Heavy metal encompasses so many vastly different subgenres – from the sparkle of Glam, to the grotesque of Grindcore. One less often traveled path, and in a mainstream very misunderstood, comes Black Metal. Interestingly, in the European Black Metal culture there are a few spinoffs to familiarize with, and they have different stylistic approaches, as well as ideologies.
In the case of Sweden’s Watain, they have had their unfair share of accusations against them used to try to throw them into some of the more segregated closed-minded categories. Long story short, Watain have been very dedicated to their musical craft as they consistently create their own unique flavor of Black Metal. Which leads us to current times where Watain return with their new studio album The Agony & Ecstasy Of Watain.
Released on April 29, 2022 through Nuclear Blast, it marks their seventh overall studio album and first since 2018’s Trident Wolf Eclipse. The irony of The Agony & Ecstasy Of Watain is that it certainly lends itself to not only the absorption and release of evil in general, but specifically to what Watain has encountered over the years due to their stage shows which include the use of animal blood on occasion. For example, Vocalist/Bassist Erik Danielsson has often had to perform double duty on stage in a live tour setting in the US because one or more of the members of Watain were denied border access for seemingly unfair reasons. Additionally, they had to cancel their entire last tour with Mayhem at the final hour due to visa issues beyond their control. These last minute pitfalls in mind, Watain has had the strength to carry on and rise above it all.
This in mind, The Agony & Ecstasy Of Watain includes ten tracks of precisely what the title implies. Starting off the dark embrace is “Ecstasies In Night Infinite” beginning with a determined frenzied chaos that somehow holds structure within. Imagine a spine in a zig-zag, but in an unsymmetrical pattern from the base all the way up to the skull, however, it still serves its purpose of holding the body upright. Next, Watain prove they are as thoroughly fluid as they are tough with “The Howling.”
Moving along there is also “Black Cunt,” which is five and a half minutes of good Black Metal that is open for interpretation. Whatever, the conclusion, the track has an interesting Black-n-Roll type base, with a melodic undertone, and a speedy dark overtone. Diving further into the purgatory section of the album, “Leper’s Grace” swallows you whole with its fun riffs and harsh vocals. Then the less than one minute and thirty second keyboard interlude titled “Not Sun Nor Man Nor God” is a nice split up into the final four depths of hell tracks yet to come.
Which leads us to seven minute long “Before The Cataclysm,” which is an explicit and magnified use of multiple guitars. Then, all of a sudden, it is as if you are transported to another band’s album entirely with “We Remain” featuring more dreamy female vocals thanks to Farida Lemouchi. The most surprising song of the album, it is a slow trudging journey that definitely is an out of the normal box for Watain in a good light. Finalizing what definitely comes across as a powerful, determined, creatively full, conceptual album is “Septentrion.” At over six minutes, it fulfills the exorcism the band was seeking out properly.
As we all know in the world of Heavy Metal, judging a book by its cover, or a human’s value by their outward appearance, is just a typical ass maneuver. One staple of Watain is to push the envelope in a way that almost can be described as shock value, yet while still holding a mean to them. The meaning is not ever as logical or straightforward as it seems. Art is always left up to interpretation, so often it is either scrutinized or praised based on the viewers perception of reality. These concepts in mind, Watain has exceeded expectations with The Agony & Ecstasy Of Watain and that is why Cryptic Rock proudly give it 5 out of 5 stars.