SATYRICON mastermind Satyr is a man on a mission. Even after helping to pioneer the Norwegian black metal movement, writing some of the most groundbreaking albums in extreme music, and being the first black metal band to sign with a major label, he is not content. Armed with the monumental new album, Volcano, Satyr is determined to bring the message of true black metal to America. APESHIT spoke with him during their U.S. tour to find out more about the challenge.
APESHIT: First off, congratulations on Volcano. I think it’s one of the best black metal albums…ever.
SATYR: Thank you so much.
APESHIT: Everything about the band has been stepped up on this album…You guys won four music awards in Europe. How does it feel to receive some widespread recognition?
SATYR: Stuff like that comes as a result of paying attention to the music and your motivation is to make good music and be a successful artist, creatively. And if that is your focus, that kind of recognition and records sales and stuff like that comes as a result of that. That’s my take.
APESHIT: How has the recognition affected the band as well as you guys on a personal level?
SATYR: In no way whatsoever. We weren’t there. We were on tour when all this happened (laughs). So I didn’t even know what happened until somebody at Capitol called me and said, “Congratulations on the Grammy.” No, that doesn’t really affect us on a personal level. We’re a black metal band.
APESHIT: One thing that really stands out on Volcano for me is the production…it’s excellent! What did you guys do differently this time around in comparison to Rebel Extravaganza?
SATYR: Thank you! I think this is the record where everything falls into place. The production and the right combination of directness, aggression, and atmosphere…dark atmosphere. A lot of that has to do with the production too because I needed the sound to be…I don’t like synthetic sounds. I like natural sounds. And worked hard to find ways to achieve that kind of sound that is powerful, natural, organic and at the same time, have atmosphere. ‘Cause if you listen to say for example, PANTERA records, they sound very powerful but there is no atmosphere in their sound whatsoever. That was the kind of the thing that I was looking to have…a powerful as well atmospheric sound. That is really hard to do actually.
A lot of it was recorded analogue. A lot of it had to do with the studio I worked in. The studio had the facilities that I was looking for so I spent a lot of time researching to find the right studio. We recorded in Puk Studios in Denmark. A lot of it had to do with working with the right engineers, using the right kind of equipment, and it’s just, you know, a very thorough, detailed process. It takes a lot of time and it’s all worth it when the outcome is what it is.
APESHIT: Definitely. You guys are on a major label in Scandinavia and now in the U.S. How are things different from before in terms of the level of promotion? Is it a huge, drastic difference?
SATYR: There’s not a huge, drastic difference. The difference is that our budget is better. You know, like the tour support budget for America is a lot better. And the recording budget and stuff like that has given us more freedom. Obviously, distribution is a lot better so those are the positive sides. The downside of working with a major is that there is quite a lot of bureaucracy. They are a little bit slow in turning around when shit needs to happen right now. (laughs) Other than that, I like it a lot.
APESHIT: Well it seems like now in the U.S., underground metal is getting a little more mainstream attention on MTV2 as well as on this year’s Ozzfest, which has more underground bands than years past. Are you guys aiming towards reaching a wider, more mainstream audience in the U.S.?
SATYR: Well, not really. I mean, we’ve done all that. We were on Headbanger’s Ball just recently and I know they played our video a lot for the last few weeks. So I think that’s important for us that this is the reason why we’re here. We have a new record and black metal is on the rise in America. There’s a great SATYRICON buzz here. People are talking about it, about the band, there’s a great deal of interest.
But it’s more like black metal in general is on it’s way up and it’s been a big thing in Europe for a long time. Death metal has been like the only underground thing here in the extreme metal scene. Now black metal is finding its way to America, and in order for it to become a healthy and long lasting scene, it’s important that the right bands are here at the right time.
APESHIT: And speaking of black metal, it stills seems that Norway is the stronghold for true black metal. Even though, bands like EMPEROR and IMMORTAL have broken up now, bands like SATYRICON and ENSLAVED…
SATYR: And MAYHEM. And we also have some older ones like DARKTHRONE. They have a new album. SARDONIC WRATH’s coming out soon. There are hot, new prospects like DISPLIN from Norway. THORNS, they’re making a new album. Norway is definitely the stronghold of black metal. I think these bands, they will continue to spearhead the future of this form of music.
APESHIT: So do you think that the attention that black metal is going to receive will only get bigger from here on out?
SATYR: In America, yeah. Absolutely. It has already been [getting bigger]. In America, it’s on an ascending scale. It’s on its way up. I think 2004 in the U.S. is going to be the year to help create the foundation for a lasting black metal scene.
APESHIT: It always seems like the Norwegian black metal bands are always trying to push what the definition of what black metal is, lyrically, image-wise, and sound-wise with always having experimentation in the music. What do you think is going to be the future of black metal?
SATYR: I don’t see any drastic changes coming. It’s just something that will, you know, progress and develop and will happen slowly but securely because it’s not a “flavor of the month” thing. It’s not going to have any drastic changes. It’s going to keep on having like a natural progression like it’s at year after year. The only thing that could stop that is if the leading bands stop being responsible because a lot of your responsibility as playing in a black metal band is also to help shape the future of black metal. It’s not only about your band if you’re in a band. It’s also about the genre.
APESHIT: Lyrically, your lyrics seem to be very philosophical. Your lyrics are also very insightful bringing importance to many of your listeners. Are the lyrics and themes that you use always a reflection of what you and Frost feel about the various topics?
SATYR: I mean, like the lyrics on Rebel Extravaganza, I’m addressing the listener or the reader much more than on Volcano. So for an outsider, it’s probably easier to relate to the lyrics of Rebel because they are very outspoken and clear whereas on Volcano they are more, a little bit more a reflection of my own personal feelings and thoughts and perspectives on different things.
APESHIT: It seems that throughout your albums, independence and perseverance seem to be two major themes of the band. Can you elaborate more on that?
SATYR: I mean determination is very important to the band. I think SATYRICON is a band that is always looking forward both, musically and philosophically. We are very conscious about the choices that we make and not very much is left up to coincidence. It is also a band that is very independent from, it’s more like a band that creates the rules than paying attention to following the rules of the musical/lyrical expression that black metal is about. Rebel, it was a record that changed the climate of black metal at the time which was a necessary thing. It was a record that was very much in the spirit of SATYRICON saying, “We’re going in the wrong direction so we have to do this.” On Volcano, there was nothing I had to oppose against or anything like that. It had a music and music-only approach. That’s why also the record, to me, feels so complete.
APESHIT: As everyone knows, Frost (drums) was not able to get into the country and participate on the tour. How much time did you have to find a replacement?
SATYR: (Laughs) Not very much! I mean we had back up plans, and the guy who was supposed to step in if everything went wrong pulled out last minute.
I went to him and said, “You know it’s not going to work out with Frost. I think you have to step in.”
“Well, I can’t do it.”
“Fuck you. What are you talking about?”
(Laughs) So Trym (ZYKLON, ex-EMPEROR) came in during the last second and saved our day. That was cool to have someone who comes from the same scene and the same background and come in and save this tour. We only got to rehearse three or four times with him. So the first week of the tour was a little bit weird, but then everything fell into place. It’s more like we’re trying to adapt to him rather than him trying to adapt to SATYRICON. It’s easier that way and it works.
APESHIT: Awesome. So next time you guys come to the U.S. as headliners, you guys are definitely going to try everything to get Frost into the country, right?
SATYR: That’s what we’re working on all the time. Our lawyer in Norway is working on it while we’re on this tour. I’m going to get a little bit of an update when I get back home. But it’s not looking good…I know that much.
But, we can’t let anything stop this band. I would love to have him here, and I know everything would be much better if he was here. But they’re my songs and my lyrics, and I am the sole creator of the band and the voice, the experience, the sound that we perform every night. So it can be very much done without him as long as I’m here. But I would still love to have him here so that’s why we are working so hard and spending so much money.
APESHIT: It’s no big secret that you guys are good friends with TURBONEGRO. What’s the connection between you guys? Are you guys long time friends?
SATYR: Yeah, the connection is basically me. I’ve known Happy Tom for a long while. I didn’t really have any contact back then. But we actually did grow up on the same peninsula outside of Oslo, although I didn’t really know him at the time. We just hooked up and established contact again a few years ago. I was also an acquaintance of Euroboy. And a few years ago, I met Hank. I hung out a lot with him since then. I know everyone in the band, and they obviously all know me now. Now the rest of my band is getting to know them a little better.
APESHIT: Euroboy played guest guitars on the bonus track that’s on the vinyl addition of Volcano. What was the extent of his contribution? Did he just play a guitar solo?
SATYR: Yeah. I wanted him to play on it because it’s a song that has a lot of 70’s hard rock feel in it. I know he’s good at playing stuff like that so I wanted that far towards the end [of the song] with an atmospheric guitar solo in that vein. I wanted him to play that, and he did really well.
APESHIT: Nocturno Culto (DARKTHRONE, ex-SATYRICON) played a show with you guys in Europe as part of an extended SATYRICON set. How did that go?
SATYR: Well, that was basically a SATYRICON show in Oslo. You know, we did the Moonfog 10-year anniversary. And we did an encore with a couple of DARKTHRONE songs and he came in and did vocals on that.
We’re going to be one of the headliners at this year’s Wacken Festival in Germany, and we’re going to do an extended version like that set. It’s one of those “by public demand things.” (Laughs) So it will be cool. We both enjoyed it a lot, what we did in Oslo. Now, we’re going to do an extended version of that. It’s a SATYRICON show and then an encore with a lot of DARKTHRONE song. Maybe have him play guitar on a couple SATYRICON songs.
APESHIT: Regarding Moonfog Productions, which you are the co-owner of, how are you involved in the everyday activities of the label?
SATYR: I’m not that involved because SATYRICON takes up all my time. But, I sign the bands, I oversee everything…I am the one that sort of stakes out the future for the label. I’m not so involved in day to day stuff.
APESHIT: “Blessed From Below” [from the Intermezzo II EP] is a SATYRICON track that is very distinct from the rest of the catalog. Do you have any plans to write any more songs in that style?
SATYR: No, not really. And I think that’s why songs like that work out. They come to me as an idea quite spontaneously. I’m like “OK, I want to do this,” and I start working on it. I think that’s the problem when metal bands try and do something that is not usually what they do. Then they decide, “OK, we’re going to start this big project and hire a symphony orchestra,” blah blah blah, and it doesn’t really work out. I think that some of the cool things that SATYRICON has done on the side are spontaneous ideas like, “fuck, I want to try doing something like this,” and do it, you know? So we’ll see, we’ll see.
APESHIT: Do you have any plans to write another WONGRAVEN record?
SATYR: Not at the moment, no. I might do it next year or ten years from now or never. I don’t know. That was kind of the idea that I could just be irresponsible. Do whatever I wanted to do, whenever I wanted to do it.
APESHIT: What’s the status of the EIBON project? Is it on ice indefinitely?
SATYR: It’s on ice but we are finishing it. I talked to Philip Anselmo about this before this tour and he wants to finish it. Fenriz (DARKTHRONE) and I definitely want to finish that project. So I guess it’s difficult in the way that I was doing Volcano and this stuff, and he divorced his wife, he quit PANTERA and started SUPERJOINT and DOWN at the same time. It was just too much stuff going on. The desire to finish that record is there, and it certainly deserves it because it’s extremely good music. We’re proud of the four songs that we recorded, and I want to finish it.
APESHIT: You guys released the 10-year anniversary box set, Ten Horns Ten Diadems. You went back and remixed some of the older songs. Are there any plans to go and remix some of the other older material?
SATYR: I would love to do something like that with Dark Medieval Times. It can’t be remixed in a way that it was recorded. But what we can do is remaster it and work a little bit on the frequencies. The song on the Ten Horns Ten Diadems box, to me, that song became much, much better. I didn’t do anything drastic with it all because I know what that’s like…people will grow up listening to stuff like that and [when] you change it, they go, “Why? It sucks.” I just did some small things to make the kick drums stand out a little bit more and add a little bit of low end so it wouldn’t sound so thin. Small, small things but they worked out for the better. I would’ve loved, loved to do something like that with Dark Medieval Times.
APESHIT: Have you heard Dave Grohl’s PROBOT project?
SATYR: Yeah. I was a little bit disappointed. Snake from VOIVOD, Cronos from VENOM, and Tom G. Warrior, and all those guys, King Diamond. I was like, “This has to be the best record ever!” It really wasn’t. I think some of them are OK. I think the track with Cronos is alright, and I think the track with Snake is really, really good.
APESHIT: Yeah, it’s really catchy.
SATYR: Yeah. Like altogether, if you look at projects like that, I think that there is a better record…the IOMMI record. I think that is much more successful because that is Tony Iommi doing his BLACK SABBATH [style] and have other people come in and contribute with their trademark on his stuff. The PROBOT record is like, “OK, I’m doing a song with Snake so I’m going to do a VOIVOD song. Now I’m doing a song with Cronos so I’m going to do a VENOM song.” You know what I’m saying? It’s OK…a couple of songs. But it doesn’t work out in the same way that the IOMMI record does which is a comparable project I guess.