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“Planet Satan”, the much protracted second album of Norwegian industrial black metal pioneers Mysticum, finally arrived after an 18 year layoff. Whereas almost all of the key figures of the Scandinavian second wave bands have either changed direction drastically, or split up altogether – Mysticum remains a pillar of artistic integrity. Their sporadic output has yet to be matched, or surpassed by its more popular, and arguably more prolific peers. Never the most productive, or active of bands the long awaited “Planet Satan” sounds as the logical follow-up to 1996’s “In the Streams Of Inferno”.

Of all the Norwegian black metal hordes Mysticum was probably the most interesting. Overlooked in its day, and the true pioneers of the industrial black metal subgenre, they never truly split in the traditional sense. Instead they gradually became inactive in the early 2000s. In 2011 the band returned to a more active state, with the original line-up of “In the Streams Of Inferno”, the band’s pioneering 1996 debut, returning to complete work on its long announced, but constantly pushed back, second album “Planet Satan”. The austere spirit of its debut album is intact, yet the more polished approach of “Planet Satan”, and the better integration of its electronic – and industrial components, make this new album far easier to absorb than its somewhat grating but pioneering debut. Of its competing triumvirate Dodheimsgard, Thorns and Ulver – only the latter remains active as an everchanging entity for its creative force. Mysticum, thankfully, remains consistent with its past output – and has improved upon the formula where needed.

One of the greatest strengths of “In the Streams Of Inferno” was its unrelentingly blight atmosphere. As on its debut the suffocating bleak atmosphere of post-apocalyptic dystopia, and feelings of alienation, and cold uncaring prevail. Although generally downtrodden “Planet Satan” isn’t without its humorous quirks. Opening track ‘LSD (Lucifer In the Sky with Demons)’ is an obvious jab at the classic The Beatles tune ‘Lucy In the Sky with Diamonds’. Its final third is introduced by 8-bit video game synthesizers, and its catchy mantra-like chorus is easily the highlight. ‘Annihilation’ starts out with a blaring air raid alarm, and is a blistering black metal track with David Parland-era Dark Funeral riffing. ‘Far’ is more conventionally black metal but puts more emphasis on its cold, spooky atmosphere through usage of sparse sound effects. ‘The Ether’ sounds as a nearly perfect combination of martial industrial beats and Norsecore. ‘Fist Of Satan’ downplays much of the electronics, but is hampered by subpar hardcore shouts being its primary vocal style. The cringeworthy vocals notwithstanding it is one of the best cuts on the album by a long shot. ‘All Must End’ and ‘Cosmic Gun’ sound the closest to the debut album in terms of drum programming, arrangements and song construction.

Mysticum_press5470-Photo-credit---Peder-KlingwallAs far as pacing and construction is concerned “Planet Satan” follows the template laid out by its 1996 predecessor. In the intervening two decades the trio has become better songwriters and instrumentalists. This translates in the songs having a better flow, and each of the various components fitting seamlessly together. The entire album is a cohesive whole from front to back, and nothing of it feels disjointed or out of place. Likewise does this second album close with a moodsetting piece, here being ‘Dissolve Into Impiety’. As an atmospheric instrumental that opens with an extended didjeridoo introduction (similarly to its usage as in Hate Eternal’s ‘To Know Our Enemies’ and Cryptopsy’s ‘Screams Go Unheard’) it works wonderfully despite its mountainous oriental feel. It attempts to recapture the alchemy of the entirely downtrodden ’In the Last of the Ruins We Search For A New Planet’ that closed out “In the Streams Of Inferno”, and succeeds. Notable is that the last track of the preceding album hinted at the title and theme of this new record. Whether the final song title here is suggestive of a potential third album title remains yet to be seen, but it wouldn’t be surprising if it did.

In comparison to “In the Streams Of Inferno” the screeched vocals have been largely abandoned. The vocals range from rasps, to grunts, screams and hoarse barks, still shared between guitarist duo Benny Cerastes and Ravn Preben Mulvik (Prime Evil). Liker most of the album the vocal lines sound more organic, fluent and natural than the sometimes contrived ones of its predecessor. In the intervening (almost) two decades technology has thankfully catched up with Mysticum, and for the first time the trio was able to fully capture its vision. One of the most notable improvements is the very polished, bass-heavy production job. “Planet Satan” was recorded and mixed at Fias Co. Studios with producer Sverre Dæhli. The album was mastered at Strype Audio in Oslo, Norway by the much in-demand Tom Kvålsvoll. The monochrome futuristic artwork by Daniele Valeriani, most famous for his post-Parland Dark Funeral output, fits ideally.

Due to its protracted gestation period and troublesome production history “Planet Satan” was released through Peaceville Records as the band’s previous contractor Full Moon Productions declared bankruptcy, and its contracts were bought/licensed out to other interested parties. History appears to repeat itself as 1996’s “In the Streams Of Inferno” was similarly bought out by American black metal specialist imprint Full Moon Production from the collapsing Deathlike Silence Productions in the aftermath of Aarseth’s passing. Likewise is “Planet Satan” a militant, hostile and abrasive piece of industrial black metal that hasn’t lost any of its edge despite a decade plus conception.  More conventionally black metal than its pioneering experimental predecessor, and far better produced, “Planet Satan” proves that Mysticum’s debut wasn’t a fluke. Hopefully it won’t take Mysticum another 18 years to produce a worthy successor to “Planet Satan”.



The times that an album’s cover artwork captures a recording’s general atmosphere as well as it does here are far and few. Mysticum’s debut album “In the Streams Of Inferno” is an intensely bleak, downtrodden, foggy and morose album. It was probably one of the earliest of its kind too, in 1996. Combining the harsh elements of Nordic black metal with the cold, inhuman and mechanical aspects of industrial, the band found an equilibrium that not only instantly set them apart from their peers, but laid the template for a subgenre. Unlike the copycat bands that followed in its wake Mysticum is equal parts black metal as it is industrial music. Both genres feed off concepts of alienation, estrangement and depression – that Mysticum was among the first to combine these genres speaks of their innovative spirit and willingness to think outside of the box and question the preconceived notions of the genre they called home. Thorns, Ulver and Dodheimsgard would venture into industrial and electronic territory later in their career – it was Mysticum that kicked open all the doors, it were they who laid the path.

The history of how Mysticum came to use industrial components for its rhythm section, and indeed the origin of the band is interesting in itself. The band was known prior as the formative industrial black metal outfit outfit Sabazios, who released a number of demos. The line-up in Sabazios was identical to the later Mysticum constellation, namely Benny Cerastes (vocals, guitars), Ravn Preben Mulvik (Prime Evil, also vocals/guitars) and Robin Malmberg (bass guitar, programming). Under the name Sabazios the unit independently released the “Wintermass” demo tape. This demo recording eventually led to a recording agreement with Oystein Aarseth’s label imprint Deathlike Silence Productions, and it was him who encouraged the band to switch names. Originally the record had a working title “Serpent Mysticism” and later “Where the Raven Flies”. Mysticum was originally signed to Deathlike Silence to release their first album that was entitled "Where the Raven Flies", going as far as to have promotional flyers printed bearing this album title - but due to Aarseth’s untimely passing it was never released under said title and imprint. “In the Streams Of Inferno” is a collection of re-recorded demo tracks, combined with new tracks specifically written for this recording session.

Around 1993-94 Mayhem had come to an end due to the incarceration, defection and passing of several of its key members. Left with no band second Mayhem drummer (and the band’s current figurehead) Jan-Axel Blomberg was enticed to join Mysticum behind the drums. When he decided that he wanted to revive the brand that made him the household name in the extreme metal genre, this left Mysticum in a bind. With their intended drummer no longer available, the band reverted back to the usage of drum computers. This would eventually lead to the album now known as “In the Streams Of Inferno”. A volatile and militant piece of Nordic black metal that flirts with elements of industrial and holds an unearthly, sci-fi atmosphere few bands were able to match.

Like there are two equally important and integral parts to Nine Inch Nails’ collective band persona - the abrasive, confrontational songs, and the more emotionally charged, fragile atmospheric tracks – the same rings true for Mysticum. The short intro instrumental ‘Industries Of Inferno’ (a clever phonetic approximation of the album title) is a soothing, all too short ambient track that recalls Nine Inch Nails’ own ‘A Warm Place’ from “The Downward Spiral”. Whereas Nine Inch Nails would eventually dedicate an entire half album’s worth to their more introspective, soothing and ambient material Mysticum would never go quite as far. Which is unfortunate because they were actually reasonably adept at such a thing.  Alas it was not to be thus we should make do with what we have. Once the atmospheric intro track has subsided the album truly starts.

‘The Rest’ kicks off with a martial industrial kickdrum beat that could easily be mistaken for a Eurodance beat of the same time period. Complementary to this basic beat is sparse usage of the snare drum, mostly in a marching, militaristic pattern. For a moment not considering the industrial aspect of Mysticum, there are a number of commonalities with pre-“In the Nightside Eclipse” Emperor, and not only vocally. For starters they share the same buzzing guitar tone and the riffing is largely similar in construction. As mentioned, the shrieking vocals also are akin to Ihsahn’s rasps in Emperor’s demo phase. Much like Emperor this band also uses minimal synthesizer lines to accentuate the riffs or enhance the atmosphere in general. Mysticum also play at a similar pace, but  the occasional foray into faster segments and the sparse usage of stock movie samples, among them, for example, the 1981 original version of “The Evil Dead” in the track ‘Let the Kingdom Come’ Mysticum is notably different and more individualistic in its approach in comparison to its arguably more popular and revered Telemark peers. By and large, Mysticum followed Emperor’s compositional lead – but kept its industrial components largely as a supportive device. The major difference with the creatively similar Limbonic Art is that Mysticum is about atmosphere, desolation and darkness primarily, whereas that other band was mostly about high speed and layers upon layers of keyboards and synthesizers.

The instrumental ‘In the Last of the Ruins We Search For A New Planet’ is exactly the type of post-apocalyptic sci-fi epilogue you’d reasonably expect of a band like this. The ambient rumble, the lonely plinking piano, and the light washes of keyboards all seek to do one thing: to create the most desolate, grim and cold atmosphere one would usually associate with the vast coldness of space, and the bombed out surface on an abandoned, blackened, lifeless planet. Just listening to this track you can easily image burned out, derelict buildings, the fog lifting and falling down, debris and dessicated human remains scattered everywhere with pools of fire burning as spheres in the nightsky look over that desolate vision as ominous watchers of fate. Somewhere, some place a radio is playing, sending out the desolate and repetitive tones of a slowly dying piano melody.

Interestingly Mysticum was one of the earliest known proponents of the industrial black metal sound. Yet nobody seems to lavish them with the praise they rightfully deserve in playing this groundbreaking new style in 1996. Only Switzerland’s Samael followed a similar path, but their 1996 album “Passage” was a transitional record, and it wasn’t until 1999’s “Eternal” that they fully embraced the industrial sound. The Dissection studio side-project De Infernali released an album in 1997, a full year after Mysticum’s debut. Dodheimsgard, a fairly pedestrian black metal band up to that point, didn’t jump on the industrial/electronic bandwagon until 1998-99. Even Italian experimentalists Aborym didn’t have a debut out until 1999. Thorns, the Norwegian band featuring Snorre Ruch, didn’t venture into industrial black metal territory until well into 2001. While all these later bands for some reason were heralded as innovators within their genre, nobody seemed to remember the fact that Mysticum predated them by several years. As is often the case with true pioneers, they are reduced to nothing but a footnote in the annals of the genre, as more readily marketable bands copied what they did.

As with many a debut most of the songs here are the strongest or most lauded cuts from the band’s earlier incarnation, and its subsequent demo recordings. “In the Streams Of Inferno” for the most part culls from the band’s archives, but also throws in a few entirely new tracks to differentiate the release from the demos that came before. ‘The Rest’ and ‘Wintermass’ are songs from the 1993 “Wintermass” demo. ‘Crypt Of Fear’ originally appeared in an earlier version on the “Medusa’s Tears” demo from 1993 as ‘Into My Crypt Of Fear’. ‘Where the Ravens Flies’, ‘Let the Kingdom Come’ and ‘In Your Grave’ appeared initially on the “Piss Off” demo from 1995. ‘Where the Raven Flies’ was known as ‘Where the Ravens Fly’ on said demo tape. All the other tracks were written and recorded specifically for this session. Strangely, there are no notable differences between the old and new tracks. Mysticum clearly knew what it wanted to do with this record, and the inter-song cohesion is truly spectacular. There would be a second Mysticum album a few years later, but “In the Streams Of Inferno” remains unmatched and unsurpassed to this day.

Mysticum gave a glimpse into the future, and it was bleak…