Watain is a black metal band formed in Uppsala, Sweden in 1998. The Wild Hunt is their fifth full-length album and their first for Century Media Records. And, considering how many magazine covers they’re currently featured on — Decibel, Terrorizer, Metalized, and Rock hard, just to name a few — it seems poised to be their most successful yet. The fact that it finds the trio expanding their sound and trying out new things certainly doesn’t hurt either.
The album starts off with the instrumental “Night Vision,” which creepily fades in, like it wants to sneak up on you. It begins with electric acoustic guitars and assorted strings before an onslaught of pummeling drums and power metal chords kick in. Then we hear distorted guitars, thunder, banging sounds and, finally, track two, “De Profundis.” begins with an explosion-like bang that’s sure to startle you. Singer/bassist Erik Danielsson growls his vocals, although, unlike many black metal and death metal singers, you can actually understand him. “Open! Ye crypt of woe, ye depths of death / Where haunts the sirens wail, maddening and deafening,” he more or less screams as he growls, spitting out his poetic vocals rapidly as the song charges along like an army of evil skeletons storming toward humans they’re about to slaughter on the battlefield. Sometimes Erik’s vocals have reverb on them, making it feel as though he’s speaking into a microphone on a podium, delivering a diabolical speech of some sort.
One of the very best tracks, “Black Flames March,” is next and delivers unfurling guitars over machine gun drums courtesy of Pelle Forsberg and Håkan Jonsson respectively. Watain are proud Satanists — read their Wiki page for more on that — and if you need proof you need only pay attention to the lyrics here. Sample: “As our deeds of Fire, unto the Last / Illuminate the Darkest Path / This War will end / When All is No-thing / With Truth as the only weapon / I am the Will of God.” The song is, if I understand correctly, the band’s first to feature Viking-metal-esque gang vocals. But more moving is the ominous orchestration that seeps in roughly halfway through the song, pouring forth an insidious corruption of consciousness.
The band sinks their claws even further into you, drawing blood, with “All That May Bleed,” featuring riffs that sometimes grind and sometimes thrash along madly, like they’re leading you further on a descent into darkness. “Woman and child / Man and swine / Warriors and slaves alike / For alike shall ye add to the cup / And equally shall I spew thee out like worms into the kingdom of the living god,” Erik proclaims, proving to be much darker than whatever supposedly possessed Linda Blair in The Exorcist. His vocals here are still growled, but they’re surprisingly easy to understand. The track is a monstrous, hallucinatory journey that would seem to split the difference between Hellhammer and Mercyful Fate.
“The Child Must Die” is the blackened heart of the album and slavering invocations appear to coil here. It’s probably the blackest black metal song of the year, at least lyrically. “Pluck now the rose, the child must die / Pluck now the rose and leave it on my grave to dry / In sackcloth and ash, so let us mourn / In sackcloth and ash, sleeps the newborn” — it’s as though you’re listening to Erik and company perform a black mass. And, hell, who’s to say they aren’t?
The album actually has an epic ballad in the form of “They Rode On,” which begins with mellow guitars reminiscent of Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters.” The song is already proving controversial among the band’s longtime fans as it features clean vocals — actual, normal singing — and it turns out Erik can sing quite well. “Though strange lay the waters from which they emerged / They glanced upon the world as their own / Yet deep in their hearts they knew all the time / That this was not really their home / So they rode on,” he sings. “Yes they rode on.” The drums burst in and it goes into full-on metal mode just before the three minute mark. The track features a clean guitar solo — one of a few on the album — evoking more traditional metal bands like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. The song this most reminds of, however, is Helloween’s “A Tale That Wasn’t Right.” It also reminds me, if only slightly, of old country music, like the sort Johnny Cash used to sing when he did songs that told actual stories.
“Sleepless Evil” follows and finds Erik back in bile-spewing mode. The drums here hammer on like the fists of a boxer trying to knock out his opponent in record time. It gets mellow around the two minute mark but just when you’re starting to enjoy that part it attacks you again, dripping in evil anguish. It proves to be a caustic assault as it continues.
This brings us to the title track, “The Wild Hunt,” which has a decidedly mid-tempo beginning. Chanting vocals are performed — singing things like “dawnless” and “heavenless” — in between Erik’s lead vocals, which find him more or less mumbling things in the back of the mix not unlike subliminal messages. Even at the slower tempo, Håkan packs a wallop, clobbering you over the head, proving he’s one of the fiercest metal drummers today. Later, Erik performs clean vocals for the second time on the album and the song ends with a dash of Spanish guitar, which seems to come out of left field but provides a nice touch nevertheless.
Just reading the titles, you would expect “Outlaw” to be a companion piece to “They Rode On,” but they’re actually pretty different. Where “They Rode On” is subtle and even beautiful, “Outlaw” thrashes along ferociously with lots of chanting of the sinister variety. “I am Legion / For we are many who approach at the crumbling skyline,” Erik sings creepily. And, speaking of creepy things, next we have “Ignem Veni Mittere,” which is a blazing instrumental apart from what sounds like evil chanting off in the distance, leaving one feeling like one is witnessing a black mass of some sort.
The album concludes with the sometimes plodding, sometimes combative and sometimes quiet — but always epic — “Holocaust Dawn.” “Eerie shines the light / Of morningstars / Eager sound the horns / Of Holocaust,” Erik sings, his growl thicker and angrier here, sounding perhaps a bit more death metal than black metal. The album’s final lyrics: “How long, the winter / How cold, the night / How dark, the hearts… / Shine now ye strange light / Shine, rampant star / Pale glows the Holocaust Dawn.”
Although I’ve listened to plenty of death metal, and even some black metal, in the past, I must admit that some of Watain’s lyrics send chills down my Catholic-raised spine. I’ve long been a fan of King Diamond — both his solo work and his work with his above-mentioned band Mercyful Fate — and he’s an admitted Satanist, but I never felt uneasy listening to his music. And I used to have a kind friend who was an official member of the church of Satan. But Watain sometimes scare the hell out of me. Because I’m afraid they’re injecting hell right into my soul through their music. Which is likely their intention, or at least one of their many intentions, but there’s still no denying what a remarkable album this is. That it scares me more than any horror film ever has only makes it that much more alluring somehow.
No matter how dark your dark side is, something on The Wild Hunt is sure to appeal to it. If not, well, it’s still sure to provide you with a good scare and/or some furious metal tunes for your next ride home from work. And you really need to hear this if you’ve ever thought that Alice Cooper, Rob Zombie or Marilyn Manson were shocking. They’re rated PG compared to Watain.