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Watain are currently a buzz band. Definitely on the up, a new deal with a much bigger record label, magazine exposure....and a new album which experiments more than it should, some would say they sold out. Regardless of personal opinion on where the band currently stand, this album came long before any non-black metal influence crept into their sound. This is Watain when they still sounded raw, angry and ultimately black metal. I wouldn't go so far as to say they were the saviours of the genre (it didn't need saving), but this is pretty damn good.
Watain have several links to Dissection so it is no real shock to find that particular influence in Watain's sound. Essentially, it is a mixture of black metal fury with subtle hints of melody, much like Dissection. This album doesn't simply blast away nor does it meander in slow atmospheric trance-like ambience. This has the usual black metal elements of epic tremolo riffs injected with melody, blasting drums but with plenty of variety to the playing when slower parts are needed, vocals that somewhere between a roar and a snarl, and believe it or not we actually have a black metal album here where the bass can be heard. Bass is normally buried in the mix in this genre, so hearing it rumble nicely under the dramatic riffing is a welcome change. 'Opus Dei' even has a bassline that wanders from the path of simply following the guitar, a nice touch although i'm sure the purists won't care for such technical madness!
Although Watain play fast, it isn't ridiculously fast. They aren't Marduk and don't pretend to be. This is an album from the atmospheric side of black metal, not as much as Burzum admittedly, but structured more around creating a mood rather than simply going for the jugular. 'Devil's Blood' and 'Black Salvation' have a nice mixture of battering drums and subtle mood changes that are reminiscent of classic black metal acts like Mayhem, the aforementioned Dissection and even Emperor (without the symphonic elements). The rest of the tracks don't stray too far from this formula, but it is the changes of pace and atmosphere within each song that keep 'Casus Luciferi' interesting.
I don't pay too much attention to lyrics, especially in black metal. Usually a load of satanic nonsense, but having a flick through the booklet reveals lyrics that may well be satanic nonsense, but at least they are well written and steer clear of genre cliches. Vocally, the lyrics aren't very clear but I'd expect nothing less from black metal. The vocal delivery is excellent. I like the style, suitably raw and powerful, not drowned in effects like Dimmu Borgir as an example. Erik Danielsson doesn't sound like a frog with a sore throat either which is helpful. He belts out these lyrics with conviction, building up a brooding atmosphere over some excellent riffs.
The musicians in this band are very good at what they do. Not virtuosos, but more than capable of how to deliver top quality black metal. 'I am the Earth' is a perfect example, the vocals bellowed over huge tremolo riffs, the drums changing pace appropriately and the bass adding an extra layer beneath it all. Strong performances all round here. Fans of early 90's black metal really need to get this album for a blast to the past. It's just a shame that 10 years after this album, the band have now taken a detour on a previously unblemished career. The quality of 'Casus Luciferi' only highlights the inadequacies of the current Watain sound.
Recommended tracks: Devil's Blood, Opus Dei, I am the Earth, Casus Luciferi.
It's difficult not to like Watain, as far as I can tell: they don't present anything overtly offensive to the strictest of puritan underground sensibilities, they're excellent songwriters, their guitarist(s) is/are talented in terms of creating original melodies, the influences they do show when it suits them are of the finest pedigree (Mayhem, Dissection), they have great lyrics, their website it suitably mysterious and/or well-designed, the art they use is in the grand occult black metal tradition, etc. You might ask, "What's not to like?" I can't think of anything, really. I sometimes wish they would show a little more originality, but that's just me, my own tastes... my own obsessions. I would have all bands be trailblazers.
So yes, most critics on and off the internet usually point to the vaunted Dissection influence as if that "critique" somehow delineated and defined Watain and set their abilities within proscribed boundaries which made it easier or more agreeable to digest what they offer. I don't know that it does. For the most part I just think this is a blind reaction on the part of most self-made "experts" who try to define musical groups based purely on their geographic location. Luckily for them Watain reside in the same country as Jon Nodveidt and are "friendly" with death metal bands (right now they are embarking on a tour with Kaamos)... in their songs they do show a melodic sensibility and expressiveness that references Dissection, but I wouldn't ever compare them to that band or say (as one one ridiculous review I read would have one believe) that they have finally "transcended their main influence". No, in the past as well as the present metal (especially black metal) has always been an art form where contemporary artists build upon what has come before. Metal is very, very conservative in this respect - innovations and "revolutions" in aesthetics mainly come about as a sort of instinctive reaction to one's influences, and these prior forebears then appear as a latent virus or communicative medium within the new band's melodies... in many respects a lot of the "meaning" in the riffing is simply a reflection on how a band has gained a position where they can reflect on what has come before... react to it, comment on it, use it to build something new as a response. Where is the "transcendence"? I don't know. That seems to imply that there is a concrete standard or limit within the aesthetic realm...as if there was a goal or summit of melodic skill which all musicians within the field were struggling towards as a crowning achievement. I just don't believe that. The only real "success" that I would grant musicians is their refined ability to express, as close as they are able to, something resembling a totality of aesthetic desire... coming nearer and nearer to creating, within reality, the music they hear in their heads, the musical ideals they want to bring into being.
This is just an enjoyable album. The first three songs in particular are just extremely well-written and expertly constructed assemblages of atmospheric, evocative, brooding melodies, with the opener "Devil's Blood" and successor "Black Salvation" (as close as this band might ever come to writing a perfect black metal song) particularly effective. There is a maturity of instrumental prowess and songwriting flexibility on display here which places Watain in the top rank of black metal bands across the world, in my humble opinion. As an admirer of this genre and a writer who often tries (and fails) to adequately express my high regard for the best musicians in the art form, I can only point to a random series of ranked superlative adjectives and ask you to apply them yourself to this music. Say whatever you want about it, just listen to this beautiful album and "support" this band... because they are still trying to create complex, evocative, enrapturing, viably creative music of the highest quality in this time of stagnation and doubt, and the hard work, enthusiasm, and joy in the genre's bracing potential that comes through here is refreshing to the listener and commendable in its own right. This is easily one of the best black metal albums of the year.
(review of re-vamped version)
Most bands ruin re-mastered albums, especially black metal bands. As a genre known for the poorest quality equipment, equivalent of listening to a few guys jam in a basement (quite literally at times), hostility has met many bands that trade in their garage for a recording studio. Watain’s “Sworn to the Dark” may be of high quality recording, but the music engrossed within is more primal than anything anyone else could have spilt from their gilded goblets of basement recordings. Watain’s complexity and dimensional guitar work, tsunami drumming, vein bursting bass vibrations and vocals from evil’s very own mouth, are better listened to when you can clearly hear every note. Now, “Casus Luciferi” is always a record to fall back on when you want real black metal, but the re-mastered version is all the more fitting for a night of church-cursing rage and religious mockery.
It’s without hesitance that I call Watain unique and consider them the best black metal band ever, non-conforming to any trends of what “true” black metal is or what they “should” play like. Sure, Dissection strains and some similarities to other Swedish counterparts can be presented, but not to a very convincing degree. Even if you wanted to put them alongside Dissection, Watain stand beside them on a higher platform. These are serious musicians with a “tunnel vision” of sorts, for they see nothing else besides their own paths. Their music is in balance with melody and chaos, no matter how tormented it may sound. The attention mainly goes to the guitars and vocals. You’ll never find pianos, clear voices or orchestration on a Watain album, because they consistently write attention-grabbing hooks and serpent-tongue licks amiss ultra black moods to create harmony. Erik’s defining voice is perfect for black metal, so full of misanthropy and pain, with hints of despair that seems covered up by a gun pointed at the world.
Though each song is a masterpiece in its own right, “I Am the Earth” finally gets a chance to sound as big as the title, especially in the winding drums and Erik’s powerhouse screams. “Devil’s Blood” is old school worship with fast-paced whirlwind guitars marked by Watain’s trademark grinding, crunching instrumentation helped by the loud bass. The Satanic thoughts carried by this band are not flaunted by screaming “devil” and “Satan” or “evil” and “black” in each breath. Rather, you just feel something sinister and creeping, almost like being stuck in a room with the lights turned out and just knowing you’re being watched. The lyrics are actually quite poetic in a non gothic or sappy way.
“Black Salvation” is almost blinding as you can just see the fast movements made playing the instruments, like fluttering ghosts dancing across the floor that you can imagine are laughing with Erik’s evil chuckle. “From the Pulpits of Abomination” starts with discordance like fangs puncturing your throat. Firing up the generator, it’s a steady beat until two minutes in when the hot oil is poured over the victims below and things run rampant. Things quickly slow down and as Erik sighs at a job well done, a relaxed guitar sounds out only to transform into a hungry wolf again. Ending with “Casus Luciferi” the chiming of funeral bells and crackling thunder is the backdrop to the rain of acid that’s to come from Watain. Just think “Dante’s Inferno.” The Von cover of the song that the band grabbed their name from “Watain (VDN)” is great tribute to an influential band. They prove they could play in the predictable classic sound, but choose to do something better. It’s a great track nevertheless.
You should buy “Casus Luciferi (Re-mastered),” no ifs, ands, or buts about it, even if it’s just to check out the illustrious fold-out or the Von cover. Of course, it sounds amazing with the fuzzier sound, but dare I say I love the re-mastered version even more and that’s saying a lot. Watain are a band that I want to soak in every sound of; every drum stick hitting a snare or cymbal, every bass string tugged at, every scream and gasp uttered and every guitar string resonating in their turbulent vortex. Even lovers of muddied instruments and cavernous vocals should listen to this and possibly, receive new appreciation for professional recording. This should be labeled as “shadow metal,” because Watain burns bright with the fires of hell, casting the blackest shadows to completely cover the entire room as you listen to their souls pour out from your stereo.
- Written for Tanin'iver Zine
Ah, here we have Watains latest LP -Casus Luciferi- a well crafted and well executed record which features eight long, mainly fast paced songs with a great deal of hellish guitar melodies and harmonic textures, and with an unusual (for this type of tr00 underground bands) clear recording -without being an overproduced production job- this yet at the same time manages to sound somewhat raw and very much like black fucking metal. This isnt the type of primitive black that many Darkthrone inspired bands likes to play, its far more a Dissection/Sorhin influenced outfit with some violent Marduk like parts and also a hint of Mayhem's "De Mysteriis..." in it if I am to draw any paralells. Actually the opening riff to the first song "Devils Blood" -a magnificent and raging black metal assault- reminds me very much of the opening riff in De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas (the song). Anyway, its -mainly- Dissection styled and unlike many other bands influenced by Dissection, Watain can come up with interesting riffs that doesn't sound cheesy or happy, they sound more haunting and atmospheric than the riffs that for example Sacramentum comes up with. But enough with comparisons and get straight to the point, yes? This is in my opinion may just be the best pure BM album to come out so far in the 2000's. With its quality music and its viciousness and dark hatred, it's great to see there's some life yet in the old corpse of the black metal scene.
Songs to check out: Devils Blood, Opus Dei, I Am The Earth and Casus Luciferi.
Watain are most certainly quite serious about their art.
This is obvious just from a glance at the booklet of their second full-length album - a dark, mystical cover depicting horde of rather evil looking demonic angels combined with some writhing serpents on the back opens into pure blackness. Black CD, black traycard, black booklet. They refer to their music
as "religious black metal", which essentially means pure devil worship conveyed in an almost biblical fervour. Lyrics are contributed by several different authors, including members of Antaeus, Funeral Mist and Katharsis, as well as Watain's own works. Despite that, the overall message is quite clearly delivered and completely unified. Quite an accomplishment, even though "Puzzles Ov Flesh" retains MKM's rather, er, unique misuse of spelling ;)
As for music, comparisons are often made to countrymen Dissection, who also seem to have adopted a similar ideology of late. Unlike Dissection though, Watain avoid the tendency to fall back on sudden lapses into acoustic tranquillity, instead they keep the intensity level firmly pinned for the entire duration. It's almost sickeningly turbulent, the unrelenting speed occasionally falling into a crushing midpaced lope, only to return to the vortex from whence it came. Vocals are the usual throaty rasp, conveying the elaborate lyrics in a linear drawl over the head-spinning violence of the music.
Despite the overall intensity, Casus Luciferi is an oddly accessible disc, immediately grabbing your attention with a building cresendo of riffs which bursts into the full-speed assault of "Devil's Blood" and not letting up until the final 8-minute title track. Melody and power have rarely been fused so well as on this album, so I won't hesitate to give it full marks and recommend that you track it down before the inevitable 5-year wait for a repress.
One word to desribe this album: Masterpiece.
What you can expect with this release is a progression from the sounds of "Rabid Death's Curse." This time the compositions are more accomplished, and the production is much cleaner. The vocals on this album are also much more audible than on RDC. One of the most noticible things about this opus is the lyrics...Absolutely stunning! These, along with the lyrics on the new Deathspell Omega, are amazing literary works of art praising HIM. There was also lyrical help from Necromorbus of Funeral Mist ("Opus Dei (The Morbid Angel)"), MkM of Antaeus ("Puzzles ov Flesh"), and Scorn of Katharsis ("The Golden Horns of Darash"). There is also some very very good bass work on this album, most notably on "Opus Dei" and "Puzzles ov Flesh." The drums on this album are much more audible than on RDC. The riffs are reminiscent of the true Mayhem, Dissection, and early Bathory.
The artwork and packaging for this album are absolutely SUPERB, on all three formats (CD, LP, MC). The cover (of the CD and LP) is an inverted painting of "The Seventh Seal" by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld. In the booklet itself there are various drawings/paintins accompanying song lyrics.
As far as I know both the CD and LP versions are "unlimited," but the cassette version is limited to 150 copies and is already sold out.
In my opinion this is the greatest piece of black metal art ever created.
Watain are the filthy child of Bathory and Dissection. They spin harsh vocals, serpentine guitars and hammering drums into a solid mixture that recall the best motions of both speed-oriented black and death metal. The production is also quite solid for an underground black metal release. This is, no doubt refreshing change from many of the horrid basement-demos by bands with daffy-duck singers I am asked to endure. The violence is intact, the drumming doesn't blast me into boredom (variation is an art a few other bands need to learn) and the entire Watain concept is in full form on this release. (Damned fine booklet to boot.)
There is little need to tear apart the record song by song as the entire record works on a very strong "narrative" scale. Unlike many records I don't find myself skipping song to song looking for that favorite riff or part...I simply let the record slide over me as I'm relaxing before sleep or just looking to escape the common mental attachments of the day. It sets something of a gentle mood, despite the violence and allows one to drift off into an alternate state of thought. While I may never rate any of these songs as being "classics" that need constant review from those new to black metal - the record works as a cohesive listening experience that should not be overlooked for it's careful songcraft.
Watain are a concept that exist well on their own terms. They may not be the most important band working in the genre but they are hardly a shameful castaway either. I must support anyone with musical skill and strong productions values - especially when the evil they emit is as strong as what seeps from this record.
Rate this under those great "mood" black metal records that will slide into your player during those times you just wish to phase out of the day to day idiocy of this world for something in the next...