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A monumental triumph - 100%

Absinthe1979, February 13th, 2020
Written based on this version: 1994, CD, Moonfog Productions

Since 1995 when I first purchased it, Satyricon’s ‘The Shadowthrone’ has been for me the yardstick of Norwegian black metal.

In fact, I consider it to be a greater achievement than even ‘De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas’ and ‘In the Nightside Eclipse’, and more emotional than the best moments of Burzum’s key releases. It is easily Satyricon’s greatest work. It captures the Norwegian zeitgeist of rebellion; it conjures a poetic sense of European history; and it functions as an expression of nature adoration that is heretofore unmatched in the genre.

Its major triumph lies in the full scope of the sound. The production is a product of the band’s growing confidence and maturity after their debut, although it remains rooted firmly in the aural aesthetic that rejects polish and plasticity. It’s a clear sound but riven with an authenticity that would sadly be lost by the band and many of Satyricon’s contemporaries in the ensuing years, as studio budgets increased and individual ambition moved from the original goal of self-expression and into the entertainment industry and the pursuit of a career.

The guitars are perfectly toned for the context of the album, while the swathes of keyboards add an epic elevation to the songs that provide an almost orchestral quality, albeit an understated one. The pounding backbone of Frost’s inimitable drumming, with its ride cymbal efficiency and swinging rhythmic pulse, remains some of his best ever work. On a purely aural basis it is a victory for the sum of its parts.

The real masterpiece of the album is ‘Hvite Krists dod’, with its chilling opening vocal that is as effective today as when I first heard it. It's an inspired way to begin an album. The swinging riffs, the keyboard interjections and the driving momentum of the track are staggering in their impact. Its different sections are perfectly melded together to form a cohesive whole. The battle-cry during the song, with its layered voices that end in a staggered fashion, producing a horde-like quality, is but one example of the thought and consideration that has gone into these songs. The degree of fresh-thinking creativity is profound.

Similarly, ‘Woods to Eternity’ with its acoustic interlude and the pompous supremacy of ‘Dominions of Satyricon’ conjure images of forests and mountains that transcend modern life and its suburban thinking. ‘The King of the Shadowthrone’, with its haunting narration and stunning final riff ends the album’s metal-based tracks in spine-tingling perfection.

A special acknowledgement of the keyboard track that concludes the album – essentially a work of dungeon synth, yet more evocative of a forest than a cavern – in ‘I en svart kiste’ must be made. It acts as the perfect catharsis to the music that preceded it. It’s a treasure, because Satyr will in all likelihood never return to a keyboard sound that is as basic and deceptively simple. It is a haunting piece.

The album artwork is atmospheric in its own way, yet while a huge improvement from the sketch that adorns ‘Dark Medieval Times’, is not particularly worthy of great merit. The booklet, however, is worthy of high praise, with band member pictures and a range of thematic images for visual delectation. The small and difficult to read lyrics are also suitably presented.

Satyricon’s narrative is one of metal’s more interesting stories, and it has generally been a pleasure to chart their evolution and progression, despite the weaker moments that occasionally cause the duo to misfire, and the sad knowledge that the old days are over. The combination of the elements detailed above unify into an album that provides everything that I admire in this art and that has come to define not just a musical genre, but a life philosophy.

A full score of 100% should not be bestowed lightly. However, ‘The Shadowthrone’ is a triumphant monument in homage to the forests, the mountains and the darkness, and it’s worthy of great praise 25 years on.