Review Summary: Watain's Blackwater Park.
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 grandeur 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 *** Your Jewish "God"
demo ranks right up there with Pure ***ing 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 Lawless 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.