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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…

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While Satyricon wasn’t the first black metal band to capitalize on the visual media in the second half of the 90s – they were able to make the most memorable entry. Although being predated by its regional peers Gorgoroth and Immortal, Satyricon distilled the black metal genre down to its most recognizable visual cornerstones. In that sense “Mother North” and its video herald the end of an era for the band. The release of the VHS was widely publicized in the metal press at the time, and with the extracurricular activities of several prominent scene figures filling the international tabloids (and that “Satan’s Cheerleaders” article by Spin Magazine author Darcy Steinke, in particular) - the band choose the ideal time to release the VHS. The interest in the genre was at its fever pitch, and what better way to win over a few new fans than by producing a full-length video?

One of the first things you will notice is that Satyricon simply followed what its predecessors had laid before them. As “Mother North” was predated by the David Palser-shot Immortal “Battles In the North” promo videos, Dark Funeral’s independently produced “The Secrets Of the Black Arts” (from the album of the same name) and Gorgoroth’s crude live recording of ‘Crushing the Scepter (Regaining A Lost Dominion)’, the duo of Satyr and Frost simply took what worked for each, and recombined them in their own work. The only remotely original idea that this video has is the presence of a model by the name of Monica Bråten, who (according to popular wisdom at the time) was Satyr’s then-girlfriend. Her presence can be reduced to nothing but an extended cameo, and the only thing Bråten is mostly remembered for is the fact that she wore little to no clothing during the second half of the original video. The video was produced and directed by Satyricon frontman Sigurd Wongraven (Satyr). While it is better than most self-produced efforts of the genre around this time, it is clear that Wongraven had no background in visual media or its related studies. The composition of the shots is functional for the most part, but several sequences border on home-video territory in terms of framing and blocking. “Mother North” comes in two varities on this VHS, first there’s the original uncut version, and a second clean PG-13 version for general airplay.

Mother North – the video
“Mother North” was released in 1996 at the dawn of the symfo black metal explosion and the stratospheric rise of vampiric imagery in the genre. The tape consists of an intro, the censored music video, a middle section that serves as an introduction for the uncensored music video, and the end credits. There are important differences between the two. By and large the two videos are similar in scope, but the difference is obvious. Satyricon had always been a band that avoided the most recognizable clichés of the genre. Major themes in the band’s first three records are Nordic pride, appreciation for one‘s heritage and culture, and the breathtaking beauty of Norway as a country with its forests, mountains, lakes and fjords. All of that is conveyed to a satisfactory degree through out the video, the “gore” scenes however feel cheap, insulting and misplaced.

Thankfully, the video is consistent with the imagery the band had decided upon for the “Nemesis Divina” album from which this track is culled. Satyricon has always had imagery problems, at least in terms of as to how they wanted to project themselves as a band towards its audience. In the early days of “Dark Medieval Times” the duo used corpsepaint. For its second album “The Shadowthrone” only Frost used corpse paint, and for the “Nemesis Divina” album Satyricon opted again to use corpse paint. Luckily the band is consistent in this promotional video. The video itself can be broken down into three scenes: individual shots, group/story shots and effect shots – or a combination of each. The effects are largely successful, although the impalement – and vampirism scenes are executed with a considerable amount of success, the problem lies elsewhere.

Another problem is the inconsistent usage of its one extra cast member, the enchanting Monica Bråten. For the first half of the video she’s meant as a physical embodiment of Norway’s strength and beauty as a country, in the story shots she’s either a wood nymph or Satyr’s regal queen. The main portion of the video consists of the band defending the dominions of Satyricon, shots of the moon, firebreathing, burning Christian iconography – and inconsiderate use of a smoke machine. Through out these central scenes Bråten appears clothed in a filmsy, see-through dress. In stark contrast to the first half the second portion of the video seems to be confused as to what use her for. For no reason at all Bråten now has shed whatever little garment she had, and does a sultry dance while looking straight into the camera. For some hitherto undiscernable reason Satyr vampirizes and impales her on a broad sword with the usual close-up shots of blood and grue. The obvious problem is that this whole subplot is internally inconsistent with what had been established, plot-wise, earlier in the video. To add insult to injury, these very scenes seem to undermine the entire premise of the song for which they were shot. If Bråten represents the pride, beauty and honor of Norway the band so adamantly want to defend from Christian inquisition, when then vampirize and impale her?

The final problem is the inexplicable nudity scenes that Bråten has to partake in during the second half of the video. Whereas the first part had her cavorting around alone, or in company of the three men in a forest, here she now just dances in the buff for no reason other than to titillate the audience. The nudity itself isn’t so much the problem, but its presence distracts from what the main narrative wants to convey. Bråten is decidedly easy on the eyes, and her uninhibitedness to flaunt her body so graciously in front of the world is commendable, but what purpose do these scenes serve beyond the superficial? As if the nude dancing wasn’t enough, along with impalement and vampirism scenes there’s a shot on Monica sitting/lying down as the camera leers over her athletic body. One of these shots trips the line of bordering on sexploitation, and Satyr’s love for the zoom function actually reminds of the works of the late Spanish cult director Jésus Franco Manera and his 1970s output as “Vampiros Lesbos”, “Eugenia” and “Erotikill”. Like his productive Spanish compatriot Wongraven too spents inordinate amount of time leering over Bråten’s mammary glands and pubic area. That isn’t a sin in and of itself, but it doesn’t help move forward whatever little plot this video has either. In fact the video seems to completely go off the rails towards the end, as shots of Bråten dancing and lying seductively are interspersed at points that make no sense at all.

Differences with the censored version
The key difference between the censored and uncensored videos lies mainly in the scenes containing either nudity or gore. These scenes have either been shot differently, or been blurred out during explicit parts. In the vampire feeding scenes, you only see a darkened shot of Satyr, while the uncensored video lovingly pans over Bråten’s body with Wongraven feeding of several body parts. In the censored vision there’s a spooky glimmer of light after the feeding scenes, while the uncensored video has a shot of Satyr as bits of meat fall out of his bloody mouth. The erotic dancing scenes are largely similar with the exception that the censored edition blurs out Bråten when she’s coming too close within the camera’s reach, or when her pubic area comes into the frame. In the censored edition Monica’s face has shot in close-up, followed by a posing shot of Satyr, followed by another blurred shot of Bråten dancing. The concluding chapter of the video has more of Bråten’s erotic dancing, with the censored version blurring everything out while the uncensored edition continues to leer willingly over her firm body. The uncensored edition ends up with a quick-cut highlight reel before going into the credits.

One’s enjoyment of this visual media piece is largely dependent on how much importance you place upon cohesion and consistency. “Mother North” is, obviously, easy on the eyes, but its few strengths do not free it from its more glaring shortcomings. More goofy than scary, and insultingly pandering instead of sophisticated the video is testament to the fact that Satyricon, as a band, were in the industry for the wrong reasons. As both a black metal and a metal video in general it does everything you expect it to do, but outside of that there is little to recommend from a technical standpoint. The production values are cheap, the props are recycled from the band’s “Nemesis Divina” photo shoot and the special effects mostly lose whatever little impact they had due to Wongraven’s insistence to shoot them from too close. Extreme metal was never known for its excellent music videos, and this one is no different. Check it out if you are really curious. Don’t expect to be wowed. Emperor did this better a year later.