Watain – The Agony & Ecstasy of Watain


As a band approaching only their seventh album in twenty-four years, Swedish black metal favourites, Watain, know how to keep you waiting. Many of you will delight at the prospect of new material from one of the finest extreme metal bands of the twenty-first century. Few artists can match the trilogy of acclaimed albums they produced between 2004 and 2010; even fewer can boast a number one record in their native country with such a hostile and transgressive sound (see 2013’s The Wild Hunt). Like all established bands, Watain are now on a four-year cycle of releases and long global tours, the last of which would have ended in late 2020 but for Covid-19’s disruption on world events. They’re back with their first LP for Nuclear Blast, but are they still as vital for the future of black metal?

Watain are famous for their stance that all members of the band must be committed theistic satanists, and they’re notorious for many things, most notable of which is their dousing of animal blood on their flesh and (occasionally) on their live audience. Yet opener, ‘Ecstasies in Night Infinite’, reminds us that the Swedes are all image and even more substance. The noise levels are insane in the first thirty seconds when drums, bass and guitars lock in and break through the ceiling of advisable decibel levels like an Israeli fighter jet performing a sonic boom in the skylines of Gaza. This is the definition of bludgeoning black metal that’s just as terrifying as the band’s image. It leads you to wonder on follow-up, ‘The Howling’, why Dark Funeral’s latest effort could not be as urgent and as devastating to the senses. Yet a closer listen also reveals the true genius of Watain – melodic undercurrents permeate through the impenetrable darkness like pocket torches.

Watain will forever draw comparisons with Mayhem and Dissection, two bands that inspired their formation back in 1998, but they have their own raw sound these days that falls somewhere between Bathory and the earliest wave of Norwegian black metal. They even embrace the nocturnal colours of Fields of the Nephilim on ‘Serimosa’ and inject a frost bite of ice-cold metal into the proceedings. Guitarist, Pelle Forsberg, explores a wide range of chords and notes on the fretboard throughout this record, none more so than on ‘Before the Cataclysm’. You can head-bang, navel-gaze and throw your arms up to the sky here, yet you’ll also detect a latent strain of melody underneath the black metal chaos and exquisite musicianship.

Nothing about this record smacks of overproduction. ‘Leper’s Grace’ is like Emperor blasting their favourite thrash records with murderous bloodlust. It’s not clear if any Watain songs talk about sacrificing virgins, but you feel they should after the malevolent rasp of Eric Danielsson’s voice gets inside your head. You can envisage all these album tracks in a live setting and will have no doubts that the spectacle will be even more enthralling in its full occult glory.

Of course, it’s difficult for the band to reach the heights of 2007’s Sworn to the Dark, but album number seven has its fair share of instant classics. Latest video-single, ‘We Remain’, starts like something from Sisters of Mercy’s Floodland album with esoteric female vocals and solemn drum beats and evolves into an atmospheric metal contemplation that would not be out of place on a Triptykon LP. Listen to closing track, ‘Septentrion’ – is this not an experience that will help you ascend to a higher state of being? How do they extract such melancholy melody from the villainy of their black metal assault?

Once again, Watain show that the future of black metal relies on their energy and vision. This is another excellent record from the genre’s most consistent band of the last two decades.

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 29/04/2022

Record Label: Nuclear Blast

Standout tracks: Ecstasies in Night Infinite, Serimosa, We Remain

Suggested Further Listening: Dissection – The Somberlain (1993), Triptykon – Eparistera Daimones (2010), Mayhem – Ordo Ad Chao (2007)