Review by Xephyr for Satyricon - Dark Medieval Times (1994)
The Evil Knight's Folklore
With most of Scandinavia throwing whatever they could muster at the Black Metal evolution dartboard during the insanely dense and important years between 1992 and 1995, Satyricon's Dark Medieval Times proves to be one of the more middling classic releases in terms of inspirations. It sits in an unfamiliar zone in comparison to its peers as it's not as grandiose as something like In The Nightside Eclipse, nor as raw and evil as De mysteriis dom Sathanas, nor as fantastically atmospheric as Minas Morgul, yet it still shares all of these classic Black Metal aspects in one package. While Dark Medieval Times can be a mess thanks to nonexistent transitions and overall erratic pacing, the way Satyricon is able to merge extremely raw sounding Black Metal with folk and fantasy elements to create a memorable and vivid atmosphere is top notch.
Although Satyricon’s production is seriously grindy and abrasive, this album is surprisingly riff based instead of being a flurry of tremolo progressions. Tracks like “Into the Mighty Forest” have their fair share of blast beat tremolo, but the rest have ripping mid-tempo riffs that use the overly distorted guitar tone to their advantage with all of the longer sustained notes in their rhythms. “Skyggedans” and “Dark Medieval Times” especially show that Black Metal doesn’t always have to be aggressively fast or dense to have great riffs or build a ton of atmosphere. These grinding Black Metal riffs and flat but punchy drumming are layered with the rest of the fantastical sounding synths and choirs to great effect, creating the obvious atmosphere of the album’s namesake. Pretty acoustic passages also come and go throughout the album, giving it a distinct and folky sound that wasn’t too common at the time.
The album’s title track “Dark Medieval Times” is the ultimate example of Satyricon’s style, having abrasive Black Metal riffing randomly give way to synth-backed acoustic melodies that is supported by somewhat grand sounding orchestral aspects with a bit of flute thrown in there for good measure. The way the acoustic guitar comes in during the slowly, more deliberate Black Metal riffing is especially well done and fits the atmosphere of the album perfectly. “The Dark Castle In The Deep Forest” and “Taakeslottet” reprise this formula well enough, each having their own take on the mid-tempo riffing with whimsical flourishes that Dark Medieval Times excels at.
Throwing all of these different elements together is bound to have issues though and, for the most part, Satyricon don’t even attempt to hide the haphazardness of their songwriting. As much as “Dark Medieval Times” is the shining example of the style Satyricon were attempting to convey, the lack of transitions and the seeming randomness of the acoustic sections can put a damper on the whole production in general. These are incredibly apparent on “Walk The Path Of Shadow” and “Into The Mighty Forest”, with both tracks sounding like 4 or 5 different riffs and folk melodies tossed together aimlessly to form each track, held together only by the repeating synth and acoustic melodies in the background.
Even though Dark Medieval Times can be jarring and amateur sounding, I think there’s a charm in the haphazardness of it all. The album doesn’t necessarily come together as a cohesive whole objectively in terms of songwriting, but the consistent atmosphere and quality of the riffs and acoustic melodies is undeniable even if they don’t all exactly fit together. Even the instrumental interlude “Min Hyllest Til Vinterland” has a dark edge to it that is sufficiently captivating. It helps that I enjoy a bit of folk in my Black Metal, since I’d say that Satyricon’s debut is as close to proto-Pagan Black Metal as you can get with the atmosphere it creates and the melodies and instruments it uses. I have a lot of respect for this album given what it was trying to do, even if it didn’t fully succeed in giving me a fully realized, folky, atmospheric Black Metal experience.