And there was I thinking that Satyricon had lost all their extreme metal edge and shifted well into mainstream heavy metal with admittedly killer riff-driven singles like K.I.N.G. This is not remotely that and, in fact, it's edgier than the black metal they started out making. The Munchmuseet says that this fifty-six minute track, "carries Satyricon's unmistakable signature yet breaks away from anything they've previously created through its format, length, and expression." They're right.
And why would the Munchmuseet, an Oslo museum dedicated to the art of the famous Norwegian painter Edvard Munch, have any relevance in an album review? Well, because this single piece was composed to accompany a selection of Munch's paintings and graphics at the Munchmuseet, in an innovative collaboration between two artists of different media. This is therefore less of an album and more of an installation piece. Which explains why it's so weird.
Satyricon & Munch, also the name of the exhibition, certainly isn't black metal or metal at all, but it's hard to label it. There's a lot here that's dark ambient, but it starts out abrasive, almost like a subdued industrial piece, pulsing over a repeated mechanical riff. It evolves from there, through the use of imaginative instrumentation, some of which provides what is clearly music and some of which is content to serve as sound effects. Rarely does it come close to what we tend to expect in a Satyricon album, making it a worthy piece of music but a surprising one to boast their name.
The first instrument to emerge from this dark soundscape, as everything thus far fades into it, just like the cover art, is an elegant cello that manages to be both traditional and experimental, as I'm pretty sure the strange noises around the expected rich sound are also cello-derived. It's the next section that comes closest to the Satyricon we know and love, with a black metal guitar delivering a neat riff, albeit entirely without the blastbeats that normally accompany it. Instead, there's an oddly upbeat percussive backdrop, that's half industrial and half circus music, a clarinet joining in for good measure.
And so we go, the motif developed thus far explored in a variety of instruments and timbres. This is certainly constructed like a classical composition, but with strong use of electronics and pulsing mechanised sounds. Of course, there's a serious crossover between classical music and metal in an array of different subgenres, but it's rarely delivered in such a form as this. In fact, it's probably a greater likelihood that you might hear this on a niche modern classical radio station than on rock shows. And really, whether that piques your interest or not is the most likely indicator of whether you might dig this or not.
I do, but then I like dipping my toes into the often avant-garde world of modern classical music. I'm not an expert and don't even have a complete grounding but I find it fascinating. Now, just like the modern art world, I don't always like it or understand it, but I find it fascinating nonetheless, just to hear instruments that I do understand doing things that I haven't heard them do before or in a way that I haven't heard before. To anyone who thrives on discovery, it's a fascinating place.
And it's that sort of listener who might dig this. You should certainly approach it with your mind as open as possible. You'll need to be patient, not only because it's one fifty-six minute track but also because it's often slow and ambient and it warrants multiple listens to fully appreciate. It's almost the opposite of an ear worm like K.I.N.G. in just about every way. This is rarely catchy, though a few sections find a groove that latter day Satyricon fans might recognise, often the ones that bring in a metal guitar and generate a riff to play with for a while. Of course, even when that happens, the cello remains a prominent instrument, often the prominent instrument.
So, if everything I've said makes you wonder what's wrong with the world today, then this isn't for you and, if you like Satyricon, you're definitely going to be pissed that they labelled it as such. But if you have a more open mind and are intrigued as to what Satyr and Frost have done here, then I do recommend that you check it out. You may still hate it and you'll still be puzzled about why it's identified as a Satyricon album, but it will, at least, have a shot to impress you. Maybe it will.