It seems as if in every bigger Metal band’s career comes a point to yearn for something new, to redefine yourself, to step out of common boundaries. Stagnation is death – and therefore things must change, or must they? This sort of development away from “the things we used to do” seems very common among heavy music artists. When I read reviews about Watain’s new output “The Wild Hunt” this notion can be found in most of them.
A lot of these innovative attempts tend to fail. Let’s take a famous one: Metallica. Honestly, who thinks Metallica released one good thing after the “Black Album”? Today they are a shallow copy of bands copying them. They try out new things and it’s mostly horrible. Another example: Mastodon. When ‘Crack The Skye‘ came out they lost a lot of fans, but gained maybe even more new ones. Their proggy approach with the clean vocals was ok in some eyes. When ‘The Hunter‘ came out most people asked themselves if the band honestly considered this a good output or if it was a joke. I know a lot of Mastodon Die-Hards, but literally no one likes the last album. Baroness changed their style from a more crust-influenced Metal in their early days to modern version of Queen – and it works pretty well for them. In Black Metal, this phenomenon occurred with a lot of bands too. Take Emperor for example, how much they have changed over the years from their True Norwegian Black Metal roots, and still everybody follows them. Today they rightfully claim the throne as one of the most original and influential bands from this genre. Darkthrone can do pretty much anything they want and people dig it – yet they are far apart from experimenting.
Watain are the definitely the biggest player today when it comes to Scandinavian Black Metal. It’s been quiet around Dimmu Borgir and Satyricon for a while now, as Watain has risen to claim the well deserved top of the food chain spot. Endless ongoing tours, bombastic live shows, a fantastic promotional concept and great records – they have it all. Yes, yes, I know, BM-purists will scream “Sell Out,” and hell, yes…maybe. But let’s compare them to James Cameron movies. If you want to go to a French movie-noir about some weird topic and sit in a shitty little thrashed theater with 20 people, do so. It’s certainly a good thing and I love it a lot. But sometimes you just want to sit in a technicolor, THX Dolby Surround theater with a movie that looks amazing and blows your mind with the quality. Watain are kind of like this. The records were easily accessible, sound fantastic and they simply have fantastic written and executed songs. They take all the stereotypes this genre provides and combine them into a cocktail that works just fine. They dig it, people dig it – so why not do it.
Now their fifth studio album “The Wild Hunt” came out on Century Media. It seems to be the game-changer for them and a record that will give some people headaches wondering what happened. Before I had the chance to listen to it, I heard people saying that the record is horrible. People claimed Watain changed their style and failed; that the record was horrific etc. I’ve been a Watain fan since I first heard them sometime late 2000 and expected them to deliver the BM-Record Of The Year. They didn’t (for me), but “The Wild Hunt” is still amazing.
I got the record while I was on the road in the US. The first spin was in the car while driving from Los Angeles to Lake Tahoe. It was hard. I heard all these weird tempo shifts and effects that didn’t make sense when you look forward to a ‘classic’ Watain album. Both ‘Sworn To The Dark‘ and ‘Lawless Darkness‘ provided full-on fast records that played straight and were hypnotizing. ‘The Wild Hunt‘ provides so many small, new details that you go, ‘Did they just do this?’. I was shattered! All the reviews speaking of “one step too far” and “there are ballads” were true. (As said, this was my first spin of the record on a car stereo). The ride took a long time. When it was dark, I drove through the mountains and forests that surround Lake Tahoe and felt the urge to try it again. And then it clicked.
While writing this I am at my (somewhere around) 30th spin of the record – and I love it. The record has some aspects I still don’t like at all. Let’s take ‘Outlaw’ for example. The intro and outro of this 5:07 minute song provides douchechills and reminds me of Sepultura’s “Ratamahatta”. In “De Profundis” they use sweeps and tempo shifts that don’t make sense to me. It’s just awkward. The song could have been way better if it was straight, especially since it’s the first proper song of the record. But again this is my perception of being in a band and writing songs myself. These aspects sum up all the things that I don’t like about the record. All in all the record still has everything one would expect from a Watain record. The super fast parts, double-bass attacks, melodic guitars, choired background vocals and Eric’s significant voice and well-written lyrics. They added a bit more classical Heavy Metal to their sound. Two examples of that are “All That May Bleed” and the instrumental “Ignem Veni Mittere”. The title track “The Wild Hunt” is a very late-Bathory influenced slow track with witty harmonies and great songwriting. In the reviews I’ve read so far, everybody keeps talking about “They Rode On”. The song comes in as the longest track on “The Wild Hunt” with close to nine minutes – and it is certainly the most unexpected. It’s the ‘ballad’ people keep talking about. The song is a very well written middle track to the album, starting with a quiet, melancholic The Cult-meets-Guns’n’Roses like riff and acoustic guitars. Eric’s melodic singing is very well executed. Somewhere around three minutes the heavier guitars set in, but never to destroy the original feel of the song. I have no clue if Watain are aware of France’s The Austrasian Goat, but this band did something very comparable and included it in a straight up Black Metal album.
Even with the long running time of the track, it doesn’t destroy the flow of the record. It rather benefits the greater purpose. And I think this is the major change with this record for Watain. All the other records were all heavy all the time. No matter how well the songs were written, you couldn’t prevent a feeling of dizziness halfway through the records. “The Wild Hunt” brings a lot of variety into the classic frame that is Watain. There is an overall plan to the arrangement of the songs on the record and in the songs themselves. This makes the record an unbelievably strong output that marks another highlight in the impressive career of Black Metal’s big players. Somehow with every play I feel that it is their ‘Desperado’ record, underlining the ‘There is no one like us and we do it alone’ vibe of their career. But the ‘Desperado’-feel comes also with names like “The Wild Hunt”, “They Rode On” and “Outlaw”as well as the classic, almost country-esque guitars on various tracks.
Not that it really matters, but just for the record: All the reviews I keep reading seem rather contra “The Wild Hunt”. Still they reached the number one spot in the Swedish charts and made it to the Top 20 in Germany. I think this is pretty impressive and shows that fans are again following Watain. And isn’t this what counts after all? You yourself have to be happy with the output and if your fans like it too, there must be something right to it.
In my opinion, “The Wild Hunt” is a very impressive and strong record. It is certainly not my favorite in their back catalog, but this one’s certainly a grower. Watain dared to change tiny, yet important details in their approach. This makes it a very contemporary, challenging record that provides new details to discover after many spins. I can’t wait to see how these songs are being executed live and really hope they dare to play the more moody songs, like the before mentioned “They Rode On” or the title track “The Wild Hunt”, live. Watain remains a force to be reckoned with and rightfully hold the throne of contemporary Black Metal.