Monday 8 August 2016

ALBUM REVIEW: Satyricon - “Nemesis Divina” (Reissue)

By: Daniel Jackson

Album Type: Full Length (Reissue)
Date Released: 20/05/2016
Label: Napalm Records

This album does to me what people describe psychedelic drugs as doing for them. In my opinion this is mandatory listening. There are precious few albums that matter this much to me, and I can only hope that if someone hears this album for the first time this year, it has the same kind of impact on them that it’s had on me.

“Nemesis Divina” CD//DD//LP track listing:

1.The Dark of a New Age
3.Mother North
4.Du som hater Gud
5.Immortality Passion
6.Nemesis Divina
7.Tanscendental Requiem of Slaves

The Review:

I know it’s supposed to be poor form to write about yourself when writing about an album. “Nobody cares about you, they care about the album!” is a recurring point made on Twitter. I get it, and when we’re talking about new albums, I usually agree with it. Please know that if you’re strict about that particular rule, this isn’t going to be for you. I don’t really have a structure for this, nor do I have any direction. I’m just going to write about an album that’s meant more to me than virtually any other. I’m writing about ‘Nemesis Divina’, an album in its 20th year of existence, recently reissued via Napalm Records. I’m going to talk about why this album matters so much to me, and why I regard it as being one of the best black metal albums ever made. If that’s not interesting to you, close the tab and no hard feelings. Fair enough? Ok, let’s get started.

As was the case with a lot of the bigger second wave black metal albums of the 90s, I found out about ‘Nemesis Divina’ through a compilation CD. In this case it was the ‘Gods of Darkness’ compilation, which was issued by Nuclear Blast in 1997, the same year the album got its release in the United States. Back then, the US often got black metal albums quite a bit later than Europe. Many of these great albums didn’t see broader distribution in the US until Century Black came to the rescue and became the North American home of some of the greatest black metal albums of all time. Along with ‘Nemesis Divina’, Century Black was the American home for Mayhem’sDe Mysteriis Dom Sathanas’, Emperor’s In The Nightside Eclipse’ and ‘Anthems to the Welkin At Dusk’, Ulver’sNattens Madrigal’, Gorgoroth’s first three albums, and so many others. That black metal imprint for Century Media was so vital to making prime Norwegian black metal available throughout the US that it almost can’t be overstated.

The song featured on ‘Gods of Darkness’ was, as you’d expect, “Mother North”. In the 19 years or so that I’ve been listening to ‘Nemesis Divina’, the song went from being my favorite, to over-playing it and getting burnt out on it, to then coming back around to appreciating and understanding why people love it so much. “Mother North” is among the most popular black metal songs of the nineties. When it comes down to it, the reasons for its popularity are pretty simple. It’s loaded with hooks, and Satyr’s vocals are comprehensible enough that people can learn—and follow along with—the lyrics.

I’ll admit that my 16 year old self might have found occasion once or twice to put on my most dour black metal face and bellow “Sometimes in the dead of the night, I mesmerize my soul…” in front of a mirror. In the previous decade, high school kids were lip syncing and air guitaring to Maiden or Priest. But for me, it was hours upon hand drumming on my knees to ‘Nemesis Divina’ or ‘De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas’. It was easy to romanticize Norwegian black metal as a teenager, even with all of the violence. But that was a non-factor with Satyricon. They weren’t really a part of the drama that surrounded Mayhem, Burzum, and Emperor. They were just a band. The music on ‘Nemesis Divina’ created it’s own mystique.

In terms of knowing about the band itself, I really only had photos in the CD booklet to go off of. The photo of Satyr, Frost, and Nocturno Culto (credited as Kveldulv on this album) in front of what, in retrospect, a ridiculous blue family photo/school picture backdrop. Satyr is seated upon an old wooden chair with markings along the sides and thrusting a partially intact skull toward the camera. Frost and Nocturno Culto stand beside him, wielding stylized axes, and Frost is decked out in some of the most unwieldy spiked gauntlets ever worn by arms. They were basically just giant nails in place of where the half inch spikes had been. It was ludicrous. At 16, I imagined Satyricon were just like that all the time. They didn’t have jobs or families or pets or regular human lives. Instead, they just lived in a secluded Norwegian forest, where they dedicated all their time to black metal and ancillary activities. 16 year old me didn’t want to think about Satyr ordering a coffee, or Nocturno Culto punching a clock and working like I would do the following year. I was like a young child who watches pro wrestling and doesn’t really understand that wrestlers were often very different from the personas they played on television.

But all these years later, none of the image or package has anything more than a passing nostalgic value. Today, the music is what matters. Sure, it’s the music that conjures those fanciful memories, but more than anything it’s about the constant realization while listening to it, that Satyr, Frost and Nocturno Culto captured lightning in a bottle back in 1996. ‘Nemesis Divina’ is one of the few albums, of the thousands of albums I’ve owned and thousands more that I’ve listened to, where there isn’t a track I skip on purpose. From the opening downbeat of “The Dawn of A new Age” to the final droning keyboard and guitar of “Transcendental Requiem of Slaves” it all has resonance, and it’s all important to the album overall.

Everything works together so well. There has never been a black metal album so well arranged. Frost is especially important here, as he’s virtually perfect at coming up with musical drum fills and accents that play into the riff and often enhance it. It’s those random tom hits on the upbeats, or the intricate patterns he uses all over the album that bring more to ‘Nemesis Divina’ than any drum performance has brought to any other black metal album since the genre’s inception. The riffs themselves are burned in my memory for as long as I live. I could write 20 hundred words about each song and individual riff, but I doubt there are many of you left reading this as it is.

There are few albums that have brought me anything close to the same amount joy that ‘Nemesis Divina’ has. Put on your headphones, let the world burn around you if it’s going to, and exist only in the world Satyricon built with this music back in 1996. When I listen to this album, I get fucking existential. I’d rather live in the universe this guitar work compels me to imagine. This album does to me what people describe psychedelic drugs as doing for them. I’m well passed the point of being ridiculous now, but let’s just say that my opinion of the album is that it’s mandatory listening. There are precious few albums that matter this much to me, and I can only hope that if someone hears this album for the first time this year, it has the same kind of impact on them that it’s had on me.

‘Nemesis Divina’ is available now

Band info:  official