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Interview with Satyr by Peter Atkinson
While Satyricon leader Satyr may profess to a general disdain for the human race, and the group's latest album, "Rebel Extravaganza", may be a raging black metal shitstorm of filth, decay and hatred, there's something about the simple beauty of the first snow of the Norwegian winter that cannot be denied. "I woke up the other morning and looked out the window and saw the ground was white and the snow was falling, it felt great," he says on the phone from his country home outside of Oslo. "The snow came for the first time, so I'm a little bit excited." However, with another five months or so snow, cold and diminished sunlight to come before spring begins to emerge, that excitement won't last long. "After a while, it's around for so long, it's like fuck the snow and you find yourself waiting for the spring," Satyr sighs. "I not looking forward to it because I have to drive to Oslo fairly often, and since not many people live out here they don't take a great deal of care of the roads and it gets really slippery." Oslo is where the office of his label, Moonfog Productions (whose roster also includes Darkthrone, Isengard and Satyr's other musical ventures Storm and Wongraven) is located and things have been busy there of late. "Rebel Extravaganza" has significantly boosted Satyricon's profile after previous albums, "Dark Medieval Times" and "Nemesis Divina", and a split EP with Enslaved made the band - whose two permanent members are Satyr and drummer Frost - underground favorites. The album's dizzying, epic, yet raw sound - free of the keyboards and classical embellishments that have become black metal standards of late - and bleak, cold vibe has drawn critical raves in Europe and the U.S. And it sold well enough to crack the Norwegian charts. "Rebel Extravaganza" also sold nearly as much in its first month of release in the U.S. as "Nemesis Divina" did in total. Satyricon were supposed to play their first show here at last summer's Milwaukee Metal Festival, but Customs put the kibosh on that. However, the band looks to play a series of shows here in February and given Satyr's friendship with Pantera's Phil Anselmo (who he stayed with during a recent trip to Louisiana) may be back for more later. The surprisingly cordial, and refreshingly honest, Satyr offered the following on the prospect of playing the U.S., the state of black metal as he sees it and the misanthropic tendencies he feels he was born with.
Since Oslo is the heart of the music scene in Norway, what is the city like, is it such a big city that it's chased you into the country?
Oslo is growing every day, it's a big city. It used to be half-a-million people, now it's getting closer to a million and its growing fast, whereas in the countryside it's just the opposite. More people in the country are moving to Oslo. Norway has become a lot more international over the last few years. I read in some lifestyle magazine that Norway has the second best club scene in Europe for techno music and house music. And all the cafes and bars and restaurants, they're all getting pretty fancy and pretty international, it's almost a bit weird. It's kind of hard to find the same standard in, say, Germany. That's why a lot of people are moving to a place like Oslo. But it's kind of stressful. I can't really see myself living in a place like Oslo because Oslo is too much for me. You have traffic and you have noise. I can't really tell when I'm there, I can tell when I'm not there. My girlfriend's mother lives in the heart of Oslo and when we spend the night there we sleep at her place and when we go home it's like "wow we're home." Suddenly everything is so quiet and there's no people.
Is it tough to maintain your band and record label living so far out in the country?
The house that I rent is very cheap, it's a very big house, it's got six bedrooms. If I was to rent an apartment in Oslo about this size, I would pay four or five times more. I have a friend who lives in a very small apartment in Oslo and he pays a little bit more a month than I do and his apartment is about the size of two of my bedrooms. I have an office here and all the facilities, and it's all being paid for by my label. I go to the office (in Oslo) once or twice a week to pick up my mail and to see that my assistant is doing fine and maybe have a meeting with my partner. But the rest of the time I am here. As for the band, I have a music room here, one of the bedrooms, that has a four-track recorder and a couple amplifiers and all the other equipment, so I am fine.
With all of your other projects, and Satyricon's line-up situation, I know the band doesn't tour much. What does your schedule for supporting "Rebel Extravaganza" look like into next year?
We will be doing a couple shows before the end of the year in Europe, some around here, and we'll be playing in Athens. And I was asked to come to North America to headline the Nuclear Blast Festival in February for five dates in America and Canada (Worcester, Philadelphia, Toronto, Montreal and New York), and I said yes.
Are you all that interested in playing in America?
I would like to play there, but I really want to go on a big tour. I have no interest on going on a short headlining tour and playing for 300 people, I would rather save the money a get a support slot with a bigger band and play for more people. I've been talking to Phil Anselmo about perhaps supporting them, but that's just talk, but something like that. I hope we get somewhere like that, or catch a band like Slayer. My point is, why not play 30 minutes in front of 5.000 every night, it's such an enormous country.
Emperor, Dimmu Borgir and Cradle of Filth went the short headlining tour route here and the Emperor and Dimmu shows I saw both had crowds of like 200 or 300 people.
That's probably what it's going to be like, that week that we're doing in February. I'm thinking its going to be a few hundred people, but then we've started and maybe we can come back in March or April or something and do something bigger then. That's what I'm hoping for.
Pantera's taken out bands like Neurosis and Eyehategod, and Phil's always wearing Mayhem shirts, so they obviously are aware of the underground and willing to showcase those kinds of bands.
That's what he said. I asked him if there was any chance we might support Pantera and he said, "Do you want to?" And I said, "Why wouldn't we want to do that?" And he said "I just figured a band such as you wouldn't like to tour with us." And I said, "Of course we would, because it would be such a good chance for us." He said there are obstacles like management and money and promoters, but he mentioned Neurosis and Eyehategod and Anal Cunt and all of them are really extreme bands and I figure, especially someone like Anal Cunt, pretty small as well. Fortunately there are a handful of bands that just want to bring quality bands with them.
Have you managed to build a fan base here with your albums?
It's pretty good. I got the sales figures from Nuclear Blast just yesterday and the new album has sold 10.000 copies, so I'm pretty happy with that, it's only been out for a month.
The few reviews that I have seen in magazines here have been glowing, so the critics like you, for whatever that's worth.
The reviews for this album have been way beyond anything I ever could expect. Just as an example, Norway is the fourth most newspaper reading country in the world, everybody reads the newspaper in Norway. The biggest newspaper here is being read by 1 million people a day, which is a quarter of the population. And that newspaper, if there's a new Metallica album, they might review that album, they will give it 4 out of 6 or something like that. And we heard from our distributor that the reviewer there liked the album and we thought, "Cool, maybe they will review the album and give it like 5 out of 6 and that would help sales in Norway." And he gave it 6 out of 6, and that set a standard for the other newspapers, and then all the other papers were giving it 6 out of 6 and the album actually charted at # 22 in Norway and that was incredible. The only other band related to us who made the charts here was Dimmu and they were on television on the Norwegian Grammy awards, which is watched by a lot people, and there was so much stuff written about them in the press. It was during that period when they had the most exposure that they entered the chart for one week and they came in at like 36. We didn't go on television, and we didn't get all the exposure that they did, and the album charted higher and it stayed there a couple weeks. So that was pretty cool.
What is the ingredient in this album that maybe your previous records did not have?
I think the production has a lot to do with it, the production is incredibly strong. That was one of the things I was most happy with in the reviews. When we started, I said to my engineer what I want to do is make it powerful, I want to have depth, it's got to sound big, but on the other hand I don't want it to be clinical and sterile and artificial. I want it to sound organic. We just worked to achieve that and then I read the reviews and they say "the sound on "Rebel Extravaganza" has a lot of power and a lot of depth, but on the other hand it's not artificial or clinical, it's very organic."
It's almost like you wrote your own review before you recorded the album.
That's what's so funny about it, it's like finally you get the mission complete and everything you were striving for is mentioned in the reviews. And I guess the song material also appeals to people. I got sort of a thank you e-mail from the bassist in Emperor (Tyr), I don't really know him, he's good a friend of Frost's, he said, "Congratulations with the new album, it's really a fresh breath, thank you for exciting me in that way." I've heard that from a lot of my friends in other bands, "finally something that kicks ass." Because this whole gothic thing has just gone too far and it's been too much synthesizers and too much naked women and too much blood and too much Dracula. Playing "Rebel Extravaganza" is like getting your teeth kicked out when you press play and that's what a lot of people wanted. They were sick and tired of the whole gothic thing and they finally came this album that was a total fist in your face.
Do you really pay that much attention to the black metal scene?
I wouldn't say I'm a great follower of black metal, but I have friends who listen to other music that I do and they'll play me something or if I get a compilation with Satyricon on it I'll play it in my car stereo and I can see what's going on, and I don't like it. There are some exceptions. Thorns, who are on our label (Snorre from the band guests on "Rebel Extravaganza"), are a very important band as far as a lot of Norwegian black metal bands, especially Mayhem, they were really inspired by Thorns. I also really like the new Darkthrone album (Fenriz from the band also guests on "Rebel Extravaganza"). I don't find it to be as strong as their classic records, but it's still a very good album.
Was there anything you were looking to correct in your own music on Rebel Extravaganza?
Yeah, sure. We're getting better ourselves, working on developing ourselves as individual musicians and getting better at songwriting, playing drums, playing guitar, singing, and all that. And on the other hand, instead of sitting there whining and complaining - I have some friends in bands who keep constantly keep complaining about Dimmu and Cradle and Covenant, all those bands, and I understand where they're coming from because I feel the same way, but what I don't understand is they don't do anything, they just sit there and complain. We try to show those bands that we don't like, and the people who like those bands, that this is the way it should be, this is the real stuff. And that's very important to do so.
How much of that plays into the title of the record?
The title reflects the musical and the lyrical concept of the album and it also reflects the general attitude of Satyricon, Satyricon is a very extravagant band. But it is also a reaction, and shows we feel change is necessary.
It's almost a punk title, but then there's you and Frost on the cover with that horrific, Dawn of the Dead make-up and it makes for quite a dichotomy?
I heard so many things about the title. David Vincent from the Genitorturers (and formerly of Morbid Angel) said he thought the title sounded like some southern rock album. It was not really a big process, thinking of the title, it was quite natural. The same thing with "Nemesis Divina", it's just something the dropped into my head, so was "Dark Medieval Times", the same with the new album. It was like "Rebel Extravaganza", oh!
I've heard "Rebel Extravaganza" described as your most misanthropic album. How is that?
The lyrics are very misanthropic and I feel the album itself is quite cold and cynical. It's not that emotional, it's more lifeless in a way. But even though I feel that way, that has been a label that has been strongly put upon us by journalists and I've read a lot of introductions to interviews where they write a lot about that without getting it from me, so I guess what they feel is pretty much correct.
How does that play into your personality and how difficult is it to balance misanthropy with tolerance?
I remember realizing, and I don't think I will ever forget this, I had a discussion with a friend who is now dead and another guy when we were in seventh grade. And I don't even remember what the discussion itself was about, but we started talking about people and I said how I hated some guy. And he got pissed off and said "well you fucking hate everybody." And there was silence, and I thought to myself, "he's right!" But you can't go through life and function in society without tolerating people, and getting along with them. I'm always friendly with people who are friendly to me. And if people seek contact, I always give them a chance. But on the other hand, if I don't like people, I don't do anything to hide it. And I can be very quick to judge. People call me arrogant. But if people are wasting my time I don't want to spend any more time with them then I have to before moving along. To me it's quite natural, but I know my girlfriend always finds it a bit weird, that if someone would come up to me and ask me, for example, "what's the time?" But if I don't like the person's vibe, or whatever, I just don't answer. I don't know how that is in America, but if you don't do that here people will be very bewildered. To me it's more important to have a good relationship with my friends and my family and to have a good time with them and respect them and the people in my surroundings that I find to be important. The rest is just not that interesting, it's not that I hate them, but I tend to keep them at an arm's length distance and if they come to close I bite.
If you came to this realization in seventh grade, was there something about your childhood that made you feel this way?
I sincerely believe I was born this way. To me it's never been a point in itself to be a misanthrope, I don't go around bragging about being a misanthrope, it's nothing to brag about at all. To me it's not a point in itself to dislike people, I try to get along with people, I like to have good relationships with people, but I just have this thing where I find mankind in general to be quite inferior and I sort of despise the whole race. But I think I was born with this feeling in the same way some people are just suspicious by nature, or some people jealous by nature.
Is this why Satyricon is not the kind of band to have a traditional line-up, it's you and Frost and whomever can help out on the albums or tour with you? Or does that have to do more with your musical vision and other people's abilities to grasp that?
I guess it's a little bit of both. We probably would have been a traditional four-piece or whatever if it hadn't been for all the practical obstacles that have to do with the music. On the other hand I've always found it very hard to deal with people that can't deal with my work. If people are not as ambitious as I am, I find that very hard to tolerate. That makes it very hard to get along with people. It's also a very fine line between humble and confidence. If people are too confident, there ends up being conflict and it irritates me when they won't listen. And on the other hand if they're too humble it's hard to respect them.
What is it about Frost that has allowed the two of you to keep working together?
Because he manages to walk the fine line we were just talking about. He's confident and he's humble. And he's a very diplomatic person, I have a lot to learn from him when it comes to that. He's very good at being the middle man and seeing things from different perspectives and being open-minded. I guess it's very good that we've never become very close friends. We respect each other a lot and we get a long very well and we communicate on the same level and we understand each other, but we never really hung out that much. But I figure if we had our relationship wouldn't be as good.
I was curious about the look of the band. You've really transformed yourselves since "Nemesis Divina", from the typical black metal band makeup and spikes to now looking something much more ominous with the emphasis more on decomposition than just overaccentuated frowns?
We've always been very much about totality and the makeup and the look has always been an important part of that. I was talking about that with Philip (Anselmo) and he was saying "I like your music but why do you always have to do that strange photography and all that, I just don't get it." And I don't understand where he's coming from because they're just doing music. The visual aspect is a very important part of what we do. The photographer and the stylist had a lot to do with the look this time. We started talking about the photography for this two years ago and I told him we wanted to do something that would capture decay, rot and filth and extravagance. And while we knew what we wanted to wear and how we wanted things to looked, the stylist was very helpful in getting stuff like kidneys and livers and cow's blood and everything we needed for the photo shoot for the album artwork. It turned out pretty cool.
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