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Today's show is brought to you by the letter W. for Watain! Let's talk about their latest record, The Wild Hunt. As a disclaimer, I'm not averse in any way to trendy bands. I'm rarely happier than when wearing one of my Behemoth all-overs taking a swig from my Behemoth hip flask. 's'true. And the fact that there's a ballad or a slow song on this album, I couldn't give less of a fuck. Condolences to the apologists, but it's actually the rest of the material that constitutes a final nail in the coffin of any relevance or residual respect Watain may have commanded.
In fact, 'They Rode On' is alright. It isn't Watain, but it's a fair cop. Pretty atmospheric rock thing, like something Anathema might come up with plus Tiamat -style solos. Sweden has a fine fuckin' history of experimenting within pre-defined genre boundaries to great success, and this song doesn't do that tradition shame. However, it shouldn't have been under this band name, and it shouldn't have been on this record. I've seen these lads wearing their The Devil's Blood t-shirts and getting on concert billings with them; I think I know what sort of music they really want to make. They'd have been better killing Watain, at least for now, and making an album of this. That would have been way more respectable. Dissection made their mark with three full-lengths, Von made theirs with a couple of demos... why do you have to do so many? The only reason is that unlike those bands, who were truly nutters of the underground, Watain have made a hell of a career doing this, and that band name gets some big fees.
So instead of doing that, they shat out this turd into the waterpipe of their increasing concert fees and diminishing legitimacy. And they can't undo that now. Nothing about the album really works, instantly noticed with the sound. The Wild Hunt has this extremely dissatisfying dry, stuffy production - not cold or oppressive or in any way suitable for the band, not really clean or compressed, just a bit flat and mouldering. When the sound isn't being filled out by orchestral drums or multi-layered vocals it's like you can hear everything, but so what. There's no power in the music, it's lifeless.
I do enjoy the delicate but hostile clean guitars of 'Night Vision'. But it's too long, and at the end you get this sort of noise thing going on, with orchestral drums as well, and already the album is over-thought, and defined by fucking about. I got no real problems with 'De Profundis' and its ugly '80s-derived thrash by numbers thing, pretty Hells Headbangers style stuff. A whole album of this would sell like Bathory shirts on there. I mean it wouldn't be the first thing you'd add to your shopping cart but, they do have those free CD offers if you spend a certain amount so, you know. Maybe after you've copped Sanguis Imperem and Cemetery Urn (both fantastic).
Anyway, after we've had generic and meaningless from this latest Watain platinum or whatever selling record, it just gets worse. The real offenders are stuff like 'All That May Bleed', where on an album of shoddy performances Erik contributes a particularly weak set of vocals, and dull, lifeless rock riffs abound. Elsewhere, in 'The Child Must Die', you get Watain repeating their usual guitar lead sounds ad nauseam over some weird alt-rock harmonized riffs, 'Outlaw' is some kind of prancing joke song interspersed with some of the most insincere black metal passages I heard all of last year. Hmm. 'Black Flames March' clearly tries to evoke some sort of Dissection impression on the listener, but it's so meandering and limp all it does is evoke the skip button. It wants to march with its rumbling guitar riffs and slow drumming - it just sort of wobbles along. A small thing - the lyrics, written by Set Teitan, are again the best on the record (as with 'Legions of the Black Light' on Sworn...). A small thing like I say but I think worth noting.
That's the thing. Unlike even Lawless Darkness, which had plenty of entertaining sections somewhat in the spirit of Dissection's wonderful hard rockin' melodic metal album Reinkaos, The Wild Hunt doesn't even have tracks you'll feel like revisiting. You know how you'll get a shoddy album from a once-favourite band, and even though it isn't the best there's like that one song which you can put in a playlist or stick on once in a while for fun? Other than 'They Rode On', The Wild Hunt has nothing I will feel like listening to again. Honestly, you would be better off with the latest by Denouncement Pyre, Behexen's last decent but dull release, or even Chaos Invocation's sophomore which amusingly lifts entire passages from Lawless Darkness.
...another thing. You know what Watain is calling their fans now... Wataniacs. How good is that. It's like Animaniacs. So now all the "misanthropes" with their twenty scene buddies at gigs have something to call themselves, at least. Not really relevant to the music but this sort of odious behaviour is obviously coming from the same misdirected arrogance, and that's why this album makes no effort to be any good. This whole Watain as a belief system thing is essentially free licence for Erik Danielsson to do and record what he likes, and say if you don't get it, fuck you, there's no fire in your soul, you don't understand me, man, it's all part of his grand plan to revolutionize music or uphold the spirit of Dissection or whatever (a bit of a stretch of the imagination by now). Essentially a commercialised version of that old chestnut you get from anyone trying to protect shoddy music by accusing you of "not getting it" or being "narrowminded", when there truly is fuck-all worthwhile substance to it. By employing this tactic Watain's CEO has mentally blocked any self- or outside criticism. The level of arrogance is fucking fetid, and it really shows here. That's why the grumpy teens (and adults, sadly) in their Wolf Militia t-shirts muttering darkly about how Watain's detractors don't understand it all, get this to listen to. Congratulations guys, hope you enjoy it more than I did.
Watain definitely haven't been underground in a long time, but now that they are making their major label début on Century Media it is fairer than ever to say that they are a band who have always done their own thing. Whether it is their blatant commercial desire, getting up the nose of animal rights activists (figuratively) and fans (literally) with the stench of dog's blood at their gigs or getting removed from the Swedish Grammy Awards for drunken behaviour it is clear that Watain are a band who don't give a fuck what you think.
Nevertheless as the soft, multi-instrumental layered intro of “Night Vision” fades into “De Profundis” there seems to be a concerted effort from the band to make a statement early on that they haven't grown weak or agreed to mellow out as their popularity continues to skyrocket. Rarely if ever have they sounded this chaotic; Erik Danielsson's vocals sit high astride in the mix to show his flex as a creative vocalist and lyricist and hats must be taken off Tor Stjerne's production that teases out every quality like the Dissection-referencing cavernous drums and that tortured guitar squeal that sounds like a human voice. On first listen of this track it might be hard to fathom why Watain have come under fire for their stylistic choices on this album, but as time wears on the picture becomes clearer.
“The Child Must Die” is a noticeable departure from the usual Dissection/Mayhem/Necrophobic style of melodicism that Watain normally utilise when it ventures into a sort of Blackened Power Metal vibe, but without a doubt the ballad (yes I said ballad) number “They Rode On” takes the prize for the track from this album that has rustled the most kvlt feathers. The signs were there on Lawless Darkness with Carl McCoy of Fields Of The Nephilm fame adding his pipes to “Waters Of Ain” though here Danielsson's own Gothic clean vocals bear more resemblance to Nick Cave, and when the drumming kicks in it takes on a different kind of theatricality, that of 80's stadium cheese along the lines of Helloween's “A Tale That Wasn't Right.”
When it comes to ripping up the rulebook and thumbing their nose at the corpse-painted dwellers Watain have chosen the campest and most confrontational method imaginable, like a musical equivalent of storming an Evangelical convention in lingerie and a feather boa. While I may get the same sort of kick that the band probably do from hearing the frostbitten hordes cry sellout I do have my own issues with this bold track, and that is that I simply don't think Danielsson's clean vocals are strong enough to pull it off. The fact that they seem so weak is perhaps the only failing of Tor Stjerne's production on this entire album, and at other times too it seems like Watain's musical bravery is hampered by inadequate performance.
The favouring of a cleaner yet thicker guitar tone is another fingers-firmly-up rejection of Black Metal traditionalism that is shot all across this record, and on the more chaotic and even progressively disrhythmic moments like “All That May Bleed” and the solo of “Sleepless Evil” it works to great, thunderously heavy effect. With “Black Flames March” though its reliance on crunchier and more simplistic heavy riffs laced with deliberately strummed clean toned guitars lets go of too much of the tension built up by that point, and also feels somewhat compositionally clunky, but is just about rescued thanks to its killer chorus.
“Sleepless Evil” is a bigger offender when it comes to causing a stuttering album flow as despite its interesting mechanical/pseudo-Industrial feel and evoking of early Death Metal influenced Marduk it is not the right fit for a track to follow the big album centrepiece ballad. If I had have been in charge behind the desk I would have considered moving closing number “Holocaust Dawn” (the most conventional track by far) in that place and whisper-laden melodic title track to see the album out.
“The Wild Hunt” not only comes at the wrong point of this album but also needs to be singled out for that flamenco section at the end; though it must be said it is only the laziness with which it is tacked on rather than incorporated into the rest of the song that I find worthy of criticism. In fact for all the knickers that have been put in a twist by this album the only truly reprehensible musical choice I think Watain have made is “Outlaw” which aims for a Melechesh/later Rotting Christ sort of Eastern Mystic aura, but instead fumbles with a Soulfly-esque tribal Nu Metal vibe. Overall the quality on this album varies wildly but this is the only point that as a reviewer makes me consider abandoning professionalism and conceding that all the mudslinging former fans crying “sellout” may have a point.
War On All Fronts isn't in the practice of denigrating a band's musical avenues however, only the quality with which they walk down them. With The Wild Hunt I have to admit to admiring Watain's ambitiousness, their disregard for convention and of course their spiting of armchair critics with their strict Black Metal ideals, but when it boils down to it the fact is their gamble has resulted in the weakest and most inconsistent album of their career to date. Especially in a year which has seen fellow Swedish bands Tribulation and In Solitude's progressive tendencies strike gold this really is shown up to be an inferior album. They may not be a guest at the table for 2013's end of year Metal album christmas feast, but this album can certainly fit the bill as the turkey. [5/10]
From WAR ON ALL FRONTS A.D. 2013 zine- www.facebook.com/waronallfronts
While you can't deny that this new "direction" for Watain will bring in more mass appeal, it's certainly a breath of fresh air in their formula. I couldn't imagine them pulling off another Causus Luciferi, or even Lawless Darkness, at this point in their career, so I guess that this is just the logical progression. But holy shit, has it ever received its fair share of bashing.
If I were to really be critical about Watain's performance here, I would definitely hold the Wild Hunt's un-blackness against them. Better production, tight playing, and quasi-technical riffs all add up to something I really don't find so "black metal," as I do subscribe quite a bit to the Darkthrone school of DIY black metal with raw production. I hear a lot Pleasure to Kill and probably Laws of Scourge on here, much more than I do De Mysteriis dom Sathanas, and even a touch of Ride the Lightning. Just take a listen to "Sleepless Evil" and "De Profundis," and there are some really clear similarities. The only thing really black metal about a lot of the riffing is the some of the scales and chords used, and of course the scorched vocals of E.
Eric Danielson is a big fan of traditional metal, and that comes through here as well, on "Black Flames March" and "All that May Bleed," with martial, driving beats, and subdued tempos. These do, however, keep the black metal feel with tremolo riffs and dischordant riffs. "The Child Must Die" also feels quite "traditional,"
There are a number of out of character ideas on here. A good deal of the criticism has to do with the "slow song," "They Rode On." Sure, this feels out of place, but apart from that, it's a good song, just not what I'd expect from Watain. And no, this isn't "Every Rose Has its Thorn," or "November Rain;" it's more like "Czas Zemsty" from Kat's amazing 666.
Now, the clean vocals I cannot bash, especially when used on the very, very Bathory-esque title track. And it is quite the epic track, a dragging, atmospheric number that pulls the sun and you below the horizon, into the netherworld. "Outlaw" is one of the strangest songs yet, with those tribal beats and chanting, which brings to mind some sort of weird voodoo ceremony, but degenerates into choppy riffing, and chaos. "Sleepless Evil," despite it's rapid, wicked tempo, drops into a calm, piano passage that recalls early Samael, then a chugging section. They wrap this all up by returning to the chaotic speed and a ripping, twisted solo, bringing to mind Sarcofago's finest moments.
I can see why some people flip out over the new elements present on here, but they really don't add up to much. Apart from "They Rode On," Watain always follows them up with something out of the book of evil thrash or black metal. Whereas Illud Divinum Insanus confused Morbid Angel fans, and Reinkaos was too "simple" for Dissection fans, the Wild Hunt adds new elements and traditional metal to Watain's characteristic sound without utterly alienating their fanbase.
Watain is a band that seems to have fooled many into believing that they are actually good. They got the aesthetics down of what people "expect" from black metal (right down to the shirt designs), and their banter/philosophy gimmick and "shocking" live performances have provided them with some easy marketability. Of course, people nowadays will buy anything if it "sounds" like something they've heard before, and sounding "like" black metal is about all Watain have done throughout their career. For this album, Watain are making steps to be honest with themselves and admit that they really just want to be Tiamat covering Guns N Roses' November Rain backwards, but they are still pretending to be black metal in their most shambolic offering to date.
The same lyrics are regurgitated over the same crap Watain has written for at least 2 albums now only this time it's even more horrible. Cheesy Dissection inspired melodies that sound like the "hooks" In Flames were peddling on their debut album make their appearance underscoring jagged riffs that many have said pay homage to the era of Bathory and Celtic Frost, or even Sarcófago. Lies. This is by the book mellow-deaf tinged late 90s swede-core with even simpler, more repetitive song structures. One track was so bouncy it sounded like mid 90s Necrophobic playing some kind of blackened pop-punk. There's nothing in this album that will challenge it's audience, just a background drone of inoffensive swede-core cliches. It feels like a focus group effort by Century Media to get swede-core into Hot Topics the world over in a way that Marduk couldn't. The sad thing is Watain at this point in their career are at the same point Sacramentum and Dissection have ended theirs, right into mellow-deaf and stadium rock leanings with rock harmony 101 bits, yet a lot of people are calling this band "brave" for taking a "fresh" approach on this album that is every bit as original as what most bands "blackened" Swedish bands ended up producing by 1999. Only it's 2013, and it's somehow shittier. More pro-tooled and plastic sounding, but still shit nonetheless. Of course what these people were referencing was not the non-entity that the majority of the songs exist here as, but the whopping 2 songs where Watain show their true colors.
On the title track and They Rode On, Watain make no pretensions towards being third rate swede-core anymore. Here they are honest with themselves in admitting that they want to be somewhere between Hammerheart era Bathory covering their favorite Bon Jovi songs and cheesy Guns N Roses styled balladry. The problem is they're still on par with the rest of the album (crap) and these tracks have no more "artistry" than anything you would hear on the radio. The emotional pacing of these 2 saccharine tracks are not unlike what can be heard from adult contemporary music, except with more alcoholic step dad blabbering vocals. The good news is that these 2 tracks show Watain freeing themselves from having to ruin black metal any further and being just another ballad rock band. The bad news is it's still vapid and surrounded by insincere and tired late 90s swede-core that sounds like the byproduct of copying and pasting random riffs together in pro-tools over fast drumming.
For the past several years, I was proud to herald Sweden's Watain as one of my favorite artists. Watain was able to channel all of the necessary influences and spirit to emerge as one of black metal's undisputed frontrunners. Few would argue the greatness of "Rabid Death Curse" and "Casus Luciferi". Although, "Sworn to the Dark" and "Lawless Darkness" have been criticized in some circles, astute audiences recognize them for the classics that they are. Each, loaded with anthems that would make Watain's predecessors proud.
To say that I was looking forward to the "The Wild Hunt" would be a gross understatement. Then the album arrived, and the collapse that is on display is absolutely staggering.
"The Wild Hunt" starts out promising enough. The first 4 tracks are the album's strongest. While the songs are not especially memorable, at the very least, they actually resemble the Watain that I'm accustomed to hearing. Things begin to decline on the fifth track, "The Child Must Die". The song appears to be the band's attempt to produce accessible black metal. What transpires is not intimidating by any means. It's just something that casual listeners can wrap their heads around. Nothing necessarily offensive, but watered down. Then out of nowhere, the album falls into a grave that it's unable to dig itself out of.
"They Rode On" is sure to be the album's most dubious track. It's a ballad very reminiscent of Bathory. There will be a contingent of listeners that will rush to Watain's defense, contending that they have every right to try something different. I have no problem with the experimentation. However, if you're going to take such a risk, the execution better be up to par. Watain's isn't, not even close. The track just rambles on for nearly 9-minutes, but it's far from epic. It's directionless, flat, and extremely boring. "They Rode On" is a track that doesn't fit on this, or any other Watain album.
If you're unfortunate enough to retain consciousness through "They Rode On", you'll find that the free fall doesn't end there. The monotone clean vocals make several unwanted appearances, while attempts at recapturing the album's squandered momentum come up limp. Things degenerate to an all-time low when "Outlaw" is presented. The track is unfocused, embarrassing, and just an overall chore to sit through.
"The Wild Hunt" is a reckless detour, and for me, a very deflating experience. I'll probably put it on the shelf, as I don't think I'd be able to endure the album in it's entirety again. It's hard to imagine the band resurrecting themselves after this disaster. What a disappointment.
The last fifteen years have seen Watain become one of the worlds most important black metal bands. Emerging from Uppsala in Sweden, Watain have spent those fifteen years becoming a genuine phenomenon within the metal world, putting on consistently stunning, ritualistic live shows and releasing some of the finest black metal works of the 21st century, from the aural vomit and spew of their debut “Rabid Death's Curse” to the majestic, completely flawless “Lawless Darkness”. That album and its predecessor “Sworn to the Dark” actually saw Watain rise out of the black metal underground and into the bright light of the mainstream, proving to be hugely accessible without being excommunicated from the scene in the same way Cradle of Filth and Dimmu Borgir have.
"The Wild Hunt" then, coming three years after "Lawless Darkness", is an important album for Watain, as it could propel them fully into the consciousness of the masses or see them yet again confined to the dark, often close-minded pit of the black metal underground, and the ideas expressed on this album show that the famed black metal elitists aren’t the bands primary concern. For a start, intro track "Night Vision" is far from the instantaneous combustion and ensuing onslaught of "Lawless Darkness" opener "Death’s Cold Dark", but instead is drenched in acoustic guitars and string sections, providing an eerie atmospheric beginning to the album. It’s up to "De Profundis" to really kick things off, its chaotic neo-classical touches bringing to mind Emperors finest moments. This track is actually one of only a few that showcase the visceral speed and intensity of the Watain we already know, as this album is an evolution of their sound more than it is a fan-pleasing album, rehashing what they’ve done before and sticking to tried and tested formulas.
Take lead single “All That May Bleed” for example. It’s clearly black metal, and has many of the bands core elements like Erik Danielssons hate-soaked rasp and some soaring emotive guitar lines, but focuses more on a searing, vicious groove than sheer velocity. The frantic assault of “Outlaw” is bolstered by tribal chants and percussion in an otherwise traditional black metal song. The title tracks doom-laden dirge prominently features clean vocals and even some Latin guitar work, and this all pales in comparison to the obvious centrepiece of the album, the nine-minute epic “They Rode On”. Acoustic guitars make up a huge portion of the sound, rather than just being part of an interlude or intro, and Danielsson sings cleanly the whole time, his mournful croon conveying a sense of bleakness Watain had only ever hinted at before, normally being too occupied with laying waste to their surroundings. The song escalates, becoming more and more drenched in its own despair, before crashing down into a gargantuan climax which even features female vocals. The musical equivalent of an inevitably doomed trek through a desolate wasteland, if anything on this album was gonna piss off the black metal purists it’s “They Rode On”, so it was a perhaps sensible move to follow it up with “Sleepless Evil”, one of the more standard tracks on the album.
The production too is different, sounding more like an old school black metal album than some of their previous material. Not to say that this is raw and primitive like early Darkthrone or “Rabid Death’s Curse”, but it’s certainly not as polished as “Sworn to the Dark”. The album as a whole essentially presents the perfect next step for Watain to take. It’s not exactly a stylistic shift akin to “The Black Album”, it’s not even one like their kinsmen Dissection's shift to melodic death metal, but it’s enough of a transformation to show Watain as a band unafraid to explore new horizons, and one possessing of the true spirit of black metal: evolution and experimentation.
Watain, hailed by hipsters and black metal fans alike, yet scorned by puritans for pulling black metal out of the underground. Anyone into metal of the extreme is bound to have an opinion on the Swedish horde, be it sell-outs, saviours, geniuses or madmen. Despite the opinion no one can accuse the band for not sticking to their very course caring naught for the opinion of others. Yet, most were taken by surprise when the talk of the bands fifth album 'The Wild Hunt' spoke of such unorthodox components as ballads, duets and generally new musical elements.
Fear not though, 'The Wild Hunt' is fundamentally a solid slab of black metal in the vein of its two predecessors 'Sworn to the Dark' and 'Lawless Darkness'. The musical cornerstones is yet the primitive guitar lines of Bathory spiced with the medlodies of Dissection and one of the best voices in the genre. Despite a rather cleaner production and a somewhat stripped and less raw approach, Swedish black metal remains the foundation of the Watain sound, make no mistake about that. The band has simply taken a step back and journeyed to their 80's black metal roots fusing those influences with their efforts from 'Lawless Darkness', thus rejuvenating themselves. The sense of a purpose found in the bands previous work is ever-present and 'The Wild Hunt' is in no sense less dark and ill-boding than their predecessors.
There are however the aforementioned debated/dreaded elements. The 'Chaos A.D.'-era Seultura/'Illud...'-era Morbid Angel rhythms opening and closing 'Outlaw' is sure to confuse the listener first time around. So are the Morricone-styled acoustic guitars closing 'Holocaust Dawn' and the title track. The latter is pure Bathory-worship in all its brilliance, but 'Hammerheart' rather than the expected 'Under the Sign...'-era. The heavy metal found in the bands Bathory-influences has always been present in their sound yet never as apparent as in 'The Child Must Die'. All of these elements form a crucial part of the bands rejuvenation yet they will still be fuel for the puritan's sellout-fire.
What will cause the fire to become an inferno though is 'They Rode On'. A 9-minute pure ballad featuring surprisingly good clean singing from Danielsson ending with a 30-seconds male/female-duet. There really is nothing black metal with this hauntingly beautiful song whatsoever yet it fits remarkably well on a black metal album, the reason being the true greatness of Watain: the song building. Forget for a second the catchy riffs, lines and passages. Forget the awesome vocals and the groovy rhythms. The true greatness of Watain is the ability to turn any idea, any riff or fill, into an integral part of a song. What many a time prevents a black metal song to raise from mediocrity is the feeling that one listens to a bunch of ideas stacked together rather than a song. Watain mastery in building proper songs out of their ideas made them rise to stardom about a decade ago and it keeps the musical quirks on 'The Wild Hunt' stick together as a coherent album in a manner few others would have pulled off. It might take a few spins but the pieces will eventually fall into place to form an impressive puzzle (possibly ov flesh).
In the era of playlists and randomizers it is a bold move to make an album that is to be treated like an album rather than a gathering of songs for its true magnitude to be found and 'The Wild Hunt' is surely the most album-oriented Watain full-length to date. Instead of following the safe trails of 'Sworn to the Dark' one more time the band has steered away from the paths of self-repetition and monotony. Even though this effort does not reach the same levels of excellence as 'Sworn to the Dark' and 'Lawless Darkness' and the new elements are sure to divide fans worldwide, it was a necessary long-term step giving food for thought on the bands future endeavours.
Originally written for www.metalcovenant.com
As good as they are, Watain had never been an absolute favorite of mine when it comes to black metal, or even just modern black metal. They have some truly excellent material, and they are a very good band, but for the longest time my deal with them was that if a song of their's came on, then great. They were never really a band I would actively seek out to listen to most of the time, save for my initial seeking out of Lawless Darkness and certain tracks from throughout their career. On the other hand, I know quite a few people that will swear up and down about that album and/or Casus Luciferi as being the absolute pinnacle(s) of black metal post-2000, and they are also the same people that I expected to despise The Wild Hunt upon their first listen. I had just about the opposite reaction as they did, as I find The Wild Hunt to be the band's pinnacle creatively, as they have fully realized their sound and just what they can do in a song while remaining "true" to their black metal base.
Right out of the gate, Watain refuse to let up with the one-two punch of "Night Vision" and "De Profundis", bringing the listener in with the same brand of balls-to-the-wall black metal they've made their name on for the past 15 years. It's a bit different from what they've created in the past, however, with the thrash elements that have always been prevalent in their sound driven to the forefront on "De Profundis". While that aspect of the sound goes away for most of the rest of the first half of the album, it returns later with full force on the second half in "Outlaws", which I will get into in further detail later on. "Black Flames March" starts off with some midpaced typical black metal material before descending into a slow, crushing stomp that will absolutely make those that headbang at their computer desks with nobody around do so. The pre-release singles, "All That May Bleed" and "The Child Must Die", are serviceable enough black metal tunes, with the former being infinitely more memorable and interesting than the latter, with "All That May Bleed" resembling an incantation or ritual recited by Erik Danielsson's rallying cry of "Come forth! Come hither! All that may die! All that may bleed!". "The Child Must Die" honestly sounds kind of restrained, as if the band wanted to go full throttle on it but something was holding them back from doing so. It's not a bad track by any stretch of the imagination, mind you. It's just the de facto weakest track on an album filled with a quite a few very powerful songs. While definitely more "standard" compared to the second half of the album, these first five songs are definitely different from what you might have come to expect from Watain. There are no walls of blast beats, tremolo picking, while still present, is nowhere near as prevalent as it once was, the compositions in general are much slower bar "De Profundis", and Erik's vocals are just about the only thing kept relatively the same as it was on past material.
And then we arrive to "They Rode On".
This is where the album, which before now was, while a bit different, something you'd expect from Watain, throws the listener for a loop. This track begins the significantly more experimental second half of the album, a second half smeared in clean vocals, acoustic guitars, tribal percussion, and walls of huge, flowing guitar chords. "They Rode On", at nearly nine minutes in length, represents the point when Watain became more than just a Swedish black metal band. This song is their love letter to viking metal-era Bathory, in particular such genre staples as Hammerheart and its epic centerpiece "One Rode to Asa Bay". Filled to the brim with decidedly non-Watain elements like the aforementioned clean vocals and acoustic guitars, "They Rode On" takes the listener fully into its own world, a world free from the constraints of "staying true to black metal", a sentiment I've always regarded as placing an unnecessary creative restraint on yourself. The moment in this song that threw for the biggest loop was the final verse, featuring, of all things, female clean vocals, an element I'm certain nobody would have ever expected to hear in a Watain song. It's a mystifying epic that must be heard to be believed. "Sleepless Evil" then brings the listener back down to Hell through its obvious resemblance to the crowd pleasing "Reaping Death" off of Lawless Darkness. Aside from "They Rode On", this is my favorite track on the album, with its pummeling drums and guitar lines. The album's title track and "Outlaw" continue with the experimentation, as more clean vocals take up the majority of the former and tribal elements peak through the musical curtain throughout the latter. The title track, while not on the same level of sheer grandure and presence as "They Rode On", is still pretty damn big. It reminds me greatly of Dark Fortress's magnum opus "Wraith", to be honest. Outlaws, as mentioned, is where the thrash influences of the band come into full effect, all while interweaving in the occasional tribal percussion break. The closer, "Holocaust Dawn", is about as fitting an ending to this album as you could get, remaining mid-tempo throughout most of its duration before busting into a brief, yet unexpected, circus-esq waltz beat, complete with organ heard faintly underneath. Those that hated "Secular Haze" beware. After a lengthy section of pure ambience, the song, and album proper, ends with a fairly obvious throwback to the style of Casus Luciferi, very much bringing a tune like "Devil's Blood" to mind as the record closes with a series of tom fills. If you have the deluxe edition of the album, however, you get a re-recording of the very first Watain song, "When Stars Shine No More", and might I say that it's so nice to hear that song in a form that isn't completely unlistenable. Seriously, that Go Fuck Your Jewish "God" demo ranks right up there with Pure Fucking Armageddon and Tristess Hivernale when it comes to indiscernible black metal recordings.
In the title for this review, I called The Wild Hunt Watain's Blackwater Park, the album that catapulted Opeth into worldwide fame and recognition. While the music on these two albums are not stylistically similar in any way whatsoever, the ultimate result of The Wild Hunt will be the same for Watain as Blackwater Park was for Opeth. They may have been around for a longer time than Opeth when they released their magnum opus, and they may be on a larger scale in terms of worldwide recognition than when Opeth put that album out, but this will be the album that the band will be most remembered for. It's their statement as artists, and while Lawness Darkness was admittedly their peak as a black metal band, The Wild Hunt is their peak as a band in general. Like all great albums, like Blackwater Park, this will be debated and talked about for years to come, with many for it and many against it. The Wild Hunt is, without a single doubt even entering my mind as I type this, Watain's master work.
January 704 ab Urbe condita (49 BC). From the heights overlooking the Rubicon, Gaius Julius Caesar evaluates its choice. Declared public enemy by the Senate, ordered back to Rome to be trialed about his actions the Gaulish Wars, he knows the doom that awaits him if he surrenders himself to his rival Pompey’s cronies. But crossing the border between Italy and Gaul at the head of his legions is a crime that would trigger a new civil war with unpredictable consequences. After hesitating, the conqueror chooses to cross the thin river, while pronouncing a sentence for posterity: Alea iacta est!
This short historical prologue was inspired by careful and repeated listening of Watain’s new record. This fifth album succeeds to Lawless Darkness, released in 2010. Composing the successor of such a masterpiece was without a doubt a formidable challenge, but like the Julio-Claudian dynasty founder, members of Watain are taking a huge risk with The Wild Hunt.
Yet, first excerpts released in the last few months left the impression of a stylistic continuity, even if All That May Bleed and Black Flames March seemed less well-crafted than the main Lawless Darkness hymns. Then, rumors circulated: apparently, the band operated a shift to a more accessible music, which can attract a wider audience, usually refractory Black Metal.
And this is unfortunately true…
After an honest introduction, marked by the excellent De Profundis, the already mentioned songs and the average The Child Must Die, the band commits a ballad called They Rode On.
A ballad. Clean vocals. On a Watain record.
It is difficult for me to express what I felt when I first listened this Nothing Else Matters ersatz. Like Metallica almost twenty-five years ago, Watain stabs his most faithful fans with a song radically opposed to their usual style, casting a shadow over the entire album. Positioned at the heart of it, They Rode On is its keystone. Following titles are inevitably affected and reflect this incomprehensible aesthetic switch. Album’s second part – minus some sparks – Is bland and faded, unworthy of the band’s creativity. Apart Outlaw and its powerful Thrashy rhythmic, title song, instrumental Ignem Veni Mittere and conclusive Holocaust Dawn all sin by excess of banality, despite an überstrong production provided (again) by the Swedish studio Necromorbus.
It is hazardous to speculate on Watain’s objectives with The Wild Hunt. It is unquestionably their weakest album, the only one lacking a true identity, which will suffer eternal comparison with its predecessors. Paradoxically, this fifth record will also be the most efficiently distributed, thanks to the Century Media partnership. The extensive media campaign that accompanied its release, proficient product marketing (t-shirts, collectors’ items) and the forthcoming road shows provide an international unprecedented visibility for the band. It would be awfully naive to imagine that the stylistic shift heard on this record has nothing to do with this unique business opportunity.
Less than five years after passing the Rubicon, at the height of his fame, Julius Caesar died, murdered by some of his closest companions. His power and fame had become unbearable for those who wished to restore the normal functioning of the Roman republic. In a purely allegorical way, many artists and bands have suffered the same fate. Attracted by fame, yielding for popularity, they betray the style that has allowed them to attract a loyal fan base, in order to interest usually indifferent masses. Many lose their soul in the process. Some lose their career. Are Watain members willing to go this way? Was their authentic and straightforward approach previously advocated was just a lie? Cynics believe it. Amateurs don’t. Between these two extremes, I cannot decide.
Et Tu, Brute?
Originally written for Métal Obscur.
The Wild Hunt comes off as a bit of an awkward listen. It lacks the massive, overwhelming sound of Watain's previous work, mostly due to the fact that all of the different elements Watain has cultivated in their sound have been compartmentalized on this release. This is not an album released by a band with a vision; rather, it feels more experimental in nature, as if the band's elements had been dissected, organized, and laid out track by track. All of the epic, dark majesty of Lawless Darkness has been gathered mostly in two tracks; They Rode On and The Wild Hunt, and as a result the rest of the album feels less grand and distant. There is less of a sense that The Wild Hunt's tracks are ageless and impersonal satanic hymns, most of them are much more present and grounded for better or worse, but this style does not match the production, which mostly gives the guitars an unremarkable sound, midway between warm and cold, thick and brittle. There are exceptions to this- the solo on They Rode On is monumental, the guitar cutting and snaking through the rest of the sound, and some riffs lay on the guitar much heavier than others, which makes for good moments but in general the sound simply works and nothing more.
The Wild Hunt opens with Night Vision, or more accurately, the thirty seconds of silence that precede the track. Night Vision, as an introduction track, does well enough to set the atmosphere but there's nothing particularly remarkable about it. Afterwards we get De Profundis, a frantic track that evokes Casus Luciferi- it and Sleepless Evil are the two more "traditional" sounding tracks on the album, both in the sense of Watain's older sound and in black metal itself. Next, we get Black Flames March, which, along with Holocaust Dawn and the instrumental Ignum Venni Mittere, represent the more melodic Watain ala Lawless Darkness. Black Flames has some killer riffing and is a fairly diverse song, after which comes All That May Bleed along with The Child Must Die, which both cultivate a catchier, more commercial sound. Neither come close to "Black n Roll" at least, but their more simplistic riffing makes them two of the more memorable tunes from the album, which is kind of a shame though "Child's" riff deserves to be stuck in your head and the song itself is actually pretty complex but falls short of being great, mostly because these two songs seem to be written in service to the vocals rather than the other way around, and suffer for it.
They Rode On is next, and this track is a significant departure for Watain; I was taken aback to hear clean vocals, and even more surprised that the entire song was composed of them. And yet this is one of the better tracks on the album, a thoughtful and melancholy midpoint that cuts The Wild Hunt cleanly in half (and did I mention it has a great solo?) I wouldn't be surprised to hear more like this on the next album, and then again I would also understand if this was a singular experiment. After it comes Sleepless Evil, which lives up to its name as a furious chunk of black metal, slowing down in the middle and building to a close that sounds rather like the opening of "Reaping Death" off of Lawless Darkness. The Wild Hunt is another song to feature clean vocals, this time in a tribute to Hammerheart era Bathory, though unfortunately the guitars are not meaty and heavy enough to support this kind of Bathory worship. It's still a decent track, with another great solo and an epic feel to it, but the production gives it a rather ingenuous sheen even while it works for the rest of the album. Outlaw is next, and it's a strange track, the odd man out in an album where every song has a match or two stylistically. It starts out with an odd, rather awkward riff that doesn't really fit in with anything I've heard, and becomes a very dense and thrashy song that breaks into bouts of old school blast beats and tremolo riffing, then transitions into serpentine, almost groovy melodic guitar lines and ends with a minute of the same strange riff that opens the song. The following track, Ignem Veni Mittere, is a great instrumental which really brings out some chilling melodies and crushingly heavy guitars, and it leads into Holocaust Dawn, which listens through like a history of Watain's sound; a rather appropriate place to end the album.
In conclusion, this is not Watain at their best. In fact, it sounds like Watain is trying to find out where to go next, releasing an almost scientific deconstruction of their sound to help them evolve. I would not be surprised to hear a new, more mature Watain in a few years, especially since quite a few progressive elements have been cultivated in the cracks of this album. It sounds weaker overall, yes, lacking the force of the previous albums, but I suspect that with more listens it will grow on you. It simply lacks the power to grab you right away, but by no means is it tired or weak. It's the seed of greater things to come.
It is time to bring the rage of ancient storm breeding inside the darkened soul and take the world apart. It is time for Watain’s fifth full length, “The Wild Hunt”, to hunt the false worshiper from the followers. Sounds progressive? Come on, they are not the feeble. Then why do you want to hear the same stuff over and over again?
“The Wild Hunt” is the most progressive offering from Watain till now, as hints were given in “Waters of Ain” on previous album “Lawless Darkness”. The total change in sound might displease some of the fans out there, but honestly, they still have that utter darkness present in their sound. The icy storm wind still blows inside your mind while listening to this album. “The Wild Hunt” is not a shit at all, and requires broaden outlook to enjoy the essence of this opus magnum.
What this album has to offer? Well, 11 pieces of verse to enchant yourself with luciferian darkness. As mentioned before, the sound of Watain has changed completely to a progressive direction. The guitars have now more epic notes. The riff structure has sharp progression in chords; change in scales, basically staying in mid to higher mid tones. The use of acoustic guitar in the background adds a new level to the sound. The best examples include “The Child Must Die” and “They Rode On”. The bass guitar is distorted, but still audible. The higher bass lines enhance the atmosphere, which makes the album sounding more epic. Its turn for drums, which are not your typical blast beats. Mostly throughout the album, the drums stay in slow to mid pace. But It doesn’t mean that you will hear no black metal drumming. The drum tracks are written to suit the music and the atmosphere of the album, so drumming here is not full of pounding garbage. The vocals need a special attention. Eric Danielsson has tried many things this time. Apart from his typical screeching vocal, the use of clean voice is noticeable. The song “They Rode On” contains no harsh vocal part. Eric has delivered screeches, clean vocals, whispers, chants, what not? The vocal performance is amazingly great in this album. The production quality of this album is pretty high, as you hear everything clearly. The clear production doesn’t ruin the album’s freezing and dark atmosphere.
“The Wild Hunt” has everything required to please a black metal fan. Watain have tried not to repeat the same thing again, and they are successful in this offering too. The listener should have the devotion to make this ritual a complete one. That’s all. Recommended.