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'We Do Things A Little Differently Now': Frost On Satyricon's Night At The Opera

Thursday, 16 April 2015 Written by Alec Chillingworth

The sunlight mercilessly slashes at King's Cross, the first shards of spring cutting through as builders puff on cigarettes and make an awful racket with some power tools. A man sits on the pavement and devours a Sainsbury's meal deal. The scene isn’t very black metal at all.

While the streets of central London don’t quite provide the grim, frostbitten backdrop desired for a Satyricon show, the band's drummer, Kjetil-Vidar Haraldstad – known as Frost to the leather clad legions – is the epitome of blackness: black hair, black clothes. The blastbeat beast perches on a sofa backstage at the Scala, poised like a black crow on a tombstone.

Turns out he's a humble, well spoken chap with a quiet air of confidence and is eager to discuss Satyricon's upcoming live package, 'Live At The Opera'. He doesn't consume any souls during our time together, instead explaining the creative impetus behind the collaboration between his band and the Norwegian National Opera chorus, who performed together at the prestigious Oslo Opera House in 2013.

“We knew it was going to be great because we'd performed a song with the choir already,” he says. “There was a closed event at the beginning of 2012, and we were invited to play with the Opera choir. We knew it was an opportunity we had to seize and we performed To The Mountains. It just sounded downright astonishing.”

Rock and metal bands have been cuddling up to classical musicians for some time now. Deep Purple were at it in the ‘60s, Metallica had a pop with ‘S&M’ and, a few years back, symphonic metal meddlers Dimmu Borgir decided it was their time to hire an ensemble orchestra. The result was a bombastic, overblown, ridiculous affair and something Satyricon were keen to avoid.

“That is something different, their music is very different to begin with,” Frost says. It’s a fair shout. “I think they wanted something really pompous and that's in the nature of their music, but Satyricon isn't about those feelings at all. We wanted there to be darkness and grimness and broad, vile energy. It's emotional on a level that's very different from some circus type thing.

“What you achieve with a choir is very different to an orchestra. We've done both. We've had a brass ensemble perform with us live and on album, but we've never wanted a large symphony orchestra. We only wanted the choir, as having more could mess it up a little. We wanted to see what a choir could bring to the songs rather than just thinking how much stuff we could fit in there. We wanted to have a show that was a ceremonial experience.”

The addition of the choir has made fan favourite Mother North even more epic than its usual live incarnation. 'Live At The Opera' is, despite initial impressions, a deeply hopeful piece of art. Over 20 years into their career, Satyricon are pushing boundaries, retaining a certain commercial appeal while holding tight to the gnarled, demonic spirit at their core.

“We are driven by creativity and passion above anything else,” Frost says. “We always try to observe what's happening around us to see if opportunities present themselves, because we don't want to miss them.”

Satyricon aren’t likely to run out of ideas. During this tour, the band have asked for musicians to get in contact and play on stage with them.

“We do things a little differently now,” Frost says, a wry grin slowly spreading across his face. “I don't know what's going to happen, but we have a military percussionist performing with us tonight. We are seeking people who are skilled musicians and who like Satyricon. We seek fine musical experiences that will be exciting for us, the guest musician and the band. There are probably many guitar players who would like to perform with us, but that's not what we're looking for. We want someone who will add something we have never had before, as it's motivating for us. There's going to be a guy playing the flute with us in Germany.”

The drummer – a deeply chuffed individual who goes by the name of Jason – does indeed appear on stage with Satyricon, and melds with the band as they trawl through a spacey, free-flowing jam session on stage. It could be seen as an act of supreme self indulgence, yet Satyricon pull it off, bringing the session to an almighty crescendo and severing ties before it wanders too much.

Satyricon remain an anomaly. Frontman Satyr demands clapping and singalongs, pumping his fist in the air in an act of defiance against the black metal handbook. Rather than stalk the stage looking like a grumpy badger, he engages the audience. Whether during the anthemic throes of K.I.N.G, the quasi-industrial stomp of Filthgrinder or golden oldie Walk The Path Of Sorrow, he never allows the audience to feel as if they're just being played at. Satyricon are playing this music for the crowd, and both parties feed off the energy produced by one another. It's a celebratory affair, and begs the question: do black metal bands take themselves too seriously?

“I think we both know it's right, as we have never been to a black metal show where this sort of thing happens,” Frost says. He is a lifer, a black metal veteran in every way. He's used a drumkit that's been played on hallowed Emperor, Mayhem and Darkthrone albums. He's done stints with Gorgoroth and Gehenna, and still sits behind the kit for 1349. He knows his shit.

“I think it's not necessarily wrong to take yourself seriously, but I think it feels a bit foul when people get too pretentious and don't realise it,” he elaborates. “There is a bit too much self-irony. Black metal is a serious genre and that comes with a price: it can very easily turn into something pretentious. It is for the wise to find that balance. We have a lot of self-irony in our personalities.

“Sometimes we display that on stage, but most of the time it's bloody serious when we perform as Satyricon. It's a genre where we create darkness and grimness, and there's a lot of raw energy. I'm very driven by fury when I'm on stage and that's how I like it to be – it's how I connect with the music. When I go up and play live, I don't have a lot of that self-irony. It's life or death. As a private person, I am not like that – you have to separate that.

“With art, you have to choose whether you bring everything personal into it or if you want to channel certain energies. Black metal isn't the arena for writing about fast cars, love affairs and everyday experiences. That in itself has nothing to do with self-irony, but if you're too pretentious then you can easily end up looking like a silly clown.”

Satyricon are tremendously entertaining, but they are a metal band and in London they play with ravenous hunger for nearly two and a half hours. When they churn through Fuel For Hatred, it's like being kicked in the bollocks by a concrete donkey. It's an immediate, undeniably powerful force. The band tours less and less these days, so make sure to catch them before they disappear into the night again.

'Live At The Opera' is out on May 1 through Napalm.


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