Album: Satyricon & Munch
Label: Napalm Records
After nearly five years of silence, Satyricon emerges from the darkness with their gaze turned towards artistic antiquity to forge their craft anew with Satyricon and Munch. Originally intended to accompany selected visual expressions by famed Norwegian painter Edvard Munch, you know him from his infamous “The Scream”, at the Munch museum in Oslo, Satyricon have decided to release their experimental Avant-Garde style elongated singular track for a wider audience outside of those who can’t reach the museum in time to experience it. Wholly inspired by the anguished, and at times controversial artworks of Munch, Satyricon and Munch plunges the depth of the most difficult aspects of the human experience by way of reductionism that is all at once spacious and immersive.
Before launching into the review of the music itself, we need to expound upon who exactly Edvard Munch was and how that contributed to his art. Edvard Munch was born in a farmhouse in a small village called Adalsbruk inside Loten Norway on December 12, 1863 to Laura Catherine Bjolstad and Christian Munch. At the age of five, Edvard lost his mother to tuberculosis, the first in a long string of personal tragedies in Munch’s life that would go on to inform how he viewed and interacted with the world. The initial trauma of his mother’s untimely death was then further compounded by his father’s overzealous piety when he made such morose threats toward his children, such as their mother was looking down on them and grieving their misbehavior from heaven. This caused Edvard to turn inward and towards the arts, believed to be encouraged by his younger sister Laura’s love of creating art, who would have a mental illness so severe as to be diagnosed at a young age in the 19th century. He was also forced to turn inward by a tumultuously unhealthy childhood, keeping him homebound and out of school, with art as his sole escape from an increasingly repressive father figure who took on schooling a young Edvard. He would eventually enter into a technical college, 1879 to learn perspective drawing and scale, but soon left as his continued illnesses were a source of constant disruption to his studies, in pursuit of becoming a painter to his father’s dismay and the beginning of an ongoing struggle between the two. Two years later in 1881, Edvard would begin his artistic journey through study and experimentation in earnest when he enrolled in The Royal School of Art and Design in Kristiania. This step would end up taking him to such artistic epicenters as Paris and Berlin to study under a variety of painters spanning the milieu of forms explored by Munch himself, to the ever increasing ire of his father. Originally Edvard worked in Impressionism and played with Naturalism, however, he began to drift into more eccentric, comparative to the time, territory at one point even going so far as to befriending a local nihilist by the name of Hans Jæger, an advocate for suicide as the penultimate freedom much akin to Doestoevsky’s character in The Demons (originally The Possesed). This friendship would finally earn Edvard the irredeemable anger from his father who cut off his financial backing that he had hitherto enjoyed while dabbling in the bohemian lifestyle. Though this move would serve as a hard-fall of sorts for the young Munch, it was also a period of artistic growth as Hans Jægerintroduced him to the concept of a “soul-diary”, a methodology of self introspection and creating art for the sake of the artist and nothing else. Edvard would take this concept and run with it, claiming that 1886’s The Sick Child was predicated on the death of his sister and stood as his first “soul-painting”, and this serves as a post-impressionist move into expressionism ( and later his own Synthetist Aesthetic) through this exploration of a deep-seeded trauma, a creative endeavor that would be maligned within the community it would appear into. Though Munch would still dabble in Impressionism, the break had been made and a new chapter begun, where he would gain more positive notoriety in step with his growing talents of the obscure.
Anxiety-1894 oil on canvas
Despite his growing success as an artist, Edvard Munch was still plagued by his own inner turmoil and anxieties about what may become of him, in addition to what he felt was the ever pervading presence of death. Reflecting on his father, he once said, “”My father was temperamentally nervous and obsessively religious—to the point of psychoneurosis. From him I inherited the seeds of madness. The angels of fear, sorrow, and death stood by my side since the day I was born”, a sentiment he made early and kept throughout his life. Adding to this was the consistent death of loved ones that dogged him, from his mother and beloved sister, to finally his father who would leave the family destitute and almost ruin Munch’s prospects as a painter before he took a hefty loan out to provide for his family. Despite his troubled relationship with his father, Edvard was still deeply impacted by his passing, actually becoming suicidal and stating, “”I live with the dead—my mother, my sister, my grandfather, my father…Kill yourself and then it’s over. Why live?”. He would eventually move past such a terrible loss and put his reflections to canvas garnering him even more respect throughout the years, though at times still begrudgingly. With his continued rising success, Edvard still remained unstable and drank heavily until the autumn of 1908 where he was admitted to the clinic of Daniel Jacobson to undergo “electrification” treatments, dieting and therapy to assuage his hallucinations, feelings of persecution and chronic anxiety. Upon successful completion of the treatment there was a marked uptick in the artist’s life for a period, his paintings reflecting such tranquility by way of brighter colors and less morbid subject matter. Unfortunately, this period would not be indefinite, as World War One sundered and complicated Munch’s personal connections to both people and places, “All my friends are German but it is France I love”. This was also the probable cause of Munch’s election to become reclusive and solitary, remaining that way until his death on January 23, 1944. Even death could not excuse Edvard Munch from the hardships of life however, as his funeral was organized by the Nazi party, this done in spite of decrying his works as acts of degeneracy, in a probable final attempt to discredit and delegitimization a son of Norway in the then Nazi-occupied country. Despite fascist attempts at discrediting his work, Edvard Munch’s art has been carried down through the following decades to create a monumental legacy that inspires all manner of art forms as we shall see with Satyricon’s latest effort.
Though Satyricon is likely far from the first band inspired to create music in relation to Edvard Munch’s work, they are the first to celebrate the artists life and accomplishments by a carefully curated selection of his works to accompany a musical composition. While the selection list is not found outside of the museum, combing through some of the press leading up to the exhibit opening, I was able to suss out a few of the pieces that are highly probable that were featured in snippets(featured throughout thisreview). Not surprising is how the works believed to be selected are of Munch’s more darker and anguished artistic applications. The album Satyricon and Munch, then simultaneously draws inspiration from the troubled life and expressions of Munch, while seamlessly stringing pieces that span the years of his life together into a thematic presentation.
Flower of Pain-1897
Satyricon and Munch begins with a disparate ambient drone that immediately sets an ominous, nigh lugubrious tone. There are fleeting moments of extraneous sound that intensify the focus on the mainline drone, and make it feel as if there is something dripping down your spine, while an intermittent bass thrums its vibrations into your eardrums. It is not long before we are introduced to our first movement proper of this elongated piece where in a heavy synth comes in with slow measured strokes that combine with the droning. This is then phased out, or absorbed into the droning, as we are introduced to a wailing string accompaniment. Though the synth does emerge again a few measures later, it is much less pronounced, and sets off a pattern of instrumentation being introduced and swallowed or subverted into the droning to later make a resurgence, albeit altered. This is a clever move on the part of Satyricon when approaching a subject with as much variance and depth as Edvard Munch. Keeping in mind that this records original purpose was to be in context with the viewings of a visual medium, the ever altering instrumentation in rapid succession with a simple yet effective through-line in the form of the droning, allows for viewers of the exhibit to have their attention be lead by both the musicality and art in tandem, with each playing off the other. They are utilizing a similar methodology visual artist uses to draw the eye to various points across the piece, creating different pockets of tension and attention to effect a submersive atmosphere.
The second movement within the piece is a little more straight forward in its boldness. It occurs around the five and a half minute mark with what would normally be a beautiful Satyricon intro riff, but there is a lack of the typical blast beats and brutality, instead favoring more the bizarre. There is a shrill, high-toned wallowing that accompanies the guitar in seeming opposition, or conflict as we know Edvard’s life to be riddled with. There is also a chugging rhythm of strings introduced that seem almost oppressive in their drive. This reaches a claustrophobic moment where the elements mount into an almost Noise-like state, until suddenly there is an abatement, an almost interlude of sorts with melodious and richly toned guitar work. It seems almost a reprieve until a gloomy set of strings accompanies them and the return of a plucked and reserved stringed chugging plays underneath and the listener begins to wonder if it is indeed a reprieve or is another form of malady? I suspect the structure of the piece thus far, and perhaps overall, is to mimic the instability of not only life itself but the the often times hostile and overwhelmingly fragile and precarious nature of some mental illnesses the Munch may have suffered from. The fluidity coupled with the rapidity by which the music moves, in addition to the visual content, represents a constant stream of consciousness that is interconnected, yet wholly able to stand alone as a singular work. As with many mental illnesses, it can be difficult to figure out the source of the issue(work), as they are often cyclical in nature and feeding off of internal and external factors, and as such remain misunderstood by the lay or unsympathetic public, which is the fate I fear for an ambitious project such as this.
Getting to the twelve minute mark we see a continuation of the pattern of a concept returned yet altered. Where before there was an interlude of a melodious guitar playing, there is now a baseline holding a lumbering melody that is soon accompanied by a synth that sounds like a revised form of the piece’s earlier droning aspect, but with more modulation. The baseline makes a shift back into the guitar work to work on its own for a few measures before combining the previous elements of synth and baseline, and even a percussive track eventually, giving it the feeling of new life. This is an almost hopeful point, because there seems to be a drive, or build up to a kinetic release of energy infamous within the Black Metal scene. However, Satyricon has chosen to deconstruct that notion, and instead harness the power that could have been explosive into a hypnotically sedate yet powerful meandered swaying into the melancholy with the re-introduction of strings that make it feel like a ritualistic sort of nihilism. Perhaps that is the point, a purposeful demolition of the scene they helped created in an effort to not only subvert expectations but flog towards reimagine what Black Metal could be within an incredible sense often over saturated sphere of projects all competing to be heavier and more extreme than their predecessors. In an interview in 2008 , Satyr touched upon that very concept and perhaps inadvertently a seed was planted that would germinate such a challenging and ambitious project such as Satyricon and Munch, “…typical I guess for someone who likes their music a little bit rough, you always go like ‘where to go next?’ And I think that is what is happening, for example…many really young kids when they listen to a band like let’s say Slipknot, and they’re thinking ‘wow, you know?’. And then without necessarily losing Slipknot they’re thinking also, ‘what’s the next step?’, and that’s when they start looking at bands like Satyricon that have even more of that approach”. Instead of turning backwards musically, though I would argue there are some pretty hardcore operas and classical pieces that deal with brutal subject matter (just look up Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring), Satyricon has transcended traditional artistic boundaries and chosen instead to embrace the harsh brutality of one man’s life chronicaled through his artwork and create an equally harsh and brutal musical composition within its own rite.
Funeral March -1897 lithograph in black
As we near the twenty-minute, or one-third mark there is the start of a new movement. This is done by way of an almost Industrial drum track that is in a subdued competition with the melody created earlier, as if there is a slow and mechanized chipping away that was there previously. The new movement begins in earnest around the twenty-one-minute mark, when there is a chord progression slide to the lower octave for the strings. From here it was on an even more experimental, almost Avant-Garde-esque bent, as the strings begin to play with a reverby echo which blurs the line of being a sustained note relooped and a continuous play. It is a lingering moment, that I imagine is meant to cause an elongated stop at whichever piece happens to be within viewing distance, a gently contrived moment of reflection that is seemingly organic for the viewer. It is also a moment filled with despair, as the created loop, played or no, further develops the cyclical and oftentimes claustrophobic nature of a mental illness. It is also a moment of isolation between the viewer/listener and the art, such repetition after being drawn in allows the viewer/listener to become encapsulated with their own expressionism in how they are reacting to the stimulus of the art, thus creating an intensely personable experience. It should be also noted that this feeling comes entirely, at least for me, from the music that has gone to such lengths to foster such an atmosphere and does not necessarily need the visual aspect to make it work; though having listened and reposted to this piece a number of times both with and without viewing Edvard Munch’s work I can also say that it most definitely also serves its purpose of heightening the visual aspect as well.
The next few moments create a hard tension to break us for our moments of reverie. Though not necessarily explosive enough to be jarring, such a thing would be out of place in this record I feel, it does catch the attention and reel you back from wherever your mind wandered. The riff is almost cinematic in nature and implied drama as it is also accompanied by Industrialized percussion, and a feeling of momentum or force is being given. It is quickly exhausted however, as it reaches a climactic moment with a small flash of backtracking followed by the guitars whining out. What follows is several minutes of ominous, measured notes played out on a synth, one at a time, with each note allowed to echo out its lifespan before another takes its place in some sort of macabre reincarnation that you cannot tell if it is returning to its place of abysmal sorrow or coming from it. Early on in this portion there are some more fleeting backing tracks that swoop in before disappearing altogether making the echoes notes all the more haunting. The process is repeated again, this time with a string accompaniment in the heavier guitar section and auch more pronounced , and organic sounding drum kit resplendent with bright crash cymbals accenting the brighter tones of the strings. There is a resurgence of the industrial percussion, albeit only once, for cyclical effect I’m sure, as the guitars and strings perform a much less melancholy outro than previously. We are once again given long moments wherein the synths are allowed to echo out, followed by a lead guitar doing a melodious recall of a one of the earlier movements as a secondary guitar mimics the droning aspect of the beginning of the piece.
The final movements of the piece begin around the thirty-nine minute mark and lead off with a nigh cinematic-score feel that pulls elements from across the piece as it works towards its climax. It is all at once, haunting and anxiety inducing while being beautifully sorrowful. This admixture of emotions that have been more singularly explored thus far culminate into what feels like an edging climax is allowed to simmer and fester out in an elongated buzzing drone that instills yet another feeling of isolation, but this time tinged with the loss of a cumulative experience, like a loved one that we’ve spent so much time with passing. It feels longer than it’s just over two and a half minute run time, a potential statement on the relativistic episodic nature of some mental illnesses and tragic events that some of us and all of us experience respectively. That it feels longer than it actually is after such an emotionally invested moment speaks to what I believe to be the penultimate goal of the exhibit is, to be exhausting. To showcase the feelings of futility and existential dread that accompanies the human condition is a reflection on, not only large swathes of Munch’s work, but the Extreme Metal community, Black Metal in particular, as well. This collaborative reductionism, that we takes about briefly, goes a long way towards the building of something new in the Extreme Metal community. For other bands and artistic projects to then be inspired by a work like Satyricon and Munch then begins the cycle anew, of not only tracing the roots of each respect project that goes into making one such as this whole, but also causes a conversation as to where the next step leads, is there a paired regression to the early sound of Black Metal with more emphasis on spatial awareness within the tracks through aspect like Drone or Ambience? Or does it push farther towards the newer side of things like Cascadian Black Metal with even harder more aggressively despondent lyrical content? Who knows, only time will tell, with Satyricon setting another milestone along the pathway.
“Todeskuss” (The kiss of Death)-1899
Entering into the homestretch in the final eleven minutes we are introduced to a new instrument briefly in the form of a contrabass clarinet that provides an eerie introspective moment. After the clarinet has done its work we are introduced to a familiar guitar-string harmonious melody with the strings being as pronounced as they have ever been. It then gets teased out in a fluid back and forth between the guitar and strings with the clarinet as the sonic glue holding it all together. We’re then brought into a minimalist bridge as we enter into the final moments of this saga. There is a slow drudgery of what sounds like a seesawing of a cello bow being drawn across strings and then fed into an effects pedal or processor to be in an in between from not quite overly digitized to eerily reminiscent of the strings they mimic, creating a sort of uncanny valley of sound that are a coda of the opening lines of the piece. Joining in are the lugubrious plodding of a percussive track alongside an equally measured and depressive piano. The final moments are a slowly disjointed finale of the contrabass clarinet uttering notes sporadically as the aforementioned elements fizzle out with a final, almost sizzling sound that sounds like steam escaping, or a final breath from an exhausted state. If listened to on repeat, Satyricon and Munch still feels like a constantly evolving state of movements and emotions that can shift in meaning to the listener as they develop more of an ear for it, creating a desire to return again and again, to push what has been learned even further, much like how the limits of deconstructionism as a way to push the Extreme Metal community forward have served an evolving purpose on the whole, with this record being a prime example. Surely Satyricon has led the way yet again into what is possible for Black Metal, and making the five-year wait for new material well worth it.
Be righteous by listening to and supporting Satyricon & Munch on Bandcamp: https://satyricon.bandcamp.com/album/satyricon-munch