Black metal is dead. Let’s face it: there are very few bands making names for themselves by bringing new ideas to the table and shaping the genre at large with them. Traditionalists complain about the lack of quality output, yet criticize innovation and originality while contributing nothing themselves. On the flipside, the more ‘open-minded’ crowd will accept any random jazz/post-rock/whatever-influenced crap that comes their way, flooding the genre with pointlessness. Both sides of this coin are proving detrimental to black metal going anywhere relevant in the near future.
There’s no question about this one: Watain certainly fits in with the traditionalist side of the modern black metal scene. Their music is sort of a mix between Mayhem’s De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas
in its intensity and occasional insistence to remain at one tempo, and Dissection’s The Somberlain
in its folky melodies and occasional stadium rock elements. They have the whole form down – frequent blasting sections, minor scale dirges, trudging power chord chromaticisms, and lyrics about the occult sung in a rasp. It seems Watain isn’t missing anything from what makes a traditional black metal album what it is… or are they?
Where Sworn to the Dark
fails is in its inability to really capture the true spirit of black metal. Do you remember the first time you heard Transilvanian Hunger
and were overcome by its melancholy, nostalgia, nihilism, and rage? Do you remember hearing In the Nightside Eclipse
for the first time and being swept away into a fantasy world by its majestic keyboard lines and epic guitar melodies? You don’t get any of that on Sworn to the Dark
. What we’re left with here is an overall non-innovative, pristinely produced blackened metal album chuck full of massive choruses and hooks that at the end of the day does little to capture your imagination or cause you to feel much of anything.
In spite of this, Watain still manages to pull out some killer tracks on Sworn to the Dark
. The title track is by far the best song on the album, with its intense & creative guitar lines and varied drumming. The ballad-ish “The Serpent’s Chalice” manages to be intense and melancholic at the same time, and is one of the only songs here that truly builds on itself as it goes on instead of cycling around pointlessly. The interlude tracks “Whithershins” and the probably unintentional Deicide tribute “Dead but Dreaming” are very cool as well, providing much-needed breaks while still being interesting little tidbits showing a different side to Watain.
When all is said and done though, Sworn to the Dark
is what it is: an imitation. It may be a well-executed, heartfelt imitation, but an imitation it remains nonetheless. Take it for what it is and you’ll find some moderate enjoyment in its sheer intensity and headbangability, but don’t expect much more from it.