lack metal fans can be so protective of their artform. In black metal, the catchwords "troo" and "kvlt" describe adherence to certain norms: grim atmospheres, shrieked vocals, and raw production. While “troo” and “kvlt” are funny-looking words, they serve the same insular function as “keeping it real” and “not selling out.” There are purists who insist on old-school standards (Wynton Marsalis), and there are artists who branch out and establish their own identity (Miles Davis). With Now, Diabolical, Satyricon has firmly exited the realm of “troo” and “kvlt.” The album doesn't feel like traditional black metal; it's warm, heavy, and slow. The reasons purists will hate it are the very reasons the average listener might like it.
Satyricon used to be “troo” and “kvlt,” with icy, lo-fi albums leading up to 1996's Nemesis Divina. The core of the Norwegian band is singer/guitarist/bassist Satyr (credited on Now, Diabolical with “vox and strings”) and drummer Frost (“battery”). Frost also drums with jaw-dropping speed for 1349, an undoubtedly “troo” and “kvlt” band. On 1999's Rebel Extravaganza, Satyricon began finding its own sound by mixing slower, rock ‘n’ roll riffs with black metal’s usual light-speed blur. The rock-to-black metal ratio on that album was about 10:90; on Volcano, the ratio grew to about 30:70. Volcano was the first black metal album on a major label, and its warm and full-sounding production sounded like it.
On Now, Diabolical, the rock to black metal ratio is at least 50:50. The thundering toms that open the album recall “Enter Sandman,” which, too, signaled for Metallica a similar shift to the slow and heavy. The first three tracks are some of the catchiest metal songs in recent memory. They’re sinister and sound nothing like pop songs, but they’re constructed as such, with verses, choruses, and hooks. Simplicity is the key here. “Now, Diabolical” is a guaranteed sing-along; “The Pentagram Burns” is nothing but hooks; the primal stomp of “K.I.N.G.” is as if The White Stripes did black metal.
The momentum of these songs doesn’t last, however. While riffs remain catchy, the same midpaced stomp pervades throughout and eventually feels tired. In a nod to Satyricon’s past, “Storm (of the Destroyer)” closes the album with clattering blastbeats that raise the energy level but feel out of place. It’s strange to hear Frost playing rock ‘n’ roll backbeats. He’s good at it, though, and according to him, playing slow presents its own challenge. This album is about simple, solid songs, and while its warm production could have used a little more teeth, it sounds fine overall. Now, Diabolical is inviting; that’s bad for purists, and good for music listeners.