Season of Mist
07 June 2010
by Tom Dare
Following the release of their last two records, evil Swedes Watain have managed to become one of the most hyped bands within their world. Given the effortless brilliance of Lawless Darkness, the band’s fourth studio album, they feel absolutely no pressure despite the nearly insurmountable expectations – either that or they simply do not care about what other people think.
It is fairly easy to see why the black metal purists begin frothing at the mouth with adoration for Watain. Since the peak of the Norwegian scene, many of the corpse-painted legions to emerge have either sounded far too derivative of their idols, or been forced to adopt elements from outside the traditional BM sound in order for their music to be original. Watain seem to do no such thing, instead taking the same inspiration as the bands of the early 1990s did – Venom, Celtic Frost/Hellhammer, and particularly Bathory – and adapted that into their own vision. Granted, there are some obvious nods in the direction of Dissection, but generally speaking they are a more original expression of pure black metal than any band to emerge in the last decade or so has achieved.
Of course, staying loyal to the initial blueprint of black metal while being original does not automatically equate to being good, and it may not mean anyone from outside the purist perspective will want to listen to. But bizarrely, despite being made by the most “true” black metal band to surface since the death of scene svengali Euronymous, Lawless Darkness is more accessible than many other records under the BM umbrella. This does not in the slightest sound like an attempt to garner commercial success, merely that what they do- their vision, if you will- is slightly easier to get a handle on than band like Dark Funeral or Marduk.
Watain sound as if they have locked themselves away with nothing but their own records for company, for the sole purpose of further honing their own sound into the most razor-sharp finish possible. The most noticeable advancement is in the lead guitar lines. Sworn… had some monumental melodic leads, but here they are more plentiful and more distinctively Watain than ever before. They are also- dare we use the word to describe black metal?- beautiful. Soaring and grandiose without even a hint of pomposity, they initially almost past you by- the riffing and vocal work, which are as captivating and horrible as you could possibly ask for, are the first things you hear. After a few plays however, they come across, bringing with them the nauseating grace of the grotesque- unsettling, but so gripping and beguiling you simply cannot contemplate turning your attention away. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the instrumental title track, which is perfectly titled and a microcosm of this album’s brilliance- filled with the kind of darkness which seems to bring everything into sharp focus, and chaotic in a manner that is meticulous, it is a master class in song writing.
Despite an epic length, Lawless Darkness does not drag or get tired for so much as a second, constantly bombarding you with a seemingly endless supply of ideas. By varying between the doom-laden, Celtic Frost-esque opening of ‘Four Thrones’ to the fury of ‘Total Funeral’, and by constantly offering an unexpected structural twist, they simply do not give you the chance to get bored or lose interest. By the time the 14 minute masterpiece ‘Waters Of Ain’ finishes, closing out the album, you are still hungry for more- in fact, were it not for the manner in which everything is drawn to a close, you could almost say it had finished too soon.
Watch Watain play ‘Sworn to the Dark’ live at Armageddonfest in London last weekend:
While some black metal appears to inhabit other worlds – Gorgoroth’s atmosphere of the underworld being a prime example – Lawless Darkness is so visceral and immediate it could inhabit no plane of existence other than this one. Only an occupant of this reality could exhibit this intensity of hate and utter rejection for the world as it is. Yet this immediacy, along with the beauty of the guitars and the very human venom of the vocals, also makes it far more accessible than many of the brightest lights (or should that be darkest pits?) of this form of music. Ignore the hype – this does not need it.
Sounds like: Bathory, Celtic Frost, Venom, Dissection… but mainly Watain
Top tracks: Malfeitor, Lawless Darkness, Waters Of Ain
Watain- Lawless Darkness tracklisting:
Death’s Cold Dark,
Hymn To Qayin
Kiss Of Death
Waters Of Ain