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On The Wild Hunt, Watain Uphold Their End Of The Bargain And Then Some

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I’m really glad Watain exists. In a world where extreme metal is often stripped of its dramatic atmosphere in exchange for an appearance of legitimacy (this reporter is no exception, rocking button-downs more often than studded leather), it’s comforting to know there’s a band out there that’s drenched in corpsepaint and blood and looking like it got run through the wash a few times. Erik, Hakan, and Pelle are Watain so you and I don’t have to be. However, a critique commonly posed is that bands like this are all style, no substance, that all the spikes in the world can’t make up for the recycling of the same five black metal chord progressions. Yet on The Wild Hunt, Watain not only deliver an entertaining black metal record, they go beyond the status of one-trick ponies by expanding their sound just enough to keep it fresh.

Production-wise, Watain have found a sweet spot between the sounds of 2007’s Sworn To The Dark and 2010’s Lawless Darkness. The guitars and drums are solidly balanced, creating a sonic unity that fits the band. More important than production, though, is the songwriting that The Wild Hunt showcases. On Lawless, Watain songs could at times blur together, lacking enough definition to make each track stand out. Here, each track has its own personality.

After the dramatic intro “Night Vision,” the band launches into “De Profundis,” a traditional fast-paced black metal number with a brash guitar tone. “Black Flames March” has the thundering tempo the title suggests, with some great war chants throughout. “All That Bleeds” is a fearsome galloper, while “The Child Must Die” possesses an addictive central guitar lead. “Sleepless Evil” and “Outlaw” are pure throttling black metal with Hellhammerian overtones, while “The Wild Hunt” churns with heavy doses of Hammerheart-era Bathory in its shambling pace, sonorous moans, and melodic twanging breakdown; indeed, it and instrumental follower “Ignem Veni Miterre” have healthy helpings of far-out outfits like Pink Floyd and Voivod. Closer “Holocaust Dawn” is a throbbing slab replete with echoing acoustics that creep and terrify.

And then, right in the middle of all of these, there is “They Rode On,” a slow, psychedelic epic that would be a ballad if not for the chilling cosmic melancholy that runs through it. The song, a tale of spirit-gods lost in the universe before descending into the void, is nothing like anything Watain have done in the past. But somehow, the track is a perfect addition to The Wild Hunt, its praise of darkness and loneliness hearkening back to the days of Per “Dead” Ohlin, where cold and sorrow didn’t have to come alongside goth keyboards and references to the Marquis de Sade. This is a side of black metal often overlooked for good reason, but here made powerful and necessary.

What’s sad is that Watain have likely traded one crowd of haters for another—those who considered their last releases uninteresting will be pleased, while the uber-trve fans of their straight-forward previous output will likely cry ‘Poser.’ And to be fair, there’s some truth to that—this is an album that’s more interesting than kick-ass or brutal; it doesn’t inspire the fist-pumping spark of Sworn To The Dark. But that only points to progression, which the band has managed to embrace while still nestled within their wheelhouse. Overall, The Wild Hunt is an impressive album that allows one of the scene’s stalwarts to put a new face on a familiar shadow.

Watain’s The Wild Hunt comes out August 20 on Century Media. Stream the track “All That May Bleed” here and purchase the album here.

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