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Majestic transition - 93%

gasmask_colostomy, June 21st, 2017

In terms of black metal, one does not really think of Satyricon among the frontrunners of the genre. Perhaps they might be in the list of the first 20 names that you would hear if the instruction was to blurt out as many Norwegian disciples as possible, though there are few who believe that the young Satyr and his group grasped the strict essence of the style with their early work, while even fewer will support his ventures into simpler directions under the name of black metal. That is, unless the conversation turns to Nemesis Divina. A weird fluke in Satyricon’s discography, this album seems to have come at an odd juncture for both band and scene, where the first major wave (I’m thinking of the one that kicked off with Darkthrone and Burzum’s debuts in 1992) had come to an end, the initial bloodlust had waned, and Satyr and Frost were shifting away from their medieval roots towards broader pastures. Despite sounding slightly similar to The Shadowthrone, this stands alone among the band’s work like a bright torch on a night time hilltop.

Indeed, within the album itself, ‘Mother North’ can be described in much the same terms, that song illuminating the surrounding landscape more intensely than the other fine compositions. I think it’s more the fact that ‘Mother North’ has become such a signature statement from the band that has garnered its plaudits, but although its actual quality is nothing outstanding on the album, the song certainly acts a totem of the Norwegian movement of the early ‘90s, capturing the whole essence of the style in an intricately grim six minutes. It's really the only song that benefits from the icy fuzz of distortion, while the progression of the music and backing details are of the species that allowed Enslaved and Emperor to put the other bands to shame on their first full-lengths, particularly the awe-striking keyboards and the flaring patchwork of the stricken main riff, not to mention Satyr’s scornfully longing vocals.

What this album is not, though, is one song only. Always attempting to push the envelope on each of their first four albums, Satyricon found a way to fuse storming fast riffing and Frost’s assault of blasting with some atmospheric and emotional scope, allowing Nemesis Divina to sound primal and incensed without losing its sense of magnificence. The daring piano outro of ‘Du Som Hater Gud’ is a spectacular reminder that one need not let anything stand in the way of ambition, even at the risk of recklessness; likewise the ending of ‘Forhekset’, which peels off from staunchly belligerent riffing into a folk romp that is as natural as it is catchy. Other songs are no less fluent in their transitions between sections, if not so thoroughly flamboyant, while the verve and momentum that the guitars give to the eight minute ‘Immortality Passion’ make neither the track’s length nor the meagre vocals an issue. There are glowing words to be bestowed on all the main songs, though ‘Transcendental Requiem of Slaves’ is a disappointing conclusion to the album, the instrumental being made up of too many disparate segments that, for all their skill elsewhere, the band cannot unite.

What raises this head and shoulders above other Satyricon albums, as well as most other releases in the extreme metal pantheon, is not its constituent parts but more the way they have been fitted together. Naturally Frost is relentless in his two-footed attack and more creative arm work, Kveldulv and Satyr’s riffing gleams with northern glory and vague intentions, while the vocals are relegated to a mere Abbath croak in the main, yet one feels most privileged to witness the weaving of threads throughout individual tracks and the resulting unity of the album as a whole. None of the jumps between styles occur as they did on Dark Medieval Time, no blind fury appears as it did on many of the early Norwegian releases, nor does the strength of the production inhibit the majesty of the atmosphere a jot. Instead, everything seems of the highest quality and the most meticulous planning, as if this were a revenge concocted on the principles of The Count of Monte Cristo, eclipsing theretofore unprecedented achievements of scope such as Emperor’s In the Nightside Eclipse by some margin.

As those last words suggest, I rate the songwriting of Nemesis Divina very highly and consider it a significant step in widening the division between traditional and progressive bands in the black metal movement, a rift which was beginning to appear around the time of this album’s release. It isn’t a perfect release, owing mainly to the blemish of the closing track, though the purely instrumental ambition displayed on the other songs should be enough of an incentive for anyone to experience this, not to mention the howling glory of Satyr’s ode to his home on ‘Mother North’. Nemesis Divina is almost as godly as its title indicates.