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Can't keep its promise - 70%

gasmask_colostomy, May 5th, 2017

Before Watain went a bit off the handle with The Wild Hunt, they released this, which is a fairly decent, if conventional, black metal attack on the fringes of the underground. I get the feeling that this would be a reasonable place for newcomers to black metal to get their teeth into the genre, since there isn't anything too challenging or unusual going on here. The basic tropes of black metal are all present, from the aggressive vocals to the off-kilter guitar scales, while the ladling of atmosphere is just enough to keep things interesting but not so much as to efface the purpose of the musicianship.

It would be helpful for listeners to bear in mind that Watain were never the most extreme of black metal outfits and on Sworn to the Dark their accessibility is evidenced by the clean and clear production that gives emphasis to all instruments, the audibility of Erik Danielsson's vocals, and the familiar ploys they utilize to create the necessary aura of blackness. The production comes close to what Dimmu Borgir had on In Sorte Diaboli, which is a comparable album in sound and scope, though the style of Watain is more conventional and devoid of all symphonic elements and deliberate forays into commercial modern metal. Some of the riffs are borrowed from death and thrash metal, such as the first riff proper to 'Under the Cenotaph', which along with 'Storm of the Antichrist' represents the quickest offering. Drums vary from full-out blasting on the faster songs to more varied beats and atmospheric backing on the slower numbers, which also feature a greater bass presence courtesy of Danielsson, who gives 'Darkness and Death' that typical lonely ambience thanks to his wandering tones behind the guitar. The riffs are not the most memorable, though they do a good job of conjuring emotions, especially when they thrill across the soundscale on 'The Serpent's Chalice', evoking mystery and the reek of danger.

While the basics are done well, I can't help but feel that Sworn to the Dark doesn't quite do as much as it could. Not to say that accessible black metal is the bane of the genre, but with lyrics and sentiments as powerful as that which follows, the album could have been cranked up a notch in the intensity stakes:

Wrathful beasts of Satan's fire.
They urge me further on my path.
Now soaked in froth and dark desire,
at the threshold of the inverted womb I stand.

That extract is from 'Satan's Hunger', a song that also shows philosophic depths that the album finds itself musically incapable of plumbing. The conventionality of the assault cannot even rival Mayhem in the brutality stakes, nor does it progress beyond Marduk in terms of nuance, barring the intrigue of the mid-paced sections, so it seems a shame to squander such poetry on middling compositions. Perhaps the most insightful stab made by Danielsson is the following view on truth and belief, though even here there is a certain deficit in the delivery that fails to intrigue the listener as much as the message should:

The brightest light will always cast the darkest shadows.
Shadows in which truth lies concealed.
For deep in the tunnels beyond the dream of this world
the mysteries truely reveal...

The true complaint is that Watain hold something back with Sworn to the Dark. The ethos of the album should be one of total abandonment to the cause and utter conviction in its own strength, though we get a merely adequate performance and effort given by the band. It's not the case that anyone from the three-piece does a bad job, rather that the manner in which they execute their songs leaves something to be desired for most black metal fans, especially anyone already versed in the genre. There are highlights among both the sharper and the more explorative numbers, though nothing to truly write home about. The band's following album Lawless Darkness would take new risks and allow Watain to move ahead, but Sworn to the Dark fails to keep its word to the shadows.

Meh... - 76%

ShadowSouled, February 24th, 2008

I don't understand the obsessive love so many "true" black metal fans - and metal fans in general - give to this band. I will admit, I do enjoy them, but I find that the band is highly overrated. Yes, I have heard Casus, and yes, I liked it. But I still feel that this band gets far too much attention for a trio that have stolen and recycled a certain other Swedish band's tried-and-true formula.

This is Watain's third full-length album, consisting of eleven tracks and clocking in at almost an hour. Does this album have good and varied riffs? Yes. Does it have face-shredding solos? Affirmative. Does it have twisted and inhuman vocals? Of course. Is the drumming acceptable? It exceeds the skill of most black metal drummers of today. So what exactly is wrong with this band and album? They are an almost-perfect Dissection clone, with an occasional dash of Ofermod. Of course, one might escuse something like this with the fact that some of the members were part of Dissection at some point before Jon Nodtveidt (RIP) commited suicide, but there are plenty of artists able to have side projects that don't all sound similar. While most of the album was good, I hated the norsecore drumming that reared its ugly head once in a while; As of yet, the only band to use any sort of norsecore influences right is Funeral Mist. In these songs, which are mostly mid-paced, it feels very disjointed and random, in a bad way.

As a conclusion, I'd like to say that I do not "hate" Watain. I'd buy the album and wear the shirt proudly; however, I will be the first to admit that quite frankly, they are a Dissection carbon copy, no matter how well done. Which means that between Sworn to the Dark or The Somberlain, I will invariably pick the latter.

Best new Black Metal album I've heard - 84%

Metal_Mongrel, January 22nd, 2008

My first encounter with Watain was seeing them support Kreator and Celtic Frost in March '07, and I was absolutely gobsmacked. There is the age-old issue of whether a band's studio performance can match the live equivalent, so obviously I was a bit apprehensive that my expectations might not be maintained. However, the strength of the material I heard live made me confident that I wouldn't be disappointed, and my faith has been darkly rewarded.

As a quick summary, this is a strong, modern Swedish Black Metal album. Every genre has its 'codes and conventions' that emerge pretty swiftly once people pick up on the new sound, but Watain have managed to adhere to the positive aspects of these whilst throwing out the negative. It's worthwhile to draw the distinction between the Swedish and Norwegian styles of Black Metal, because there is no Burzum or Darkthrone worship/copying that makes much of today's Black Metal so tedious. The risk, then, is that by adhering to a Swedish sound, Watain will end up sounding like Dark Funeral and their maligned clones. Without wanting to turn this into a 'Watain v. Dark Funeral' issue (whilst I understand why the latter gets criticism, I do consider them to be a worthwhile and legitimate Black Metal band), Sworn To The Dark has plenty of positive aspects that should satisfy critics.
Distinctive qualities of Black Metal are present here, tremelo-picked riffs and blastbeating being the most distinctive. Whilst no riffs have sunk into my head as memorable for the rest of time, they fit the songs brilliantly and have a definite dark quality about them. Whilst these conventions are promimant, they are not the be all and end all of the album, and this is where Watain's strengths become apparent. There is a welcome variety of riffs and tempos that never once descend into faggotry and traditional verse-chorus-solo-chorus rock/pop structures, favoured by the aforementioned Dark Funeral, are disregarded. There is still clear structure - no Abruptrum-style avant-garde to be heard here, and here lies another strength in the album.
Sworn To The Dark sounds unmistakeably like a band working as a unit, instead of a chaotic mess that afflicts many demo-level bands. Each instrument can be heard clearly, and is played more than competently. Seems like Watain actually learnt how to play and then used this knowledge to create great hymns of the dark. Though technical prowess is not necessary to create great black art (see Venom, Burzum, Bulldozer, Gehennah and many others...), it is a welcome quality here. Hell, just being able to hear the bass distinctly is something different. The vocals are typically dark and rough, but again distinct, and how rewardingly so!
"Block not my path! You futile walls of flesh and blood. For I have seen your structure clear and I know where to stab. Right in the heart. There I shall place my dagger." Love it.

Watain's legitimacy as a true Black Metal band, unhindered by the genre's rules due to their skill, even comes through with the production. It is crisp and clear, perfect for the aforementioned musicianship. It allows give the music a kick like a donkey, and is a welcome ironfist to those who believe crappy kvlt production is mandatory to make Black Metal evil. It works for some, for atmosphere and genuine sheer aggression for those with the material to make it work. But songs of this style deserve to be presented clearly to accentuate their rawness and heaviness - don't forget that Swedish predessesors to this band such as Necrophobic, Unanimated and Sacramentum were all clearly produced. All of them were excellent at their brand of extreme Metal. It works.
Even the packaging of this album is lush and professional. A gatefold digipack whose booklet took me right back to my early Black Metal days, recoiling in horror at the sight of Nifelheim. Not only is it pleasing to hear a well-executed album, but it is also refreshing to know that in this day and age there are still bands that are able to actually break rules and conventions, instead of just talking about doing so. Sworn To The Dark does this whilst retaining a distinctive, 100% Black Metal sound, without reducing it to a mockery. Against those that would try and indulge in such mockery, Watain could well be the flagbearers for Black Metal - an artform that is still vibrant and valid. Hail Watain!

Originally written for http://www.metalmongrel.com

A strike for Swedish Black Metal Supremacy. - 94%

PestSmitta, December 6th, 2007

With the whispered line "I ascend" Sworn to the Dark is kicked off. What lies ahead are eleven tracks of uncompromising black metal, combining the musical furor of black metal with the dark occultism of the ancient myths and the stench from the newly opened graves.

The lyrical work of this album is probably what gets to me the most, especially the lyrics for the second track, Satan's Hunger, which actually sends shivers down my spine, and the final hymn, Stellarvore. Across the board, however, the lyrics are well written and perfectly suited to the music itself, as one would expect, and with a touch of reverb, E's rasped and snarled vocals help create an atmosphere of extreme terror and fear. The vocals are neither the high-pitched howls of Malefic in Xasthur or Varg Vikernes in early Burzum, nor are they complete death grunts. I would go as far as to say that E has got one of the most clear throats in black metal, without missing out on any of the fury and hatred which he spews out, seemingly inspired by the vaults of death and destruction. Some have compared him to Dead, which is not completely false, but he does however bring some of his own personality into the singing.

The music itself then? Surely, the vehicle upon which the Beast of Watain is riding must be of equal strength and hatred to the vocals? Indeed it must, and it is. Crisply produced, without being overly processed, every piece of the instrumental armory stands out, each without dominating the soundscape, instead creating an unholy trinity of sound - Drums lay the foundation and leads the music unto an unholy march, the bass sometimes seem to live a life of it's own, only to in the next moment fall in line and follow the sonical charge, complementing both the drums and the guitars, which are precisely executed with both skill and ferocity. The riffing is not the most complex of this time, but it does fill it's part and does so with great result.

So how does it actually sound? It has got a sound of its own, being sometimes mid-tempo and sometimes blazing fast, without being continous blast beating á la Panzer Division Marduk. There are obvious ties to Dissection, music-wise, but to these ears it sounds better and angrier. As before, there are ties to the early black metal bands, but still with a personal touch that has granted this LP a special place on my shelf.
I would recommend a visit to their myspace for a glimpse into the music itself, as it is hard to put into words the fear, hatred, terror and anger this superb record creates in the listener.

As mentioned, Satan's Hunger and Stellarvore are the favourites lyrically, but other great tracks are Legions of the Black Light and Storm of the Antichrist.
However, it is extremelly difficult to single out just one or four tracks to define the album, one must listen to the complete picture in order to grasp the vastness of the abyss created in the Necromorbus Studio. A must buy for fans of modern black metal still connected to its firm roots.

Exactly What is Wrong With Modern Black Metal - 35%

GrimSkin, October 16th, 2007

Soulless. Not in a good way.


This album is the paramount of precisely the sad garbage that is being passed for black metal these days. Here we have just about everything that disgusts me about circle jerk bands like this. Let's review:


Production: Ultra slick. Compressed to beat hell. No personality. Same generic Necromorbus boredom. Sounds like twenty other generic bands. Not quite the uberslickness of say Dimmu, but I doubt that there's much difference. Perhaps the guitars are a little less shimmery, and of course there are no synths, but still the sound is plastic and artificial.


Performance: Bored. You see, kids, there's well-rehearsed and then there's bored. I can't imagine that there's any fire in the guitarist or drummer. They seem like they'd rather be somewhere else. Hell, maybe? The vocalist at least has a little fire in him, but as much as he is touted as great, he's really quite generic. He does remind me of Dead, yes. That's been said so many times but I guess he really could sound like Dead or Jon Nodeveit's old style or any number of a dozen Swede black metal throats. I need to at least acknowledge the lyrics, as I do find them quite interesting if not transcendant.


Packaging: I mention this because this is exactly what will sell the album to would-be ex-Marylin Manson fans as it lurks on the shelves in Best Buy. The art is great. The pictures just remind me of Nifelheim...and that just annoys me. But, at least it makes me want to listen to "Devil's Force" again and remind myself of what a Swedish black metal album should be like. The cover will look great on the shirt that you'll wear to some shitty mainstream metal band and everyone will think you are "kvlt."


Bottom Line: If you want to listen to music like this, that which truly embraces death in all it's glory, I recommend the Myrkr MCD. Hopefully that band will never sign with N. E. D. or Southern Lord, so that their art may remain unique. I think I would be a lot angrier with this release if I had dropped money on it (I got it for free thanks to a distro screwup.)

Sworn to the Dark - 91%

PaganWinter_44, July 8th, 2007

Watain's new release is no dissappointment. I've heard many bad things about this album. People say that this is just a rip-off of old Dissection, and that it is a clone of Mayhem's "De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas." I disagree on both accounts. The Dissection influence is present, but not enough to be called a rip-off. I have thoroughly enjoyed this album.

The best things about this album lie within the musicianship. There is simply more effort going towards the music itself rather than lyrics, atmosphere, or appearance. This is something that is really rare in black metal. 99% of your average black metal bands just do your basic tremolo picking, annoying blast beats, a practically non-existent bass line, and your high-pitched screeching vocals. Watain doesn't do this in this album.

The guitars in this album do not just buzz on and on as if you just purchased a cd full of white noise. Someone in black metal finally learned to turn the treble down. They remain at a volume level that keeps the raw atmosphere, but doesn't make it so raw that you can't tell what is being played. There is actually a bass line that doesn't always follow the guitars. Their bassist gets to show off some of his talent in many of their songs. The drums are changing the rhythm. There are actual parts where they go into half-time feels and double-bass kicks. They don't plow through the song with blast beats for seven minutes.

Though this is a good album, there are a few things that I find annoying. Musically, Watain has saved their best songs for first and last. Legions of the Black Light and Stellavore are easily the best songs. Everything in between just seems kind of dull, with the exception of Sworn to the Dark. It would've been better if they did not blow their load too quickly.

Overall, this is an amazing release. Those who are avid fans of Watain will surely appreciate this new release. This is one of the cds that I am proud to have in my collection.

This should be the next Dissection album - 75%

giakoum, February 22nd, 2007

After listening to the album, there is much that I can assure you. This should be the new Dissection album. Amazing riffs invade your mind from the first second. Great musicianship leaves you amazed at every rhythm change. Melodies that only the old Dissection could think of are everywhere, tantalizing you with their evil and brutal existence. The vocals will perfectly give you the emotion that they should give. The drums are really great; proof that black metal drummers know how to play something else, other than endless blast beats and still gives you that feeling that they should.


I will not even comment the production, since those guys obviously know how to make their albums sound great. So let¢s get to the stuff that was annoying in this album. First of all, I loved all the previous releases of Watain and to tell you the truth, I was a little disappointed to see them moving towards their Dissection side. They kind of lose some of their originality that separated them from the rest of the black metal scene. Secondly, that move scares me because every band that moved towards that direction turned into something I didn¢t like and therefore wouldn¢t listen to.


Overall, this is a great album, one that will haunt my cd player for a long time. But, it¢s not a good thing that a band that I liked so much, partly because of their originality. Seriously, that album amazed me but also made me listen to “The Somberlain” again. Two thumbs up for Watain but this album will make me be more careful with their next album.

Call to battle for the black metal unfaithful. - 95%

AnakwanarSek, February 8th, 2007

Much of Watain's blueprint comes from "De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas", No doubt about it. Sliding buzzsaw deep bass that moves in and out of the howling overdriven guitar. Blast beat drums that aren't overpowering, accentuating the power of the song, with rhythm drop outs of riffing guitar, creating moody blackness. It's not mere imitation though, as they expound on the early (and only) Mayhem sound adding their own subtle textures and vitality. That's the cornerstone anyway, as Watain seems to be striking out in new directions with heavier guitars and thrash like chord assaults.

The big departure in sound production from "Cacus Luciferi" is the stronger and thicker guitar sound. It's heavier with more texture, moving away from the high shallow pitch of most black metal guitar. Also, the vocals can be fairly easily understood, which is true at times on older relases, but now it's much easier to hear the lyrics. My only real complaint is that the bass guitar seems to be slightly sacrificed for the stronger guitar sounds.

All the songs in general seem to be more open, benefiting from the much more expansive production value. Not that the music is weaker for it.

"Underneath the Cenotaph" is a bomb blast of direct destruction, set to pummel you under a landslide of drums, Killer rifting, and dark guitar leads

"The Light that Burns the Sun" is a shifting headbanger with some lovely guitar arrangements and killer breakdowns.

"Storm of the Antichrist" has an almost Marduk power approach, though it has plenty of extra dimensions to explore. I really enjoy the almost thrashy final minute which had me thinking of "Rust in Peace" Megadeth? Yes, indeed.

The first track really has the Euronymous Mayhem sound of some of their older songs. "Legions of the Black Light" has some wonderful sliding bass lines and creepy riffs, not to mention a really simple but effective solo.

If you're looking for something that harkens back to the early glory days of pure black metal, yet is willing to take some bold steps forward that most of the early bands never did, Watain is for you. It's truely one of the albums keeping the genre's head above icy water, and gives all fans of metal something to be excited about.