A skull, a pentagram, and other items on a table.

A skull, a pentagram, and other items on a table.

Watain – The Wild Hunt (Album Review)


Black metal was never supposed to be about following rules. A fist in the face of all trends, it forged its bloody path in both commercial isolation and enforced misanthropy. It did this so well that its own style inevitably developed around it, resulting in the very trends it abhorred, as well as a host of offshoots and subgenres. Since its raw beginnings, the black metal hordes have argued endlessly over what is “true” and what is not. Enter Watain from Uppsala, Sweden, a band spawned by a fervent belief in a deistic Satan as well as a healthy dose of Dissection worship. Since their formation in 1998 the trio of Erik Danielsson on bass and vocals, Håkan Jonsson on drums, and Pelle Forsberg on guitar have released five studio albums; each one less concerned with this debate than the last. Latest LP The Wild Hunt, out now on Century Media, is sure to stir up even more fan controversy. Rumors of a ballad on the album had some folks worried the trio had turned in their buckets of rotting animal blood for glasses of record label champagne. So where does The Wild Hunt fit in the canon of both Watain and black metal? Is it the stylistic departure many dreaded, or a continuation of the awe-inspiring black metal many loved?

Sprawling introductory piece “Night Vision” envelops the listener, rising to a mid-paced Dissection-esque crescendo before fading into an uneasy rumble that soon gives way to “De Profundis”. This second track blasts with cold menace, Danielsson’s lyrics awakening our senses to the anti-cosmic abyss. His vocals are peppered with reverb, which at times come off a bit distracting. Sonic gimmicks are the last thing a band this honest need. “Black Flames March” features both vocal and tempo variances which lend it a truly menacing quality. Danielsson’s screech is exchanged for a cleaner bellow, and there’s even a gang vocal shout or two in the mix. Things continue in a more Marduk/Funeral Mist style on “All That May Bleed”. It is not until “The Child Must Die” that this record begins to really distinguish itself. A melodic song where clearly enunciated riffs resolve into a fist-in-the-air heavy metal anthem, it is the first song which showcases Watain’s elite songwriting ability.

And so we come to it. “They Rode On”, the track many were worried about – the dreaded ballad. As the first strains of the song come forth, it is clear we are in for something special. The atmosphere immediately evokes a mixture of Iron Maiden’s “Remember Tomorrow” / “Strange World” along with some latter day Tiamat and the final Celtic Frost album. Instead of damning Watain for abandoning blast beats and tremolo picking, it’s more amazing to see that a band so good at traditional black/death metal can make a haunting song this heartfelt and unforgettable. The vocal lines flow like warm blood in the veins of an ageless god, the lilting guitar solos reaching way down into the listener’s soul. Is this what it sounds like when the howling winds of hell die down to a breeze soft as velvet? Female vocals, provided by one Anna Norberg, join Danielsson’s surprisingly effective croon to make the perfect duet, bringing what is arguably the song of the year to a close.

Next track “Sleepless Evil” begins with a blast beat, the soft hands that were just caressing us quickly sprouting claws once again. An album highlight, “Sleepless Evil” rocks from start to finish. The title track is up next, with the band incorporating somber clean passages into the mix, once again to magnificent effect. The guitar work on the song is flawless. “Outlaw” begins with arrangements reminiscent of something Hollenthon or Therion might attempt, before resolving into a more typical blasting storm of death. “Ignem Veni Mittere” follows, an instrumental track with some cool guitar tones and atmospheres, which fades into a sonic backdrop of swirling winds. As instrumentals go it is fairly run of the mill, but it is saved by the overall atmosphere of the record. Album closer “Holocaust Dawn” keeps things interesting with a keen ear to song dynamics, tempo changes, and a well-placed blast or two. Watain have pushed their sound even further on The Wild Hunt, showing that their vision will never be compromised by anything as fatuous as peoples’ opinions; that is more black metal than any corpse paint. CrypticRock gives this album 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Century Media

Written by Nicholas Franco

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