Some kvlt black metal malcontents have accused the exalted Swedish band Watain of jumping the shark with its sixth and latest album The Wild Hunt, which incorporates clean vocals, mid-paced tempos, conventional metal riffs and even a (gasp) ballad alongside black metal beats and howls. What these close-minded fools fail to realize is Watain is the shark, ruling the blackened oceans, destroying anything that crosses its path.
Watain have no interest in limiting their musical vocabulary or downscaling their production to meet the expectations of black metal conformists. The band has a single-minded need to satisfy its own desires on all levels, however base or basic. Some have accused Watain of creating more mainstream songs to increase its fanbase. That’s not exactly true. Sure, the members would love to sell more records, but only on their own terms. It would be more accurate to say Watain is expanding the parameters of black metal and inviting their followers to swim along at their own peril.
Fans who attend Watain shows have been splashed with animal blood and literally met with the assaulting stench of death raw animal flesh monuments that smell like a pile of decaying corpses. Confrontation is paramount to the Watain experience. The band dares followers to endure the initiation and earn the right to stand alongside it. It’s a weighty task, and for those who embrace bands like Darkthrone, Mayhem and Marduk, it becomes a greater challenge the more Watain flip the musical script.
But frontman Erik Danielsson isn’t concerned about losing black metal hipsters. He’d rather indoctrinate a Metallica fan who enjoys the acoustic-based gloom of “They Rode On” than preach to the converted. Moreover he doesn’t give a fuck what the shit-talkers say. He doesn’t check charts, read metal Web sites (let alone their comments sections), and he refuses to play the social media game. His main goal beyond pleasing himself is to create a spiritual, visceral and transformative experience for those daring enough to take the ride.
Check out their new video for Outlaw and head below for an interview with Erik
You don’t post on Twitter every time you take a crap.
Erik Danielsson: I tried using social media, but didn’t work for me. I tried that stuff out because a lot of people around me were, but two or three years ago I gave all of that up. I hardly use the internet anymore. It’s been doing me a lot of good. I’m out in the middle of nowhere, out in the fields in the countryside. To me, it’s pretty important to stay away from pop culture. I get enough when we’re on the road and when we’re working on band stuff. I get enough of the world as I know it, so I try to have a secluded alternative to whatever it means to be in a rock band.
Do you like to be isolated and live with few luxuries?
I like to scale things down and stick to simple things that enable me to actually move forward in the direction I want to go instead of holding me back, and preventing me from progressing or transcending.
There are enough distractions in life that prevent you from finding a true, pure path.
Oh, of course. A lot of things such as social forums are invented to keep people from doing real things with their lives. I see it like big machinery that is intended for personal stagnation and the very opposite of progression. I, myself am quite allergic to that idea.
Do you want people to find Watain’s music entertaining?
I don’t know. Define entertainment! To me something can be entertaining when it works the way it should. It’s something that takes whoever takes part of that entertainment to another place, to a place outside of space and time, and creates a new set of realities. But entertainment as a word has a pretty bad ring to it in my vocabulary, at least. I often think about music and art in general as something that has greater values than those that I attribute to mere entertainment. When they work as they should, I see them as having the potential of being almost transcendental, bringing about something that is not of this world. Sure, entertainment, perhaps, can do that, but I like to think of Watain as something more than that. I like to think of Watain as a catalyst of emotions -- emotion that in turn awakens quite important questions in people, that awakens something within people that they’re perhaps not used to. There is something beneath the surface that goes beyond the more mundane and obvious aspects of it that relates to the pain as well. In the end it’s actually a mystical experience in there somewhere for those who are willing to look that far into it.
It’s certainly a visceral powerful experience. Just to walk into a venue where you’re playing and smell the decay, the slaughterhouse odors that emanate from the stage, is enough to send some people running the other way. I know it was difficult when I saw you to put up with those olfactory sensations and say, “OK, this is going to be a real experience.”
Watain has always been very focused on a big experience, an experience that goes beyond the regular cultural experience, or even the regular music experience. The blueprint of rock and roll has been here now for over 60 years. It’s time to do something with it now. It’s time to take it further. We’re exploring how to use quite traditional elements of rock music on a very deep level. Artists and musicians in general, especially in this day and age, absorb things very fast and just go with it, and then onto the next one. Instead of just taking the blueprint of rock and roll and doing what thousands of other have done before you, I think it’s important to bring the transcendental elements of the music to the surface and actually have them take control of everything - the really dangerous parts of rock and roll. It’s interesting to dwell on those life altering potentials rather than just the things that people are used to.
What are some of those life-altering, dangerous elements you’re talking about -- the blood, the smell and the performance?
I think the blood, the odors and the aesthetics of Watain are more of a consequence of the nature of this band and the energies that are at work. Those are energies that have always been latent within rock culture. There has always been something extremely antagonistic and adversarial and enemy-like about rock music, and to intentionally dwell on those energies instead of the more mainstream culture ingredients of rock music leads to a form of performing that evokes dangerous things that drill up feelings from very, very deep inside and make people reevaluate life and perhaps see reality from different perspectives. That’s really what’s happening at a Watain concert. I mean, sure, a lot people see the blood and they see the animal heads if we use those, which we do sometimes, and they see whatever we use on stage. But if you look at it from a wider perspective, many of the people who come to the show woke up and ate cereal in the morning and kissed their kids goodbye on the way to school. And now they’ve stepped into this entirely different world that’s based upon very backwards and disturbing things compared to the reality that they’re used to living in. That’s where it gets interesting. That’s where our work and how it communicates with other people really starts to become interesting, because it alters reality. It presents a different form of looking at the world, at looking at life, at looking at reality. What you see at the Watain concerts is really the backside of reality, the dark side. It’s a matter of putting people in a twilight-state of mind, a state of in-between where they’re not really sure of where they have ended up. On a deeper level, on a subconscious level, that’s where the interesting things really take place, no matter if people are conscious of it or not. The energies that are evoked at a Watain concert, they work their way through, no matter who is listening and who is perceiving.
I’m going to play the devil’s advocate for a moment. Watain are an occult-based band with theatrical elements. How are you different than Ghost B.C.?
While Ghost is more of a theater show, Watain is based upon the things that Ghost sings about. It’s like comparing a Broadway show about an Indian tribe in the Amazon to an actual Indian tribe from the Amazon. That’s how vast the difference actually is, to a certain extent. Although sure, we are a touring rock band as well. But in essence, Ghost and Watain come from very different approaches towards their job at the end -- towards even music. I think Ghost is very much about communication between the kinds of things that they want to talk about and how their audience perceives that. With Watain, we don’t really worry too much about that because Watain is very much born out of our own will and our own specific purpose that people don’t have to be able to relate to. To me, it’s not really a big concern whatever some young kid in Texas gets out of the show. He will experience what he experiences. Our main concern is whether or not we, within Watain, gained something from standing on the stage in front of these people in Texas and whether or not the energies that we work with benefit from us standing there or not.
Are there any responsibilities or consequences to dedicating yourself to the left hand path? Geezer Butler from Black Sabbath, Bobby Liebling from Pentagram and even King Diamond have spoken about regretting the fact that they started out on a very demonic and blackened path. They’ve all said they received warnings from spirits or deities saying, “if you want to go in this direction, if you want to continue to pursue this darkness, be prepared for what’s to follow,” and they were all fucking terrified.
Well, of course. There’s a difference between dabbling with things for the sake of entertainment, which was the case of all of these people that you mentioned and what we do. There’s a difference between dabblers and people who are actually practitioners, and lifetime followers of a certain line of traditions. There’s a difference between the young kid who’s making homemade bombs to impress his friends at school and the guy who’s actually building nerve gas bombs for the U.S. Army. Of course, the young kid that builds bombs at home has a greater risk of falling victim to the explosive energies that he’s working with. If you don’t know what the fuck you’re doing, sometimes it’s maybe better to stay away. But on the other hand, I encourage people to make homemade bombs as well. I think it’s a good thing, as long as you’re aware of the consequences. But then again, I’m not here to save people from harm. To each his own. Personally, I’ve learned many painful lessons walking the path that I’ve chosen. The path that I’ve chosen is very much about that – it is very much a painful path of opposition and learning the painful realities of that path. But in the long run, you have to be very sure why you’ve chosen that path. And I don’t think that either Bobby Liebling or Tony Iommi when it came to occult things or magic, I don’t think either of them were particularly sure of why they were all of a sudden dabbling with these things. I think they, perhaps, didn’t have any specific reason. Perhaps they should have just played rock and roll. But on the other hand, they played rock and roll really well, and when you play rock and roll really well, things come to life that you might not be able to control, and that’s the whole beauty of rock and roll. The point is that even with just rock music, if you devote your life to that, if you devote your life especially to the darker side of rock music, you will, as a consequence, meet things that are quite disturbing and backwards, and then you just have to make sure that you’re ready for that, that you’re sure about yourself and that you know why you’re doing this.
What is the Wild Hunt?
It’s very much these things I talk about. To be perfectly honest, it’s something that I find much easier to translate into music and lyrics than I find opening myself personally in interviews. That’s why I’ve chosen to be a lyricist and musician rather than a spoken word kind of guy. I sing about personal experiences that meant very, very much to me, that were in every sense of the word, life-altering. I usually refrain from going too much into detail when it comes to those things. But in general, when you’re young and you start to deliberately explore the darker areas of life, and even death, then you will not be able to escape a few very hard lessons. It might seem like a good idea to kick over gravestones and dig up coffins at 14 years old, but when you realize what the actual consequences of that are, then you might not want to do that again. Its things like this – my life is a constant lesson in these things. What I choose to share of that is pretty much what you can find in the Watain albums.
What I love about the Wild Hunt is that it’s not a traditional black metal album. Some of the songs like “They Rode On,” which is essentially a ballad, would nauseate die-hard Mayhem or Gorgoroth fans. It seems like what you’re saying with this record, “We don’t want the black metal sheep to follow us, we want to be the wolves. We want to create music that doesn’t have to be whatever black metal is supposed to be.”
Well, to a certain extent, Watain is one of the few remaining black metal bands that still actually do something creative and important in the day and age that we live in. The way I see it, we set the rules. We set the standards. There are of course very important black metal traditions that I, by all means, think should be upheld to the very end. But at the same time, what Watain has turned into is much more a world on its own that has its roots in black metal, and always will. Black metal, in essence, by definition, is music that is permeated by diabolical energies -- music that is able to carry energies of a sinister and diabolical nature that is based on satanic ideals. That is Watain to the utmost extent and it is what makes us a perfect representation of a black metal band. But whatever opinions people have about this musical divergence means nothing. When you start to turn away from life itself, when your whole life as an artist and as a private person comes to revolve more around spiritual truth, loftier ways of perceiving reality, then that is the only thing that is important. I am very happy to say that I have arrived at that point in life where other people’s ideas of what we do are not important at all. Watain is beyond that, really, and that, I think, is the only relevant way for an artist to look upon criticism. Form your own bands, do your own little bedroom projects, its fine. But this is Watain, this is something holy. Don’t bother us with these kind of things. We have other things to think about.
What compelled you to create the unconventional passages of “Black Flames March” or “The Child Must Die,” which has almost a Spaghetti Western-feel to it, or even “Sleepless Evil?”
It’s not that we sit down and go, “Hey, let’s write a song like that” or “Let’s write a song like this.” The musical nature of the songs are a consequence of what energies we’re working with and what atmosphere and what topics that the lyrics revolves around. The music is a consequence of that, its not the other way around. So with that being said, pretty much anything can happen, and that’s the way I like it. Otherwise, writing music and creating art would be very stale and repetitive and stagnant and it wouldn’t work for us. We follow a very organic process, a very intuitive process. We have to allow for anything to happen, and that’s what you can hear on the Wild Hunt.
In ‘De Profundis,’ you talk about “the defiant chords of dissonance to rape the symphonies of god,” Is that how you would sum up the modus operandi of the band?
It’s the entire aesthetic of black metal music. It’s really my vision of how this kind of music actually works in the world. It comes through worm holes and it shouldn’t be here, but it is, and we are proudly carrying it forward. It makes holes in reality. It stabs the whole idea of the creator, and that is the beautiful thing with it. Black metal is a distortion of reality. It’s an enemy of the world, and we are its messengers.