Revolver has teamed with Satyricon for exclusive vinyl variants of their first two albums: Dark Medieval Times (2LP in silver) and The Shadowthrone (2LP in Oxblood). Quantities are extremely limited — grab yours before they're gone.
It should come as a surprise to absolutely no one that Satyricon have been rehearsing regularly during the pandemic. After all, this is the same band that, when guitarist-vocalist and all-around mastermind Sigurd "Satyr" Wongraven was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2015, decided to make an album instead of pausing for the necessary surgery. "It's important for us to stay in touch with the songs," Satyricon drummer Kjetil-Vidar "Frost" Haraldstad tells Revolver over a spotty Zoom connection from the band's practice space in Oslo. "There will be a day coming when things are getting close to normal, and we want to be ready."
In the meantime, the Norwegian duo are unveiling re-mastered versions of their first two albums. Originally released six months apart in 1994, Dark Medieval Times and The Shadowthrone capture Satyricon's formative energy and spirit in highly atmospheric works that laid the foundation for one of black metal's unmitigated triumphs, 1996's Nemesis Divina. Then again, Dark Medieval Times and The Shadowthrone are minor masterpieces in their own right, replete with eerie melodies, churning guitars and subterranean ambience.
"It wasn't possible to make significant changes to the sound, not that we wanted to do that," Frost says of the re-masters. "If the old master tapes had still been intact, Satyr would have wanted to remix them and do a little more. But he did give the production a boost, especially on Dark Medieval Times. And we did alter the cover artwork for both albums, because we never felt that those covers were expressing powerfully enough the original ideas. Apart from that, the albums need to be as they are. What makes them good isn't that they were executed brilliantly in a musical or technical sense. But there is an authentic spirit, and we have to respect that."
FIRST OFF, HOW IS SATYR'S HEALTH?
FROST He's doing well. He has gone through serious back surgery as well, but the man is tough. He's strong, and that has certainly helped him a lot during these circumstances. He's been able to recover remarkably well from the brain tumor and the back surgery that he's been through. He's a hard nail. To me, it seems like he's doing very well. It's nothing short of impressive and admirable.
LET'S GO BACK TO SATYRICON'S EARLY DAYS, PRIOR TO THE FIRST TWO ALBUMS. WHEN YOU AUDITIONED FOR THE BAND IN '92 YOU WERE JUST ABOUT READY TO GIVE UP PLAYING DRUMS, WEREN'T YOU?
That is true. I felt I was not really a proper musician, and my goal was never to become one. I started to play the drums because I liked the energy and rawness of hard music and I wanted to feel that for myself, physically — and there is no instrument more physical than a drum kit. So that's basically what it came down to for me. I wanted to go apeshit behind the drums, but eventually you don't get that far if you don't even try to learn some basics of timing and precision and musicality. That's how it was for me — I had fun with it, and it was cool to do for a while. But I would rather stay as a devoted fan of metal music — and black metal in particular — because we need those devoted fans as well. Not everyone should try and become musicians.
BUT THEN FAUST FROM EMPEROR INTRODUCED YOU TO SATYR.
Yes, so I got a chance to audition with Satyricon even though I was very uncertain if I even wanted to play the drums anymore. But somehow Satyr felt that I had a certain style and spirit that he liked, regardless of me basically being unable to play the fucking instrument. He felt there was a certain potential. Perhaps if I got my shit together, this could really be something in the long run. And it kind of took off from there.
YOU JOINED AFTER SATYRICON HAD ALREADY RECORDED THEIR FIRST DEMO. WERE YOU FAMILIAR WITH THE BAND BEFORE YOU AUDITIONED?
Not really. I hadn't heard anything when Satyr and I met for the first time. But before the first rehearsal, I got ahold of a copy of that first demo and listened to it. But I knew that the band was going in a quite different direction after that, so it wasn't that important, really, to learn the songs from that first demo. I knew it was going to be something different.
DID YOU HAVE A MUSICAL CHEMISTRY WITH SATYR RIGHT AWAY, OR DID IT TAKE TIME TO DEVELOP?
I think there was something there right away, but it took a while to understand what Satyr really wanted to achieve with Satyricon. It has always been his life's work, and it eventually became mine. But in the beginning, I could only get a vague idea of what it was all about. I learned more and more as time went by.
WERE YOU ALREADY LISTENING TO A LOT OF BLACK METAL AT THIS POINT?
Yeah, for sure. That was my life, really.
BLACK METAL MUST'VE BEEN PRETTY SEDUCTIVE FOR A YOUNG NORWEGIAN METAL FAN IN THE EARLY 90S ...
That's absolutely true. It was a very fascinating world to enter, and definitely an exciting world to be in. When I felt the vibe and the energy of black-metal music — and the Norwegian bands in particular — I felt I entered a room that I had always wanted to be in but didn't know existed. It was the best and most powerful thing I could conjure up myself — that's what was already going on in that room. I didn't exactly know what it was all about, but I felt that I belonged there. I felt it would be an extremely important part of my life from there on.
AFTER YOU JOINED SATYRICON, YOU GUYS RECORDED THE SECOND DEMO, THE FOREST IS MY THRONE. WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER ABOUT THAT?
I don't really remember much from the recording, but Satyr is a brilliant composer — and he was good at this back then without being technically gifted. I think that he never saw himself as a good guitar player, and he didn't really want to become one. He wanted to use the guitar as an instrument for composing songs. But he showed ambition and talent and the ability to put in a lot of effort even in the demo days. I started to understand that Satyricon was a proper and serious band that wanted to go somewhere, and it started to feel really serious when we did Dark Medieval Times.
GOOD SEGUE. YOU RECORDED DARK MEDIEVAL TIMES AT A STUDIO CALLED ANCIENT SPECTRE RUINS. WHAT WAS THAT LIKE?
Yeah, that was a pretty weird place. It was an old wooden building on a peninsula outside of Oslo, where Satyr was living at the time. There was a small, semi-professional studio there, and the house is actually haunted. There were things happening at night at that place, but that's another story. No matter what the circumstances were with the building, I remember there was a weird atmosphere during the recording of Dark Medieval Times, and it was like the atmosphere of the album itself. It was basically there all along, even before the album was fully recorded. I can still feel that weird, eerie vibe and that particular dark atmosphere when I listen back to the album.
DID YOU HAVE ANY STRANGE EXPERIENCES AS FAR AS THE HAUNTING GOES?
[Laughs] Not myself, no. But I know that Satyr and the technician working at the studio heard all these weird noises — like furniture being moved around and things like this — as they were working during the night. These noises came from a locked room. The technician actually had a small apartment in a different area of the building, so he had a key to this room. But he had never been in there because it wasn't for him to use. After hearing these noises a few times, they opened this room and there was nobody in there — and no furniture or anything. It was completely empty.
DO YOU THINK THE ATMOSPHERE OF THE STUDIO SEEPED INTO DARK MEDIEVAL TIMES SOMEHOW?
No, I don't think so. I think that atmosphere on the album is really connected to Satyricon. It had to do with what we were doing in the studio, I think. If we attracted certain energies or whatever, that would almost make sense. But I think it had to do with our work and Satyricon's spirit. Satyr and I brought something to that studio. Recording an album was a dream of ours —it was our number one goal — so actually being there and doing it was significant. I had been in the band less than a year and this was happening.
WHEN YOU RECORDED DARK MEDIEVAL TIMES IN THE FALL OF 1993, MANY OF THE MAJOR NORWEGIAN BANDS — DARKTHRONE, IMMORTAL AND BURZUM — ALREADY HAD SEVERAL ALBUMS OUT. DID YOU AND SATYR FEEL YOU HAD TO DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT TO STAND OUT FROM THE CROWD?
We certainly did. I think that any musician that is genuinely creative and has a sincere passion for music would like to create a universe of their own. One of the powerful aspects of the Norwegian scene at the time was that each of the bands demanded of themselves to do something that was different and unique. It would not have been okay if one band stole ideas from another or started to resemble one of the others too much. I think that helped make Norwegian black metal a kind of gold standard for other bands around the world.
We were devoted fans of bands from the 80s and contemporary bands from the Norwegian scene — like Darkthrone and Thorns and so on — but we had thoughts of our own about how things should sound and how things should be done. We were determined to create our own expression, and we were never afraid to make controversial moves or bring something into the band that was breaking with traditions or standards. That has always been part of Satyricon's M.O.
THE SHADOWTHRONE CAME OUT JUST SIX MONTHS AFTER DARK MEDIEVAL TIMES. CLEARLY, THAT WAS A BUSY TIME FOR SATYRICON.
Quite a lot happened by the time we recorded The Shadowthrone, and that's why I think the album is so much more diverse and complex and mature. It's based on much better ideas. We wanted to have this grim and dark element, but also we wanted to bring in something calmer, something that connected to a different type of darkness. That tells you how quickly the band matured at that time. For me, the evolution of Satyricon was happening at such a rapid pace that it was almost impossible to keep up. So I just tried to cling on to that very fast-moving train and hope that I was able to move with it. But it was very rewarding to see the momentum we had.
DID YOU PLAY ANY SHOWS BETWEEN THE TWO ALBUMS?
No, we didn't play live at that point. We didn't even have a live band at the time. It was basically just the two of us. And then we had Samoth there doing the rhythm guitars for The Shadowthrone. But he was also busy with Emperor so it would've been impossible for him to go on tour with Satyricon or become a permanent member. We didn't have a complete live lineup until after the release of Nemesis Divina.
HOW DID SAMOTH BECOME INVOLVED?
Well, Norway is a rather small country. In such a marginal and extreme environment as black metal, people quickly become colleagues and friends. It's almost like family, because we share certain ideas, certain values and a certain spirit that is so remote to the rest of society, so you have a certain bond that brings you together. People that really dedicate themselves to a particular kind of lifestyle or operate within a very particular musical genre will have this. Samoth was pretty much our age and he understood perfectly what we were about. We needed a good rhythm guitar player, and he was one. He liked what we were doing, and Emperor wasn't that busy at that point, so it wasn't hard to convince him.
IN ADDITION TO SAMOTH'S INVOLVEMENT AND MORE MATURE MATERIAL, YOU ALSO RECORDED THE SHADOWTHRONE IN A DIFFERENT STUDIO. HOW DID ALL OF THOSE FACTORS MAKE THE PROCESS DIFFERENT FROM THAT OF DARK MEDIEVAL TIMES?
It was a professional studio, as opposed to the case with Dark Medieval Times. This is because we had what you might call a budget. Dark Medieval Times was recorded with my scholarship money and some money that Satyr was borrowing from his father, I believe. With The Shadowthrone, we had a deal. Moonfog [Productions, Satyr's label] was set up and had a budget. We had established Satyricon as a band that meant serious business, and we had some recognition. That gave us a very different platform when we went to record The Shadowthrone. The band was in a very different position — even musically, in that short time. But every time you go to record an album, it's like giving life to a new living creature.
DO YOU PREFER ONE ALBUM OVER THE OTHER?
That's very difficult because it's apples and oranges, in a way. They are very different albums with different qualities. We couldn't have had The Shadowthrone without Dark Medieval Times, and we couldn't have had what came after The Shadowthrone without that album. There would have been no Nemesis Divina, etcetera. But I guess the album that moves me the most is Dark Medieval Times, because I can still feel the vibe and the atmosphere from the time when we recorded it. It's still very strong and powerful. And there's always something special about the first time.