Satyricon - ‘Live At The Opera’ (Napalm Records) Print E-mail
CD Reviews
Written by Mark Ashby   
Friday, 01 May 2015 04:00

Satyricon - Live At The OperaThe comparisons, and links, between classical music and heavy metal are, it could be argued, and pretty convincingly at that, almost inevitable and inextricable respectively. Both have a tendency to be overblown and pompous. Both can appeal to the darkest corners of your heart and soul, and also elevate you top levels of ecstasy that no other musical form can match (at least not without the aid of some form of artificially-produced chemical stimulant). Both have their fair share of characters - indeed egos.


Indeed, it could be also be argued, and again pretty damn convincingly, that the origins of much “modern” metal can also be traced back to classical composers, and especially the likes of Wagner, Mahler and, of course, the original “rock star” - Ludwig Van Beethoven: a man so metal he lost his hearing to his art! It is not unsurprising therefore that the worlds of classical and metal have collided, often head on, on many occasions over the past four decades or so. Even in the very nascent days, pioneers such as Deep Purple were setting down markers for such collaborations, with their iconic ‘Concerto For Group And Orchestra’. Over the intervening four decades, many artists have followed a similar path, to varying degrees of success: hell, even Kiss performed with an orchestra.


Black metal is one genre that would seem to lend itself to such a marriage, and it is surprising that not many artists from this particular mien have gone down the route: yes, many of them use classical music on their albums - but it’s often sampled, and reproduced live as such. However, one artist in this field has always dabbled in conjoining the worlds of classical and metal is Satyr, who has been combining both, to varying degrees, for the past 20 years: members of the Stavanger and Trondheim Symphony Orchestras performed on his 1995 solo project ‘Fjelltronen’, while one of the latter’s cellists featured on Satyricon’s ‘Volcano’ opus and the brass section of the Norwegian Radio Broadcasting Orchestra contributed to both ‘Now, Diabolical’ and ‘The Age Of Nero’. And, of course, there is the huge show which the band played with the Norwegian Royal Guard, the Norwegian Radio Broadcasting Orchestra and the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra in Oslo in 2006 - a performance which undoubtedly set in motion the plans for this, the band’s first recorded conjunction of their own dark art in a classical setting.


‘Live At The Opera’ took one and a half years of planning, with the band – in between touring commitments – working with conductor David Maiwald to push the idea forward and Norwegian movie score composer Kjetil Bjerkestrand to produce the choral arrangements. The resulting body of work – 14 songs encompassing the band’s entire career – was recorded, as its title suggests, live at the Royal Norwegian Opera House in front of an audience of Satyriconites who had travelled from all over the world to be part of this historic occasion.


The result is a highly impressive one. And it is made all the more impressive by the fact that Satyr and Frost chose not to go down the route of attempting to fully orchestrate their back catalogue - a mistake which quite a few acts who have gone down this route have made - but rather to enhance the chosen songs by adding a purely choral backing. This allows the band to perform more or less as their traditional unit, with the choir’s job being to elevate and accentuate the songs and their structures.


There are, of course, times where it doesn’t quite work. One such occasion, perhaps surprisingly, is ‘Die By My Hand’. I say surprisingly in this regard because, of course, the song was originally recorded which a choral backing. However, on this occasion, the choir’s contribution overwhelms the song, with its underlying brutality punching through only on the song’s heavier moments.


But, where it works - as it does for the majority of the time - it does so brilliantly. On ‘Tro Og Kraft’, for example, the choir is almost mellow in the background, only really coming to the fore with a haunting soprano sweeping in during the song’s atmospheric middle section, while the soaring female chorus adds a richness and uplifting broodiness to Sivert Høyem’s reprised guest vocal on ‘Phoenix’. ‘The Infinity Of Space And Time’ sounds richer, darker and denser with the addition of the baritones and tenor, while ‘To The Mountains’ - the song that actually kickstarted this whole project, at a behind-closed-doors session 18 months before the main event - sounds simply monstrous.


There are also a few surprises - not in the way mentioned above, but in songs which, at first glance, you wouldn’t think would (or even should) work in this format, but proceed to deliver on every sublime level. ‘Repined Bastard Nation’, ‘The Pentagram Burns’ and, most surprisingly of all, the iconic ‘K.I.N.G’, which is as vicious and punchy as ever but, as the tenors swell in the background, gains a dark new lushness in this unusual treatment.


A worthy experiment, and one which, by and large, is successful and shows its two main protagonists once again to be among the most groundbreaking and innovatively experimental artists working in the black metal sub-genre.


To pick up your copy of 'Live At The Opera' - CLICK HERE