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Watain, the throne is yours. - 94%

Myrkrarfar, May 8th, 2017
Written based on this version: 2010, CD, Season of Mist (Limited edition, Digipak)

“On June 7th, 2010, Black Metal shall be reborn.”

Hefty words. With this message trumpeting the release of their fourth full-length album, “Lawless Darkness”, Watain chose the one and only path they could. The unveiling of their follow-up to “Sworn to the Dark” (2007), one of the most heralded black metal albums of the last decade, comes with massive pressure; and obviously, they chose the “offense is the best defense” strategy. Obviously, because these Swedes have never been about compromises in any form whatsoever; be it music, lyrics, stage appearances, interview answers etc. Watain walk their own way and have thus come farther than any who aren’t true to themselves. I applaud their integrity, and their records as well. Thus far, all Watain albums have been favorites of mine, and their developmental curve has ever been pointing upward. So, does “Lawless Darkness” hold up to the band’s lofty promises, or to the fans’ rabid expectations? Well…

The overall feeling I get out of “Lawless Darkness” is that it is a more atmospheric and diverse version of “Sworn to the Dark”. The foundation still lies in melodic black metal with frequent thrashy outbursts, and the Dissection influences that have ever been present in W’s music are now even more significant. Most of the 73+ minute behemoth sounds like trademark Watain, but there are some exceptionally tasty surprises to be found as well. We’ll get to those in a bit. What is most important is that the spirit, the atmosphere, the feeling is intact – this is uncompromising black metal art, delivered with an unwavering hand and grasping onto your soul with the vile claws of Satan.

Opener “Death’s Cold Dark” is an energetic piece that drives stakes through the hearts of the holy in a malevolent frenzy. Blast beats, tremolo riffs and thrashy outbursts keep the momentum driving ever forward while E spews out his illwill with inhuman malice. “Malfeitor,” one of the record’s best pieces, has a more dismal aura around it, keeping mostly to tempos in the mid-range. Gold-selling single gutfucker “Reaping Death” unleashes some eager hellfire upon us (and a majestic chorus), while slithering doom-epos “Four Thrones” looms above the puny mortals, leaving them to either bask in the might of its onyx shadow or be devoured alive. The rest of the tracks are built from the same bricks, although every track has its own identity.

The harmonies utilized on “Lawless Darkness” by the blackened trio can be divided into three categories: 1) chaotic, dissonant and shrill blackness; 2) melodic, harmonic and beautiful melancholia (Magic Tip: 3:25 into “Kiss of Death”); and 3) simple, thrashy, chromatic primitivity. The tempos can actually be categorized much in the same way; we have A) fast, insane outbursts (Magic Tip: The beginning of “Reaping Death”); B) moderately fast and groovy mid-tempo Chaos worship; and C) slow, satisfactory episodes of doom. Okay, now that we’ve got all of the rules ready, let’s play Teh Black Metal Composer Ov Hell v666.0! Let’s begin with a 1A intro riff, followed by a 3A verse, explode into a 2B chorus, and then proceed by milking the son of a bitch with a 2C post-chorus, and ta-dah! You’ve got yourself half a Watain song.

What the wolf pack from Svecia have done differently, this time around, is that they’ve managed to spice things up with various unexpected flavors. We have a whole six-minute instrumental song, the title track; we have a chorus with Attila-type chanting in thrash-feast “Total Funeral”; we have some palm-muted guitars reminiscent of Megadeth at the end of “Hymn to Qyain”; we have a truly epic closer in 14 minutes and 31 fucking seconds of “Waters of Ain”, incorporating a fucking fantastic coda (Magic Tip: 9:45 and onwards) with minute after minute of build-up, harmonic jamming and a great solo wrapping up the whole disc. The aforementioned Dissection influences are at the very forefront throughout the album, and I really don’t have to point out where they’re audible – they’re all over the place, especially in the lead melodies and the parts with acoustic guitars. Not to worry, they carry on Jon’s legacy with all honor so I don’t mind. Still worth of noting.

A notable difference is also the extensive use of slow parts, epic arrangements and subtle transitions between the tracks, giving the album a great sense of wholeness. After years of listening, I still find new stuff with every spin, and this album is a massive grower. Which is quite exquisite, as this record is already my favorite Watain album. Yes, it is better than “Sworn to the Dark”. Yes, it is better than most black metal albums, ever. This album is absolutely astonishing in its passion, beauty, dedication and craftsmanship. I’m not sure if I can agree that “black metal was reborn” with its release, but “Lawless Darkness” sure as hell did rejuvenate and bring new life to the darkest, deepest, most mysterious and most powerful of all genres. Watain, the throne is yours.