Often overlooked in favour of the later Nemesis Divina (1996), Dark Medieval Times (1993) is the debut studio album by Norwegian black metal act Satyricon. Some sources insist that the album was actually released in 1994, but evidence, including the band's official website, suggests against this. On this album the long time duo of Satyr (vocals, guitars, bass) and Frost (drums) were joined by Lemarchand (guitars), albeit uncredited due to parting ways with the band and Torden (session keyboards).
I mentioned Nemesis Divina, the group's third album, right off the bat because it's often credited as their best release, but I'd like to refute that notion on behalf of Dark Medieval Times, which actually is the only Satyricon release that's ever really grabbed me as being something special. Of course I will advise to take that statement with a pinch of salt because there are a good number of Satyricon albums that I haven't tried yet. So far though, Dark Medieval Times is the first and only one that's caught my attention instantly.
Albums are made up of many things. First and most important is the music, of course, but the complete package of an album also includes it's title and artwork. Satyricon's Dark Medieval Times is an example of where the artwork, title and music contained within all fit together into one big picture. Rather than a straight black metal album of its time period, we find Satyr and Frost combining the genre's traditional aspects of raw, unpolished guitar and raspy vocals with heavy influences of dark/medieval folk, and even a touch of ambient.
They are sounds from two completely different walks of music, that somehow have always gone very much hand in hand with each other, this album no doubt being an early example. This symbiosis is likely what has resulted in many black metal musicians producing side projects in the ambient, dark/neofolk and neoclassical darkwave styles, including Satyr's own Wongraven album Fjelltronen (1995), an album whose roots are easily heard during Dark Medieval Times seven tracks.
I digress, the combination of the two creates an atmosphere that just fits the title so well. It's dark and it's medieval. And the album as a whole is an excellent experience to take the time to enjoy. Things are achieved no better than during the album's 8:12 minute long title track, where the band trade off sections of black metal and dark medieval folksy atmospheres for a lengthy instrumental closure.
Speaking of atmosphere there are some places where Dark Medieval Times almost becomes an actual atmospheric black metal album. Its black metal parts tend to be a bit too traditionally structures for that to really be the case but when it does have those moments, such as the opener Walk the Path of Sorrow, Satyricon actually do a better job of realising the sound than Burzum ever did.
Satyricon haven't yet managed to become one of my favourite black metal acts but Dark Medieval Times is a different matter. This album is one I'd count among the essentials of the genre, one that everyone who claims to be a fan should be paying attention to and hopefully adding to their collection. Those who prefer their black metal guitar to have a bit more gloss on the production may find it a bit raw of course, but even a little more spit and polish would have resulted in part of the album's special atmosphere being lost, and special atmosphere's like this are usually what makes a true gem of black metal come to life. It certainly does here, not only capturing it's title and artwork but also the sound of the early 90's Norwegian black metal scene. To my ears, Dark Medieval Times is one of the most creative releases to come out of that scene, light-years ahead of what groups like Mayhem, Darkthrone and even Immortal were doing on their first albums.