Thursday, September 26, 2013

Watain - The Wild Hunt

Watain
The Wild Hunt
His Master’s Noise/Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

Watain is a name that most fans within the black metal scene are familiar with. Over the course of their fifteen year career to date, the Swedish (Uppsala/Stockholm based) outfit has cultivated quite a following with their uncompromising take on black metal, which has seen the band rise from out of the underground and into the wider mainstream consciousness – which has inadvertently placed the band in a position where they now stand as one of the scene’s true contenders for breaking through to mass success in a major way.
Three years after the release of their highly acclaimed ‘Lawless Darkness’ (Which was released through the Season Of Mist label, and earned the band a Swedish Grammy for ‘Best Hard Rock Act’ in 2011), the three piece outfit (Comprising of vocalist/bassist/guitarist Erik Danielsson, guitarist Pelle Forsberg and drummer HÃ¥kan Jonsson) are back with their all-important fifth full-length effort ‘The Wild Hunt’ (Which is also their first release since signed up to Century Media Records).
Unlike Cradle Of Filth and Dimmu Borgir, Watain has managed to rise up within the black metal scene without selling out their ideal and sound, or upsetting the purists and loyal fans that have supported them since they first emerged on the scene. But with the release of ‘The Wild Hunt’, it would appear that all that is set to change. Watain have drawn a line in the sand with their new release, and there’s no doubt that the evolution of the band’s sound and direction on their latest release is sure to divide fans.
The trio begin the album with ‘Night Vision’, which is a surprisingly smooth flowing instrumental piece that starts out in a gentle acoustic manner, before eventually morphing into something far more electrified. But even though the song does get heavier, the band shows restraint and keep the song melodic and even paced enough to hint at the changes the band have made on their latest release.
The follow-up track ‘De Profundis’ is exactly what you would expect from Watain, with the band’s thrash like blackened metal sounding every bit as scathing and venomous as ever. The song is classic blasphemous Watain, with the production sounding more like a step back from the polished sound heard on ‘Lawless Darkness’, but polished enough to allow the dynamics of the band’s music really stand out.
After the unrelenting savagery of the former track, ‘Black Flames March’ sees the band slow things down to touch to deliver an anthem that is in no way diminished in its intensity, but merely in tempo. The solid groove allows the band to hone in on their crushing riffs, while the open and dynamic production sound gives the song a suitably evil vibe throughout, while the two tracks that follow – The album’s first single ‘All That May Bleed’ and ‘The Child Must Die’ – sees the band deliver exactly what is expected of them based on their former releases. But that’s not to say that the songs are in any way a rehash of what the band have done before, as the songs reveal a newfound sense of maturity within the song writing, and a greater use of dynamics over sheer volume and speed.
It’s around the middle of the album where the band delivers ‘They Rode On’. Up until this point, ‘The Wild Hunt’ has delivered pretty much what you would expect from the band. But if there’s one track that’s sure to set the cat amongst the pigeons, it’s this track.
Sounding reminiscent of Metallica’s ‘Nothing Else Matters’, ‘They Rode On’ is a daring venture into ballad territory for the band – complete with clean vocals from Danielsson (With help from guest vocalist Anna Norberg in places), acoustic guitars and some impressive and extensive melodic lead work from Forsberg. This track alone is a significant departure from the usual Watain sound, and is the sole reason why some black metal purist will be up in arms. But after the initial shock dies down, it has to be said that the song works quite well with its sombre and mournful approach.
In stark contrast to the former track, ‘Sleepless Evil’ is a bleak and fairly traditional sounding Watain track, and one that’s sure to please old-school fans.
The title track ‘The Wild Hunt’ is another foray into more experimental territory with its doomier sound and use of clean vocals in places, which brings to the surface some of the Bathory influences. This track sounds huge and epic, and while something a little unexpected, is worthy of a special mention.
My personal favourite on the album is ‘Outlaw’, where the band fuses together tribal rhythms with pure black metal, which makes for a truly interesting sound. The tribal influences may only play a minor part in the song itself (The song is fairly straight forward black metal for the most part), but the brief moments where the two differing sounds meld together, is done exceedingly well.
Towards the tail end of the album, the band have pieced together an impressive instrumental piece entitled ‘Ignem Veni Mittere’ that is both haunting and epic sounding, before finishing up the album with the intense mid-paced blast of the truly grim sounding epic ‘Holocaust Dawn’.
Up until now, Watain have maintained a loyal following within the underground scene with their devotion to maintaining a true blackened metal sound. But with ‘The Wild Hunt’, Watain have made a conscious decision to shake things up and broaden their sound more than ever before. And while the changes evident on ‘The Wild Hunt’ will no doubt draw more towards the band’s cause, it will also bring forth its fair share of casualties.
I’m all for progression, and for the most part, ‘The Wild Hunt’ is I think a right step forward for the band at this stage of their career. ‘The Wild Hunt’ may not stand as the strongest release to date from the band, but it does show some promising possibilities of things to come in the future from Watain, should they continue to explore this newfound broader realm beyond the preconceived confines of ‘true’ black metal.

For more information on Watain, check out - http://www.templeofwatain.com/

© Justin Donnelly