SATYRICON’S NERO: HE’S JUST A ROMAN
There are at least a couple reasons to watch that silly drug movie Spun, directed by Roxette video auteur Jonas Åkerlund. The first, and only defensible one, is to peep that dreamy Rob Halford in a brief role as a porn store clerk. But our panel of judges will also accept a) Mickey Rourke as a meth cook; b) the acting-challenged but bejugged Brittany Murphy; and, c) three seconds of Satyricon!
Yep, somewhere among Spun‘s 100-minutes of narcoporn, we get a glimpse of Satyricon’s “Mother North” video on a scabby Patrick Fugit’s TV (with extra-weird dialogue overdubs here). Alas, Spun didn’t make Satyr and Frost mega-stars, but shit, a year later, they did manage to snag a major label deal for 2003’s Volcano followed by the polarizing Now, Diabolical in 2006. It seems the Norwegian duo had dared to expand – and occasionally abandon – the Black Metal palette, to a measure of outrage from (yawn) kvlt types. Well, that’s what I kept reading in magazines (and was told ad nauseum at last spring’s Behemoth/Dimmu Borgir show); as always, for but a few is the issue black or not black. For the rest of us, it’s good or not good. And Satyricon’s undercooked, perfunctory seventh album, The Age Of Nero, is totally not good.
As if to silence critics of Now, Diabolical’s black arena metal, Nero commences with blast beats, but in record time (ha, get it?) settles into a half-time slog. Gaze on the Satyr formula and despair: three or four words belched out, boring riff plays, a few more rasped words, repeat. For an hour. Running short of words? Then engage the riff-modifier for eight more measures of pointlessly similar fretting. This is the heart of Nero’s, um, downfall: redundancy and lack of dynamics and redundancy. But that’s not all.
Lyrically, where Satyr aims for misanthropy, it’s just macho silliness (“Commando,” “Die By My Hand”); only on “The Sign of the Trident” does he achieve a bit of menace. Though overstaying its welcome by at least three minutes, “Trident” happens to be one of the record’s musical highlights too, though that may be a product of following the album-justifying “My Skin Is Cold,” which is a goddamn lifesaver by Nero’s tiresome halfway mark. Sadly, this modest peak is swiftly negated by “Last Man Standing,” the album’s undisputed mega-turd.
It’s totally unfair to conjecture so let’s phrase this as a question: Is Satyricon interested in their own music anymore? Listening to Nero conjures images of two dudes witlessly jotting down a bunch of riff ideas to be parsed and purged at a later date. But that never happened, as each track abuts riff against similar riff, backed by thin, barely-present drums. That with more volume Nero sounds better is a good thing, but should bands opt to strand walls of reedy guitar high in the mix, then riffs must be MONSTER, not be beaten dead and dragged away by one. In this case, the guitars’ unfair workload is probably by default, since Satyr’s rasp barely squirts out from between two kick drums while bass (also, uh, by Satyr) is barely a faint pulse. There’s no hypnotic effect in the repetition (or should we charitably call it too-subtle variation?); even more rare are twinklings of beauty or punches of heavy impact (Are those farty tones supposed to be horns in “Den Siste?” Could your tempos drag any more? GET A PRODUCER!). When Nero marches, it does so with the intimidation factor of Homer Simpson’s Bear Patrol mob; where it races, we’re pretty much stuck with just crash cymbal and guitars imported from Thee Land Ov Straight 64th Notes. And geez, are you guys sure about a song title like “Die By My Hand,” which reminds listeners of both Coroner and Metallica? Can we be expected to concentrate on Satyricon when “Creeping Death” is cycling loudly through our brains? Why don’t you just call your record Where Do We Go Now?
If Satyricon is to be lauded for evolving past the confines of kvlt black metal, then we gotta wonder if it’s a good thing. As a flat, unadventurous, black metalism-free band, Satyricon is forced to fall back on songwriting and performance. Now seven albums deep, they’ve shed the genre’s touchstones (comically overblown orchestration, a vocalist who sounds really mad at you, screaming guitar ballast) to leave a skeletal black metal desert populated with bones and the occasional trachea. We like blood and meat here, folks.
(1 and a 1/2 horns out of five)
[Anso Di Frances is a former music journalist who hurls wild accusations at the likes of Sharon Osbourne and Sammy Hagar in the daily metal news column Hipsters Out Of Metal!]