Amidst a late ’90s metal scene diluted with groove and goth, Satyricon’s Rebel Extravaganza shown like a beacon of respite for extreme metal fans. The record bridged the cultural gap between cult black metal and mainstream heavy metal by embracing modern recording aesthetics usually associated with the industrial and nu-metal of the time.
Instead of conforming to commercial standards, Satyricon used the production enhancements and new tools to express their “bottomless misanthropy” with upmost clarity while reaching a larger audience than ever before. They even caught the ear of Pantera’s Philip Anselmo, who enjoyed Rebel Extravaganza so much that he invited Satyricon to open Pantera’s European arena tour in 2000.
To celebrate the 20th anniversary of Rebel Extravaganza, Napalm Records has remastered and reissued the album, which still sounds as massive and inspired as it did when it broke molds back in 1999. Frontman Satyr recently spoke with Heavy Consequence about the making of the album, the technical improvements that went into the recording, touring with Pantera, and the state of heavy metal at the turn of the millennium.
On the artistic approach to Rebel Extravaganza and how it differed from past Satyricon albums
We were a little more open-minded, speaking to some of the experienced, older engineers we were working with. Once, we were tuning the drum kit and they asked, “Have you had someone who’s a specialist tune your drum kit before?” … No, didn’t even know it existed. Instead of saying, “Ah, we don’t need that, we’re a black metal band, who gives a shit?” we said, ‘OK, I’d be interested in trying that, how much does that cost?’ And this guy comes in, and he’s making Frost’s drum kit sound more homogenous and more musical than it had ever sounded before.
Doing things like that was a first on Rebel, and it’s something that we have continued doing ever since. I don’t think these things come down to experience or lack of experience, small budget or big budget. I think it also comes down to whether there is a will and a drive in place to develop — if you want to move forward as an artist or if you’re fine with the way things are today. With Satyricon, we try to look forward. A lot of bands get the opportunity, but maybe they aren’t interested. We’re one of those bands that are a little bit curious. I feel that is something that has benefited our music.
On changes in technology, gear, and production during the late ’90s
There was so much new stuff, and it changed my approach. The way it was in the ’90s, if you wanted a particular sound, you would dig into these sound effect libraries to find something resembling what you were looking for. With Rebel, for the first time, we’d sit down and try to make these sounds. Either with analog keyboards from the ’70s, but it could also just be in the fire staircase of the studio with concrete ceilings and walls and steel handrails, and going out there with a sledgehammer and hitting things and trying to make percussive sounds that we would record. And then try to integrate them into something rhythmical in a certain section of a song.
On achieving the guitar tones on Rebel Extravaganza
As for guitar sounds, I suppose the way things were done in the early days, you’d go out and pick any of the heavy metal guitars and not really think too much about how this could influence the tone of your music, that a guitar is not just a guitar — that you can write a riff but the way the emotions of that riff are communicated also depend on the tone of that particular guitar. So looking into those type of things and having this not-generic approach was new. In the past, we had been like, “OK, use this distortion pedal, and that’s a good distortion pedal, if you connect these two, that will sound good” — with no real insight or knowledge, just picking your Marshalls or Peaveys or Fenders. Not Marshalls in our case, but most other people did.
Then we just started looking around, and the term boutique amplifiers didn’t really exist 20 years ago. When we started looking into this in 1997, you had Mesa/Boogie and VHT and these things, but there was no such expression as “boutique” as far as I know. Then we started looking for that because we understood how much more organic it sounded, how we could express the dynamics of the music much better, how we could portray tone in a way that we hadn’t done before. So that was a lot of new stuff to us that we felt benefited our music.
On the state of metal at the turn of the millennium and Rebel Extravaganza‘s legacy
There was a gothic influence that was prominent at the time, and it’s the biggest bands on the scene at the time that will set the standard. Let’s say a band like Emperor: What Emperor did at the time wasn’t gothic or anything like that, but they didn’t play one single show, nothing. So that limits your ability to influence or be a trendsetter when you’re not out there playing. But the bands that were carrying that gothic flag were playing world tours constantly. So they got to set the agenda. Rebel was the river running upstream in that whole environment. With what happened in the early 2000s and the records that came out then…hopefully Rebel did something valuable with its presence. It was also a record that we did tour a lot. It wasn’t just a controversial record that was released and then there were a few cult shows here and there.
On his reflections on touring heavily in support of the album and opening for Pantera
We did a tour of Norway, which obviously with its role in black metal evolution was all important. We went outside the capital to play the smaller cities and got to show what we were doing in front of those metal communities in the rest of this country. From there, we went to do a European tour with support from what was a rather small Polish band at the time called Behemoth. And then went on to the United States and did a tour with support from Immortal and Angel Corpse.
That tour was supposed to be 30 shows, but it ended up only being 15 or 16 because Philip Anselmo, the singer in Pantera, really liked the Rebel Extravaganza record and was kind enough to offer us a place on their stage. We didn’t want to cancel that US tour, but obviously we had to so we could get onboard that Pantera tour — that was a six-week European arena tour. So we went to the States and played all the shows that we could play without missing that first Pantera show. Then we flew to the opening of that first Pantera show, and we did six weeks with them. So Rebel was an album that was quite heavily exposed thankfully, and I think that contributed to its artistic significance in its time.
On revisiting Rebel Extravaganza in 2019
It’s difficult because I do understand that from time to time, I play music to friends that is hard to get into, and they’ll say something like, ‘I guess you had to be there at the time.’ And I realize that maybe to someone who is fairly new to black metal and used to a different sound, to listen to a song like “The Scorn Torrent” in 2019 might be tough. I understand that. But on the other hand, music is more interesting than just being “bad” or “good.” I compare it to wine: It’s not about whether the wine is good or bad, it’s about the whole story behind it.
Listening to a record like Rebel, it’s not just 10 songs. It’s something that has to be understood in the historical context where it belongs. If you listen to Rebel, try to imagine what other records came out in the extreme metal genre at the time and where this fits within all of that. Also, Rebel is a record that you’re supposed to listen to as a whole — not where you sit and cherry pick. This is a record that will grow on you if you’re willing to spend the time.
Our thanks to Satyr for taking some time to speak with us. The remastered reissue of Satyricon’s Rebel Extravaganza is available via Napalm Records on Digipak CD and as a double vinyl gatefold LP.