Over twenty years into their career today SATYRICON remain a leading light in the world of black metal. As they prepare to perform a run of shows performing their 1996 masterwork Nemesis Divina in full celebrating its twentieth anniversary (read our review of the remastered version here), we spoke to drummer Frost on those upcoming shows, the impact and legacy of that album, their future plans and the characterising spirit of black metal itself.
How are you doing today?
Frost: I’m fine. We are here in Norway working on new material and preparing for the upcoming shows and everything so there’s lots of activity.
First things first, over the summer SATYRICON are touring playing Nemesis Divina in full. SATYRICON have eight albums, why was Nemesis Divina the one that you decided you would like to perform in full?
Frost: Well it happens to be the twentieth anniversary for that album this year. We thought it would be time to celebrate properly. SATYRICON generally like to look ahead and look forward rather than look back and get stuck in memory lane but this feels like such a special occasion that we did want to mark it in some way. Usually when SATYRICON do something it’s done properly so that’s what we decided to do now. That album was in many ways the album that brought SATYRICON to a larger world, it was the album that we started touring with and in many ways a breakthrough album for us. That album was also really ambitious and conquering where a more professional SATYRICON started to show. Furthermore we know that Nemesis Divina is an album that has a special place in the hearts of very many of our fans.
How does it feel diving into your past so to speak?
Frost: It has actually been interesting. We did remaster the album and learned all the old songs again in order to render those live, and we had to figure out some of our own parts because we couldn’t remember them, it being such a long time ago. Some of the musical solutions that we made twenty years ago were quite impossible to figure out so we had to spend quite some time to understand how we operated. Sometimes that was strange, and sometimes when we rehearsing it was like getting in touch with a kind of power and intensity that belonged to a different era which was very exciting. I enjoy playing many of those Nemesis songs live. We had a European tour one year ago which was actually called The Dawn of a New Age so obviously we played that song and we have already done the first of these anniversary shows at Rockefeller in Norway which was the very place where we did our very first show with Nemesis Divina twenty years ago so it felt like the right place to start this off. Now we have an idea what it feels like to render that whole album, we enjoyed it and it seemed to go down very well with the audience.
What do you think the impact and the importance of that album was on the black metal landscape at the time, and what its legacy is today?
Frost: I’m quite certain that Nemesis Divina really was a game-changer for black metal in its time. I think that it showed that it was possible to do many things in a different way to what was conventional up to that point. I guess that we broke the unwritten rules on several occasions, with the music and the cover artwork and the whole way of thinking. I think it was quite hard to swallow for many people even if now it’s considered quite old school and a classic. It was spoken about positively a lot though, and I do remember this queue forming up for the specialist metal shop here in Oslo the day that it came out and that was something I wasn’t really prepared for. We probably reached more people than we had imagined ourselves and the reception that we got on the tour following the release spoke volumes that the album meant a lot to very many people.
Mother North was the first SATYRICON music video too, how did it feel to do that as black metal bands often eschew that kind of promotional means?
Frost: Those few black metal videos that exist at the time were like amateur work really, done with very limited equipment, so we set out to do a proper music video. We didn’t have unlimited resources at all but we had gathered something at least. We wanted something that would suit the album and be visually very much in your face and provocative. We did the best with what we had and the limited experience and we were ready to sacrifice ourselves really. The video brought black metal videos to a more professional level and in that way the video was pioneering work and set some new standards. With that said I find certain passages of the video to be rather banal today and it hasn’t stood the test of time very well but it still meant a lot because it started our work with music videos and since Satyr and I are very concerned with aesthetics and visual expression it was an important foundation and meant that we could move on and use our experience to make videos like Fuel for Hatred for instance a bit later.
So what led to the decision to remaster the album?
Frost: We thought that it was possible to make a couple of adjustments to make it appear very much like the original but still a little better. We wanted to do something with the bottom end of the album and bring up the low frequencies because that was lacking. We wanted to create better vocal space, and such things that are quite minor adjustments but still ones that made a difference. It was important for us to stick to the original and not make a new version of the album because if we wanted anything like that it would just be better to re-record the whole thing. We wanted to do this remaster as part of the celebration really, to have a hint of today’s SATYRICON in it as well even if the vibe and spirit and all the essential qualities of the original are kept.
Here in the UK you’re bringing the Nemesis Divina show to Bloodstock festival where BEHEMOTH and FEAR FACTORY are also performing albums in full. Why do you feel that so many bands are opting for that kind of a performance?
Frost: We don’t really see ourselves as part of that trend. I guess what’s happening is very systematic of the fact that many of the bands that are ruling the extreme metal world have been around for a long time, so things like that begin to happen. It was quite unthinkable many years ago when none of the bands had that kind of history but now we have many who have been around and have old classics. There is demand from some fans to hear old material, and there are new fans who have just started to get into bands who perhaps haven’t heard the old classic material so you want to present that to them. For us what is important is that it’s the twentieth anniversary for one of our milestone albums and although we generally like to not lean on our back catalogue and to stay away from that thing we wanted to make it a special occasion.
With the recent Live at the Opera album too where you played with a choir, is exploring different dimensions and sides of old classic songs that already exist something that SATYRICON are generally interested in?
Frost: I guess it would be correct to say that. I don’t see that much of a parallel between the two processes though, revisiting Nemesis Divina has felt quite different to rehearsing the songs for the opera show. At the opera show the choral arrangements really made the songs feel like new songs and it was a musical piece in itself rather than simply a live album. We felt we took SATYRICON to a very different place with that show, a place that was more ceremonial, epic and grand, and that permeated the whole atmosphere of the evening.
Did that give you any ideas or teach you any lessons for approaching new material?
Frost: Oh I am quite certain that it did, not necessarily on a conscious level but such things will definitely have an impact. SATYRICON is made for such challenges and experiences and it is something that we are always very open to do and I guess that we harvest a lot from undergoing that kind of project.
Do you feel that the characterising spirit of black metal, whatever you feel that may be, is being carried on by bands today?
Frost: That’s the thing. My feeling, and it’s only my feeling, I don’t spend that much time listening to everything that is out there and I don’t have time for such a thing either, but my feeling is that the kind of zeitgeist if you want that was there when we started is really gone and gone for good. We still carry that spark or that current with us and we still have a connection to it because we were there and our roots are there and we will never lose touch with them. But somehow it seems to me that younger people that I speak to lack that connection to that particular spirit. They want to bring it into their own music if they happen to be musicians but they don’t really understand what it’s about. There are two ways you can try to get in touch with it which is by listening to music from that time and trying to understand what it’s about but that is really difficult and I think will hardly succeed. The other viable way would be to try to create a new kind of spirit, something that propels the genre further and takes it to a place that no one from our generation could foresee or understand and that is what I would like to see happen, but there is this feeling that there is more of a retrospective spirit marking the whole genre. I like to be relevant but I would prefer to see development to a totally different place. Black metal is a very creative kind of genre and it doesn’t work if it stagnates too much. There is a little too much of that stagnation I feel. Where are the revolutionaries? I end up listening to old classics whenever I want to listen to black metal because there is nothing that beats it in the density of the atmosphere or the rawness.
The last album was quite different with the sound and the use of analogue equipment which threw some fans off, is that a direction you feel you’re going to continue in or do you feel the need to move onto something new?
Frost: We learned a lot from that album and it is definitely something we are going to build upon. If the previous album was analogue and diverse this next one is going to be that but in a much deeper sense.
You’ve played in various other bands throughout the years like 1349, what do you feel is the defining essence of SATYRICON that separates SATYRICON from those others?
Frost: That very constant evolution is at the very heart of the band. It is unique and particular to SATYRICON. I think that there is a certain signature to absolutely every song that SATYRICON has created and quite a bit comes down to the brilliant composer we have. Satyr is like having a Beethoven in the band, when you have a brilliant composer they will put a very strong and unique mark on what they create and I have always thought that he has a particular and outstanding style. There are certain tonal elements and certain solutions that I find to be so specific and that could be nothing else. In later years there is a kind of more open and greater musicality that has started to become quite dominant. 1349 is very different. Many years ago I was asked about the difference between those two bands and I guess my answer was a little banal but there is still a certain truth to it. I said that SATYRICON feels like precision bombing whereas 1349 is all about carpet bombing. 1349 is all over the place and guided by a very different and far more chaotic and anger-ridden spirit while SATYRICON is very much about discipline and a very conscious channelling of ideas and energies. 1349 just seems to happen by itself by instinct or intuition whereas SATYRICON has this attention for detail. I haven’t wanted to play in any other projects for a long while because in those two bands I feel that I have those elements that I need to have in order to grow and function as a musician. I need a place where I can have an outlet for that natural and untamed violent energy and in SATYRICON I have an arena for being musically educated and I have to see my role in a larger context where I have to challenge myself.
Now that you’re over twenty years into your career, what are the goals that you set yourself or the things you try to achieve within your current work?
Frost: It’s pretty much the same as they were twenty years ago. We still want to improve and develop. It has definitely not weakened in any way and I feel that the flame is burning even stronger now. As long as we feel that we can go further, no doubt.
Is there anything that you perhaps look back on and feel you may have done differently?
Frost: I feel it is very irrelevant. What we have done before is a result of what we felt during that time. I mentioned that zeitgeist earlier, and the spirit of time is something that marks every album you make. What you have done cannot be taken out of context. If we judge earlier work with today’s ears of course we think that if we had done that today we would have performed better or produced it differently but you can’t really think that way. When we go back and listen to Nemesis Divina now we don’t really think much about how we could make that kind of material today, we understand that it carries the spirit of its time and the environment in which SATYRICON worked then. I know that we have been putting our hearts and souls into every single album so there is nothing that I would want to change with them. They’re a part of our history.
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