Mar 21, 2011
This feature on Satyr would be the last interview I did before moving from the UK soil to Norway. How very apt that I would be interviewing a Norwegian. Useful too – since we ended up chatting for quite a while about the current Oslo rock scene, where he lived in Oslo, where I should go in Oslo, and whether he knew my girlfriend. Yes, Oslo is that small.
The one thing I distinctly recall from this interview was first asking Satyr what he thought defined the death metal technique? to which he replied “I wouldn’t know, I don’t play death metal.”
Aside from all his demonic make-up, and forays into the black arts, Satyr is actually a very down to earth chap. If not for the fact he had to go onstage, we could’ve chatted til the sun came up and he turned to dust.
Previously published in TOTAL GUITAR magazine in 2009:
Brutal riffs and Medieval styled mayhem. The Dark Lord of Black Metal sings the technical blues and still remains blacker than thou…
Purveyors of the finest Black Metal music, Satyricon have released 7 albums in 15 years, worked with the likes of Emperor, toured with Pantera, and Slipknot’s Joey Jordison even filled in on drums during one tour. In Spinal Tap it was declared that ‘There is none more black’, but this Norwegian duo ooze blackness far darker, and the darkness prevails when frontman Satyr immediately declares: “When it comes to Black Metal, you’re looking at a genre that is in no way defined by guitar technique.” For a guitar magazine, this isn’t the greatest of sentences to greet our ears.…
So technique isn’t important?
“I’ve always said that – to me – as far as Black Metal goes, there is a huge comparisment to the blues. It’s pretty well established that blues is a feeling, it’s either you got it or you don’t as far as the blues goes.” Explains Satyr, “You can separate it a lot from Death Metal – which is very much about technique. The difference between the genres is that Death Metal has a bit of that childish ‘let-me-show-what I-can-do-on-my-instrument’ kind of thing to it. To me, Black Metal was never about that. I know many players in Black Metal that are much more capable technically than what you hear in their bands.”
What makes a good Black Metal riff then?
“Good Black Metal guitar playing is about understanding the genre and understanding the gear. Joe Baressi [Producer, The Age Of Nero] and I spent a lot of time working with the guitar sound for the new album, and that’s because the riffs cannot be communicated with just any big ass moshing sound! It has to be an atmospheric sound, so you’ve got to try and find the balance between the sound that has power – so that the authority and the muscular part of the music comes through – but at the same time, it’s not about making a moshpit either.”
You often incorporate open strings into your mellower riffs. How do you go about writing these riffs?
“It’s quite typical to play open strings in the melody of Black Metal music, and that’s where I got it from. It’s not really based on scales; it’s based on having listened to this music for most of my life. So I never base it on a rule, or a logical way to approach it. I just listen to music.”
How fast can you play?
“I play with some extremely fast right hand players, and I guess I don’t wanna see how they jerk off! I mean the speed is ridiculous and I was never one capable of having an extremely fast right hand. I can’t play really fast! This friend of mine Snorre Ruch from the Norwegian band Thorns, came in and did these ridiculously fast right hand things on the new record for me instead. Everytime I step into territory where I think that something needs to be expressed technically – like an extremely fast right hand – then I’ll bring in someone else!”
So do you have any advice developing consistent right hand picking speed?
“Well, I’ve tried asking those that are really fast, and what I find is that most of them are very good at not using their lower arm; it’s basically from the wrist up to their fingertips. Avoiding use of the shoulder and lower arm are definitely good ways for picking up speed, and to avoid injuries. But how they do it is a mystery to me! Because whenever I play 16th’s, I have to at some degree use my lower arm. I’ve been doing this for 16 years and no one has been able to unravel the mystery for me!”
A lot of Satyricon’s riffs are played tightly in time with fast double kick pedal drums. How do you maintain the precision of your picking timing?
“When you watch some of the players in Black Metal that go really fast, a lot of them do warm up exercises – to avoid tendonitis and shit like that. It’s extremely important. And obviously the same principles apply in a lot of other genres. It’s all about learning to walk before you start running.
A good way to practice picking speed is to play certain patterns with a metronome for timing, and then just go faster and faster and faster and faster! Also, record yourself playing guitar. Solo your own parts over a programmed drum and see if it’s consistent. Is it consistent for over 2 minutes or just the first minute? And what’s the left hand and right hand timing like?”
What are your favourite Satyricon riffs and why?
“Personally, I’m extremely proud of the guitar intro for K.I.N.G. from our album Now Diabolical. I remember when I’d just made it, and played it to a friend of mine from Turbonegro [Guitarist, Euroboy] and he was like ‘What’s that?’ and I was like ‘Oh it’s just something I’m working on for Satyricon.’ And he’s like ‘It sounds like an Arena part, like it’s built for a massive stage!’ And it does have that effect. When we play it live and that guitar intro kicks off – it’s really cool to see the effect it has on people, the sheer intensity and how it makes people wanna go crazy.”
How do you approach the writing process? Do you prefer to jam ideas with the band?
“Frost and I rehearse a lot. During the week we get together and play for 2 to 3 hours, and just work on parts of songs. But at weekends we basically press record on a little mobile 8-track recorder and sit and drink and play and record ‘til about 6am. The weekend sessions are loose and old-school, whereas the weekdays are pretty much strategical workings on little nuances and details.
Snorre [Thorns’ guitarist] helps out a lot too. He’d work with me on beats on Cubase which we’d then jam over, sometimes it’d be an almost mathematical thing where we’d sit down and make notes and discuss how we want to program the beat. Other times it’d be us sitting there drinking red wine at 5am and I’d go ‘Oh, I got an idea!’ and we’d just record it. Listening to it the next day, sometimes it would suck completely, but often times it’d be really good!”
What is the best way to achieve the perfect Black Metal tone?
“Well if you wanna tune down to D, then it’s important that you use a lighter string gauge. We ended up using 10 to 52s on the new record and had to work a lot on the high end with the guitars to get the definition out there without hurting your ears! Also, the riffs with the sludge quality – I had to play more brutal. I had to hit them more with my right hand, and that’s the first thing I said when we came to using that tuning onstage as well.
Sticking to the same tuning live is important because it changes the sound so radically, and skipping between E, E flat and D, back and forth would be a nightmare for us.
In playing the old songs I’ve had to encourage everyone to be a little more brutal, especially on the heavier parts, because they have a tendency of not having enough definition. Understanding all this is not about being a good guitar though, it’s more about having a good ear for music!”
Finally, if you could suggest a song from your new album for TG readers to learn on guitar, which one would you pick and why?
“The Sign Of The Trident would be good. The mid section on this song has some hyper speed guitar – some small sequences with 52nd’s on a regular guitar, and a friend of mine playing 64th’s on top of that. It sounds really big without sounding pretentious! But you know, perhaps we could do a personal tab for TG!”
Interview: Gary Sutherland © 2009.