by Cosmo Lee

Record release dates differ worldwide for various reasons – business concerns, store stocking practices, manufacturing processes. Although varying release dates are typical in metal, those of The Age of Nero stand out. Roadrunner released it in Europe on November 3, 2008. The next day brought news of a deal with Koch for a US release, eventually revealed to be yesterday: January 13, 2009. Over two months elapsed. During this time, the album leaked all over the Internet – in its deluxe two-disc edition, no less. Is there anyone left in America to buy the single-disc edition? Given the Internet, an album of this stature should not have release dates so far apart.

Black Crow on a Tombstone
The Wolfpack
The Pentagram Burns (from Now, Diabolical)

The Age of Nero continues further down a path decried by purists and lauded by fans. This path started 10 years ago with Rebel Extravaganza, so Satyricon likely have few “pure” black metal fans left. That’s fine. They’ve found their own sound, a cross between rock ‘n’ roll and black metal. Half their songs are The White Stripes in corpsepaint; the others are more conventional blastbeat affairs, as if the band felt guilty for straying from black metal.

Frost and Satyr are veterans who probably don’t feel guilty about anything, but, still, I wonder what goes on in their heads. Does Frost, who has some of the fastest feet around, mind playing Meg White beats? His restraint is admirable, but his talents are being wasted. (I suppose 1349 fulfills his need for speed.) Satyr is newly shorn, evoking an evil Chris Isaak. The look fits the sound. He says this record sounds bigger, but, really, it’s minimalistic, just at high volume. The songs are lean and catchy. Satyr often sounds parched. This record is big-boned, but bone-dry.

It’s almost too efficient. Hooks are plentiful, but they don’t dig in. Production is partly to blame. This record suffers from the same flaw as the previous one, Now, Diabolical: it sounds flat. The flatness is different – the drums are beefed up now, while the guitars have lost bite – but the result is the same. Also to blame is down-tuning. On 2002’s Volcano, the band tuned down a half-step from E to Eb. Now it’s tuned down a half-step further to D. Nero has low end, but it lacks the dissonant sparkle of its predecessors.

Catchiness is never a bad thing, but Satyr has seemingly sacrificed everything else for it. Despite his claims of Nero‘s epic quality, it feels like a dead end. He’s pared down songs so much they have nowhere to go. “The Wolfpack” is sexy as hell, but it’s a rehash of “The Pentagram Burns” from Now, Diabolical. With this minimalism, Satyr may be painting himself into a corner. Perhaps he should put away his brushes and pull out knives again.

Amazon (MP3)
Interpunk (CD, LP)