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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.

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Gorefest was, along with bands as Asphyx, Sinister and Thanatos, among the earlier proponents in the Dutch extreme metal scene. While other bands played a good deal faster and more technical, Gorefest always was more like their British peers in Bolt Thrower. Above all else the band concentrated on writing catchy, groovy tunes that stayed in the memory of the listener. This album came to materialize after the band’s second demo “Horrors In A Retarded Mind” (from 1990) led to an extensive tour with British grinders Carcass. Label interest had been there since the “Tangled In Gore” demo session from 1989. This is also the only album to feature the two forgotten Gorefest members Alex van Schaik (guitars), who wrote the lion’s share of material present on this session, and Marc Hoogedoorn who sits behind the drum kit for this album.

Gorefest was surprisingly musical in doing what it did. There was memorable lead/solo work abound everywhere here. The drumming, besides keeping the beat, also had some great fills and footwork – but Hoogedoorn is never a showoff or obtrusive. Jan-Chris’ roaring grunts combined the best of Napalm Death’s Mark “Barney” Greenway and Chris Reifert (Autopsy) vocal styles. The riffing mostly culls from what the Americans were doing at this time, with influence taken both from then-nascent death metal movement as well as early thrash metal. There's lead/solo work by both guitarists, but Frank Harthoorn in particular, would come to define this era. This material isn’t what you’d call technical, but that never was the point. The band’s debut “Mindloss” is probably the most punishing and darkest record of their catalogue, but it is little more than a curious relic from their demo phase. It is truly unique in the band’s catalogue that way.

As was the tradition in the early ‘90s the record starts off with an intro, aptly called ‘Intro’ which is made up of pitch-shifted industrial and mechanical sounds, guitar noise and Jan-Chris screaming in bouncing echo like he is in extreme pain. It is quite eerie and unsettling. Intros like these were characterizing for many of the classic death metal albums of this era. It’s one of the practices that were sadly lost in time as bands went to great lengths to play heavier, faster and more technical. The intro sets up the album in a fitting manner, and while the opening song ‘Mental Misery’ has little to do with the rest of the album - musically as well lyrically - it fits surprisingly well with an album that is nothing more than a semi-professionally re-recorded, glorified demo compilation.

‘Mental Misery’ is the only new track of this session, and those who love splitting hairs will notice that the lyrical concept is already moving away from the Cannibal Corpse and Carcass inspired gore/splatter and horror themes of the band’s demo days. Another thing to notice is that this cut is dynamically richer than the ones that follow in its wake. ‘Mental Misery’ twists and turns venomously, and while the overriding format is that of groove death metal, this song lays the entire foundation of the band’s second album “False” on every important level. The first steps were taken here with this song. You can just feel the band wanting and waiting to break out of the limiting and limited creative corner they had painted themselves into. It would take a couple of years and a few line-up changes to reach that lofty goal, but at least they were trying, and not afraid to do so.

Death metal was still in its formative stages at this point, and a lot of material here is played at a leisurely pace with prominent slow passages that these days would probably be passed off as doom metal. Everybody gets their moment in the limelight, and so you’ll hear Jan-Chris’ thundering bass guitar introduce the sordid love song ‘Tangled In Gore’ and Hoogedoorn gets his moment of glory with ‘Decomposed’. Everything is evenly distributed. Slow passages segue seamlessly with faster and, dare I say, blast parts. Melody emphasizes and accentuates the brutality, and the clear-cut structures serve to add to the overall heaviness of the procedure. The bass guitar can be heard, and even contributes actively to the material at hand. The drumming is functional, but hardly the stuff of legend. I have no idea what became of Marc Hoogedoorn after his departure from Gorefest, but I’m sure he’s somewhere playing those drums and rocking away.

There are a few lovely themes to be found on this record. ‘Foetal Carnage’ is a graphic pro-abortion song, and in album highlight ‘Loss Of Flesh’ Jan-Chris loudly states the sobering thought: “I was born alive / isn’t that punishment enough?” The recurring theme through out this record is rotting in its various stages, and so you’ll have ‘Putrid Stench Of Human Remains’ and ‘Decomposed’ dealing with that. ‘Horrors In A Retarded Mind’ and ‘Loss Of Flesh’ are about suicide by self-mutilation, and serial killer fanatics can get their fill with ‘Confessions Of A Serial Killer’. The band’s self-titled opus ‘Gorefest’ is about eating the dead, and having sex with them – or both at once. No wonder the band would move on to more earthly and socio-political themes after they got this out of their collective system. I feel dirty just typing the synopses here for your perusal, just try and imagine how they feel. This stuff follows them around to this day. Happy thoughts!

The difference in writing and playing isn’t very surprising given that with this album the core duo had two different writing partners in Alex van Schaik (guitars) and Marc Hoogedoorn (drums). Jan-Chris de Koeijer (vocals, bass guitar) and Frank Harthoorn (guitars) man their known positions, but given that half of these songs were written by original guitarist van Schaik it is perhaps understandable why a lot of people who were introduced to Gorefest later don’t like this album very much. And what is this style exactly, you wonder? Well, for one “Mindloss” is very Autopsy inspired with its sludgy guitar tone, and barbaric but tasteful drumming. This record is bass-heavy too, very reminiscent of “Severed Survival” and “Mental Funeral” that way. Jan-Chris also has a very wet inflection here that will occasionally remind of Chris Reifert.

“Mindloss” will forever remain the album that people skip, and truthfully there is no rational reason to do so. Gorefest would come fully into their own with the follow-up “False”, which introduced the most widely known line-up for the band. There are a few missteps on this album, like there are with any release – but overall it is a serviceable debut for an uprising force. The fact that this album is often neglected speaks more of people's love for the status-quo than of the merits of this album. The album was originally released by Dutch label Foundation 2000, but re-issued a year later by American-German conglomerate Nuclear Blast Records upon their acquisition of Gorefest. There were more brutal alternatives around at the time, whether they were the more percussive-oriented Altar, the Black Sabbath inspired Acrostichon, the madly thrashing Thanatos or the occult sounding Sinister. Gorefest played their hearts out, and while they were in the same genre as their peers, they managed to give it a twist all their own. Carcass’ fingerprints are all over it, but only in its basic construction. Nevertheless its archaic production, and quircky cover art, “Mindloss” remains a fascinating document into the younger years of Holland’s more divisive and respected death metal institution.