The Age of Nero Review
A fine albums made by the ever-simplifying Satyricon, The Age of Nero is a beautifully-produced, smartly-written album of full-on stadium black metal. Comprised of eight mid-paced songs of riff-centric heavy metal with harmonies hearkening to their black metal roots (and very often Thorns’ stellar debut), Satyricon again shows their aplomb at writing and performing truly memorable songs. I recall (vocalist/guitarist/overlord) Satyr once pretentiously going on about how challenging his music was when compared to Cradle of Filth (never been a fan myself), though his grandstanding was undermined at the time (1999) because his songs didn’t quite work and- though I’ve never been a CoF fan- a lot of CoF’s music is pretty complex/challenging (just ruined by dumb vocals and dainty keyboards and shitty arrangements). Now, quite undeniably, Satyricon is making music that is far simpler than CoF (or even old Satyricon), but this new music is significantly better: it has a passion and vision.
Like Enslaved did on Below the Lights and Immortal with At the Heart of Winter, these Norwegians defined their modern and superior identity on Volcano, the first album where most of the songs flowed, progressed and worked. While occasionally “a-ton-of- cool-riffs-thrown-together” can work (eg. Satyricon’s “Tied in Bronze Chains” & Carcass’ Necroticism), that haphazard approach to songwriting usually yields inferior product to songs with a core emotional identity. The upward trajectory of Satyricon directly correlates to the simplification of their material: though The Age of Nero and the previous two albums are not Venom/Sodom simple, most songs (like classic heavy metal songs) have three or four main parts that are developed with production details, additional voices, harmony guitar, different drum beats & orchestral stuff. Moreover, the riffs have gotten better and better over the years. On The Age of Nero, the chilly blitz conclusion of “Commando,” the latter portions of “Last Man Standing” and “Die By My Hand” (“Creeping Death” anyone?) are all standouts. And the gigantic riffs (and orchestral adornments) of “Den Siste” also create cyclopean visuals.
Enough good things cannot be said about drummer Frost, who is one of the most consistently great drummers in extreme metal, alongside Inferno (Behemoth) and Hellhammer. Frost’s wild work on Keep of Kalessin’s stellar Reclaim EP (that band’s high water mark for sure), his inhuman propulsion and surprising shifts in 1349 (his work on Beyond the Apocalypse is historic) and his deep groove, beautifully-written drum parts on the last three Satyricon albums are ample proof that in terms of creativity, quality, delivery and versatility, Frost currently has no equal (though Inferno of Behemoth is a close second). On The Age of Nero Frost writes excellent drum parts that chisel and empower the riffs as well as anything Lombardo did at his best (South of Heaven), and there is no other drummer working who would come up with these parts, yet his playing here is never showy (as was Lombardo’s). The vacillation of double bass speeds in “Commando,” the tom-tom tour de force in “Black Crow on a Tombstone,” and the deep pocket switch (2:13) on the “Wolfpack” are but three tasty choices of his, though every single song has brilliant stuff by this guy. For the last three albums, half of the success of this band stems from Frost’s masterfully written and passionately performed drum parts.
The vocals haven’t changed as much as every other aspect of Satyricon, except that we get less of the forced refrains that don’t quite work— sorry, but the choruses of “Mother North,” “Filthgrinder,” “Havoc Vulture,” “Suffering the Tyrant,” and “Delirium” are all really, really annoying. The Age of Nero is the first album Satyricon has made where all of the refrains are good (or at least not annoying). The approach and voice of Satry behind the mic is pretty much the same and perhaps the last area for this band to improve in the future.
Overall the album is a bit too repetitious, and a slight step down from Now, Diabolical, but it is good and will keep if not grow Satyricon’s fanbase. And because this is big, anthemic stadium black metal, unlike a lot of black metal, it would work well in the live environment.