Norway’s Satyricon is something of an anomaly. Nonetheless huge in the black-metal scene, the duo of Satyr and Frost has long regarded themselves as innovators of the scene’s modern sound, despite historical evidence suggesting otherwise. Still, what’s most pertinent is Satyricon’s level of ambition, which hits its apex on the band’s fourth and newest album, Rebel Extravaganza .
Wisely jettisoning the now-cliché medieval atmosphere of previous platters, Satyricon lashes out at the black metal idiom with an eerily post-modern approach unlike any others around. Atmosphere is still present, but in an entirely different form; instead of cold and majestic, we have cold and steely. And stealth is the aesthetic springboard Satyricon uses on Rebel Extravaganza : superfuzzed guitars grating to treble’s Nth degree, machine-gun drums as precise as a surgeon, and Satyr’s freezing vocals that somehow char the soul.
But if this stealth seems clinical, it was meant to be, especially when the album’s disorienting effect is taken into account. Wandering, formless song structures have been a black metal hallmark for years now, and Satyricon doubtless knows it. So instead of making an embarrassing mess of it, Satyr and Frost deliberately subvert these non-structures into something of a scatterbrained tornado, with the former’s guitars sawing in 20 different directions at an uncomprehendingly fast speed while the latter’s drums keep apace, stop on a dime, and head in a headbuttingly opposite direction. When the two elements are completely at odds with each other (as they often are on Rebel Extravaganza ), the effect is nothing less than vertigo.
Unbelievably bewildering and intense, Rebel Extravaganza gives Emperor’s IX Equilibrium strong competition for the year’s best black metal album. Outside its time and aesthetic contexts, however, the album stands bleakly tall as tortured genius — an extravaganza, for sure.
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