Thursday, March 6, 2014

Bloody Roots: Revisiting "Nemesis Divina"

Satyricon now is more or less a mockery of what they were once upon a time, in a scene bustling with new ideas, new sounds, and new heights in sonic extremism.

When I first heard "Nemesis Divina", it was one of several coveted black metal releases, generally mentioned in the same breath as Mayhem's "De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas", Emperor's "Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk", Darkthrone's "Transylvanian Hunger", Immortal's "Blizzard Beasts", and Gorgoroth's "Pentagram" albums.

I might cynically refer to any of the above as "Starter Black Metal", which could theoretically apply to any number of Norwegian or Swedish black metal groups from the early 90's besides the aforementioned: Dimmu Borgir, Hecate Enthroned, Dark Funeral, Dissection, Old Man's Child, early era Enslaved or Behemoth, Dodheimsgard, or Marduk. Of course the cynic in me wouldn't even bother spinning a staple like "Nemesis Divina" or anything else I've bothered to list just several sentences ago.

I managed to find this particular CD while out and about. It's the Moonfog Productions pressing rather than the licensed Century Black version which I had when it initially came out for US listeners. It's a pressing that at this point I believe is well out of print, considering Satyr's label is no more than a blog presence these days so far as I can tell. So I lucked out, nabbing it for a mere $6.

All the above aside, this is about the album itself, and how well the damn thing holds up 18 years after it's initial release. Yes, 18 years, which for those of you bad at math is two shy of 20 years. But I digress... this monster holds up incredibly well.

The first thing of note, honestly, from the ear of someone jaded on the production styles of certain low fidelity US black metal like Xasthur or Krieg, is mixed and produced extremely well. Everything is nicely balanced and no single element of the mix really dominates. Ruminating on other 2nd wave black metal bands' production, the only album of this era that really matches it is the impeccable "Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk". By saying that alone is a huge compliment to Satyr and Frost, who really eeked the most of their instruments and the recording facilities.

What really strikes me about this record is how many different elements are put together and make this a whole. They managed to incorporate the cold and static hyperblasts of early Immortal with the progressive leanings of Emperor and Enslaved, then wove in folk elements similar to projects like Fenriz' (Darkthrone) Isengard records or the Storm project that Fenriz put together along with Satyr and Norwegian folk singer Kari Rueslåtten. As a singular result, the album is exceptionally cohesive and I would argue rivals Emperor's classic "Anthems..." as far as forward thinking black metal from the 90's is concerned.

Satyr's lead guitars are performed impeccably, with grandiose flourishes and tremolo picking that rivals some of the best out there. He's basically turned his guitar into a weapon of face ripping harshness, but he also has no problems reeling it back and slowing it down. Darkthrone's Nocturno Culto provides rhythm guitar here, and he perfectly follows Satyr's lead, throwing down buzzing rhythms, galloping interludes, and a few nearly djent-ish passages that go a long way to accompany Frost's insanely manic percussion. As a unit, they're all in sync and the outcome is outstanding.

There's a lot of music that I came up on that I've tried revisiting and not been able to get my head around the appeal it may have initially had on me. A lot of 2nd tier black metal groups riding the wave of success set by more worthy stalwarts. This record is no slouch, that's for sure. Regardless of how cynical I've become about some of my roots music, "Nemesis Divina" is essential. It's a perfect tapestry of extreme music, progressive and harsh, folky but not cheesy (i.e. basically any Rob Darken project). I can see some complaints that the album is actually too serious, but in my mind it's the best Satyricon has ever been. After this it was all downhill, with "Rebel Extravaganza" an experimental mess, and then basically becoming the latter day Motley Crue of black metal. Really, though, if you have any appreciation for tunes of this ilk, than "Nemesis Divina" needs to be on your shelf.

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