Revisiting old albums is always an interesting experience, nostalgia can often muddy the waters of judgement, yet there is no doubt context plays a role in the impact of any art. 2016 marks twenty years since the release of Satyricon’s seminal album ‘Nemesis Divina’, and now it is being re-released by Napalm Records in a variety of special editions. I haven’t got my hands on any of these physical releases yet, so there is little I can say about them, but the main point of interest would seem to be the revamped mediabook packaging which includes newly written liner notes. The album itself has also been remastered by Satyr, but if I’m being honest, I really didn’t find much difference comparing it to the original Moonfog release. Perhaps on occasion the synths are a little more pronounced and the various layers slightly more easily distinguishable. In truth though, the fact that the differences are so minimal is actually a positive, as too much tampering could easily have caused divided opinions. The fact that the album’s sound and presence still holds up to this day is a testament to Satyr, who has produced all of the band’s albums and within that role maintained the necessary vision and control.
For full disclosure, I was only 10 years old when this album was first unleashed, and as such was some years off my teenage black metal epiphany. ‘Nemesis Divina’ was, however, one of the first black metal albums on my road to discovery around 5 years later. I have no desire to go into a history lesson, but this album is quite simply essential; both on a personal level and as the pinnacle opus of one the stalwarts of black metal. Though most other legends had already released what many would deem to be the defining moments of Norway’s prime musical export, it wasn’t until this, Satyricon’s third album, that all the elements of the band’s creativity perfectly aligned.
Attempting to put aside any wistful sentiment and the power of youthful discovery, I still believe this album would capture attention if it was released now alongside the modern highlights of an ever-evolving yet always introspective genre. From the opening moments and the resonating utterance of “This is armageddon!” I am completely captivated, caught up in the swirling chaos of intense and melodious guitars. There is a reason why Frost is considered one of the greatest drummers in the scene, and it is put on display immediately with intense blastbeats that almost mercilessly trample over the subtle variety that lurks beneath every riff. There is often heated debate, particularly in relation to early black metal, about the use of keyboards, but Satyricon strike a fine balance indeed. They are used only as a way to enhance, and never feel overpowering. There are occasions such as the endings of ‘Forhekset’ and ‘Du Som Hater Gud’ where the piano tunes become prominent, but they are short and folky affairs that only serve to add to the underlying feeling of national pride present throughout the album.
As is the case with most classic albums, there are often individual songs which stand out and epitomise the greater work, and in this case there is no doubt it is the anthemic ‘Mother North’. As with all the tracks, the riffing is furious yet memorable, the changes in pace are exquisite, and the atmosphere utterly enthralling. But it is the lyrics that truly make it the quintessential song that it is. They speak to unite those of a similar mind; anyone who has ever been enraged by the destruction of nature or the ignorance of our connection with the world. It is within the power of this rallying cry that I always find myself adrift in thought and contemplation; the true mark of exceptional song writing.
I still notice small nuances and subtleties upon this long overdue revisiting, intricacies that keep drawing me further in to the maelstrom of creativity. With the benefit of hindsight I also find it interesting to listen to the final track, ‘Transcendental Requiem of Slates’, which in the context of the album comes across as something slightly progressive, if only as an instrumental means of bringing the journey to an end. Now it becomes clearer that these almost industrious and mechanical parts are actually a precursor to some of the band’s much more experimental and forward thinking sounds to come in future years. One thing I have found after spending more time with the album, is that at around 42 minutes it does feel somewhat short. Luckily, the repeatability is such that this is never a problem and it will simply demand to be heard once more. I can’t imagine ‘Nemesis Divina’ ever feeling irrelevant, ever fading from memory, or ever losing its rightful status as a masterpiece of the genre.