: I don't know yet. I've written a lot of material in this last year. "Volcano" came out in late 2002 and we went on tour and stayed on tour until the summer of 2003. There wasn't much live activity in the fall so I took that opportunity to write music between tours. I never have the time to sit down and concentrate on writing new material the way I really want to, though. I've got a few lyrics and some riffs here and there but the material isn't taking shape yet. That's a process I will dive into as soon as I'm done touring America with the "Volcano" record. Hopefully, we'll go into the studio summer next year so we can have a new album out next fall. I think every Satyricon record surprises the fans and does something they don't expect, but at the same time, they can instantly tell it's us. Progression from a solid foundation...that has been the motto of the band all the way.

WC: On one hand, "Volcano" has the traditional Norwegian black metal sound but on the other hand, there's a lot of
electronic and industrial elements. The record has a cold, mechanical feel to it. What's your theory of merging industrial and electronic sounds with a black metal foundation?


S: I feel that, first and foremost, "Volcano" is a very dark record, with a dark vibe from beginning to end, but it's also a record with great variety to it. We have always tried to push the boundaries of black metal and also push tbe boundaries of what people's perception of black metal is. I'm in this for the art of creating and I have to find new things in order to challenge myself and have fun while doing it. There will always be a certain place where we come from based on what our roots are, but I think maybe the previous Satyricon record ("Rebel Extravaganza") had more of an industrial edge combined with the Norwegian black metal sound. I agree that "Volcano" is cold but at the same time, it's extremely organic because of the recording process and the guitar sound. One interesting thing I try to explain to people is that black metal is not only songwriting but its a feel. It doesn't matter so much what outside element you put into a song as long as there is a black metal feeling. A band can put on a whole lot of corpse paint and have a lot of Satanic song titles but it doesn't matter if the songs don't have that black metal feel. It really isn't black metal if the feeling isn't there.

WC: When I listen to the songs on the album, they all seem to start in one particular mode but they all wind up in a different place by the end of the song. Would you say you're performing music that deconstructs itself?

S: No, not necessarily. I think, for example, the song "Possessed" might be a bit different than that. It starts with that kind of traditional feel that's very fast, straightfoward and rhythmical but ends up with a slow, dark, eerie sounding theme. I don't know if it deconstructs but it's definitely a song that starts in one place and ends in another, both musically and atmospherically. The opener of the record, "With Ravenous Hunger", to me is a song that is very whole in the way it starts off and sets the vibe. There's a middle section that's a slight change of temperature but then it returns to where it started. There are different ways of writing songs and one doesn't have to use the same formula throughout the record. To me as a musician, one of the interesting things about writing music is having a straightforward rock-based song like "Fuel for Hatred" on the record and then have a progressive, epic song like "Black Lava", which is about 12 minutes longer than "Fuel for Hatred". To put both those songs on the same album and have it sound natural is a big challenge! If you make that work well, you've made a much more interesting record in my view.

WC: Well, the most challenging track on the record has to be "Black Lava". I call it "frozen sludge". It's really long and repetitive. Isn't it a challenge to the listener..."latch on to this, if you can"?

S: I wanted it to be a mesmerizing song that you sink into and meditate. For me, doing it in any other way would be the wrong way. Let's say, for example, that if you do meditate, you have what they call a mantra. You're supposed to repeat the same word over and over again and it should not be a word that has meaning. You might associate something with that word that has meaning. The whole idea is to sink into a meditative state of mind...you give your brain peace of mind and no distractions.

WC: You become the song...

S: Yeah, exactly! I think the whole idea with "Black Lava" is that it starts off quite explosively but then it keeps on repeating. To me, it's never boring...this is the kind of song where you put out the lights, turn up the volume, close your eyes and listen. It's not a song you play when you have five friends over and drink beer. (chuckles). It's a song you play when you're alone with the lights off and you just want to focus on the music. Some people just want stuff like Motorhead or Slayer that just rocks or kicks ass. Well, there's other people who find that primitive and who say, I don't like that, I want my music to be spiritual and with depth and substance. See, I like both kinds of music and I try to do both.

WC: You were around at the very beginning of the Norwegian scene and you've moved your music forward through the years. But do you still keep the same black metal ethics and ideas that you did at the start? Or have they changed?

S: I think that some of the stuff we've already talked about has to do with your question. We've talked about black metal "feel". I don't think all that many bands have this any more. A lot of kids in places like East Germany are idiots and they really don't really understand what this is about. For example, they think that back in the day, there was only one way of performing black metal. It should be commercially unsuccessful or whatever. That was never what it was about. The idea was that you wanted black metal to be pure. It wasn't going to involve politics or social awareness or care for the environment. Black metal should be about the dark side and black metal music had to have an ongoing dark vibe. Unfortunately, that doesn't apply to all bands. I think we would have been better off if people performed many different styles of music but had that dark feel. I completely disagree with how some bands have a lot of traditional 80's heavy metal influence in what they do, because that kind of music doesn't have a dark vibe at all and that makes those bands less special. Some of the bands are not as responsible as they used to be and they don't care about spearheading black metal's future. They only care about what they are doing at the moment.

WC: Any particular names you associate with this?


S: Yes, there are, but I don't think I'll name them. Other than that, I think a lot of the veterans in the scene don't feel the same need to voice their battle cry to the world. They feel and mean the same things that they have, but they just go through the motions. I guess when you're younger, you feel more of a need to voice your opinion. Some of the people I know, they may not have long black hair anymore and they might be the father of two kids and they might have a Volvo and a dog, but in many ways, it's the same guy. They still stand strong on an anti-Christian foundation and they have the same values they always had, but they don't have the need to show those values as graphically to the outside world. You see that more today.

WC: Getting back to your American tour, what can we expect to see?

S: There's going to be a difference between watching Satyricon in Europe and watching us in America. We're not going to have the crowds in America that we do at home and we don't have the budget to work with. However, I'm very confident that we have a strong ability to perform and make a strong impression on people. I don't know how many bands I've seen in my life that put on a great show...it isn't always about dragons coming out of the speakers or elevating drum kits that spin and turn around. Very often, it's about the power that lies in the band's music and their stage presence. I do think that my band has a very strong and energetic stage presence that the crowd feeds from. And then we feed from their energy. As with any other band, there are nights that aren't as much fun as the previous night, but in most cases, playing live for me is very much like an emotional, spiritual experience that's filled with adrenaline. It's overwhelming to me and it seems to me that the fans are overwhelmed by our music and presence as well.

WC: Is there any Spinal Tap moment for Satyricon that you'd like to share?

S: I think every band has moments like that. I don't know if there's one such moment. We've avoided most of the silliest ones, but I guess those are yet to come. It's unavoidable when you play in a band and travel the world. I do remember on the Morbid Angel tour, there was an incident on the bus. You'd have to be there to really get it, but it was extremely funny at the time.

It was 4 o'clock in the afternoon and showtime was 9:15 that night. We were sitting in the bus talking and our keyboard player comes into the front lounge from the back lounge wearing full black metal stage clothing. He's got all the battle gear on, including corpse paint, and comes into the lounge going, "what's up? Are we on? About ten minutes?"

We just all look at each other and the keyboard guy, going "what the fuck are you doing?" Well, I guess we will see you in five hours...

Eat UR Music's Website

Satyricon's Official Website