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Go Fuck Your Jewish God (1998)
 

Go Fuck Your Jewish God is the first demo from Watain, released in 1998, not long after the band formed. It is quite evident, from this recording, that the band had not yet found their style. The Mayhem and Dissection influences can be heard, though it seems as if there was also a strong Darkthrone vibe as well. The result is sort of a generic mixture that hardly goes anywhere. Saying that this is a very mediocre release would be a generous compliment.

The production is horrible, even for a Black Metal demo. At times, it is comparable to some of the LLN releases, sounding as if the band was playing in a different room from the recording equipment. There is a distant and muffled quality to much of the demo, and it lacks a lot of clarity. The guitar melodies do manage to cut through and to be a bit more audible, at times, but it is all still somewhat scrambled. Occasionally, it even seems like the drums disappear altogether. That is probably a good thing, as the drumming is a bit overactive at certain points, such as "The Mightiest of Maledictions". The volume goes up and down at various points, which is also annoying and distracting.

As for the material itself, there is really nothing special going on here. The songwriting is not all that solid, as one might expect from a group of teenagers making their first attempt at Black Metal. Though there are some decent riffs, here and there, the overall arrangements are haphazard and lack consistency. "When Stars No More Shine" is a good example, as the main tremolo riff is pretty good but the thrash part in the middle is about as generic and out of place as it gets. "On Horns Impaled" sounds much more inspired by Dissection in this form as opposed to the version on the full-length. In the case of the cover of Darkthrone's "Unholy Black Metal", it is really amazing how badly they ruined this song. It should have been rather simple to pull off, yet it sounds like complete trash. The vocals are boring and nothing compared to what they would be like on Rabid Death's Curse. Erik utilizes some deeper vocals, from time to time, that don't fit in at all.

If Watain had disappeared after this demo, no one would have ever heard of them. This is not the type of recording that would have left people wanting more and being disappointed that the band had vanished into obscurity. As a stand-alone release, Go Fuck Your Jewish God is entirely without value. This is only interesting due to the fact that Watain continued on and actually made some good albums, so people naturally want to go back and see where it all began. If you are seeking something with real merit, skip this. It is not worth the time.
 
(30 Dec. 2012)

 
 

The Essence of Black Purity is the first Watain release after they, apparently, decided to turn the band into something serious and put forth real effort. The prior releases, Go Fuck Your Jewish "God" and Black Metal Sacrifice showed promise, but were mostly just imitations of what had gone before, with production terrible enough to make Transilvanian Hunger sound over-produced. With this E.P., released in 1999, the band made the first step toward creating a legacy of their own.

"On Horns Impaled" starts things out and the first thing that one might notice is that the opening tremolo riff is more easily heard than on the L.P. version. The vocals are also different, being deeper and more gurgled than screamed. The overall production is a little more suitable than what they would achieve on Rabid Death's Curse, as far as allowing the riffs to breathe a little more, but the vocals detract from the atmosphere a bit. Aside from these differences, it's quite similar to the version that ended up on the full-length.

The next song is "The Essence of Black Purity". It begins with a slower riff that possesses a darker feeling, at least in the early moments. The best melody of the song comes about a minute and a half in. It's very memorable and almost seems like something that one would expect on an early Dissection record, or maybe even Cardinal Sin. The vocals aren't a problem on this song, since they never re-recorded it for an album, so there's nothing to compare it to. As such, it's the more enjoyable of the two songs and leaves a fairly good impression.

In the end, The Essence of Black Purity continued the musical progression of Watain, showing that they were beginning to take themselves a bit more seriously and to try harder to find their identity and to create worthwhile music. However, the best was yet to come.
 
(19 May 2010)

 
Rabid Death's Curse (2000)
 

Watain was formed in 1998, in the cold and grey land of Sweden. After a handful of demos, and even a live album, they unleashed their first L.P. in 2000. Rabid Death's Curse shows a band with a lot of chaotic energy. I was somewhat familiar with a few of these songs, before getting the album, but Casus Luciferi is the one that really drew me in, so going back and picking this up left me a little disappointed at first. It did not fully match up to the expectations that I had for it. However, what awaits the listener with this opus is a dark and morbid album that is drenched in a deathlike atmosphere.

From the beginning of "The Limb Crucifix", one can sense a very raw atmosphere. It is like your skull is split open by an axe, and your brain erupts. This is accentuated by the grim vocals, sounding somewhat gargled. Erik Danielsson does well not to overpower the sound, simply blending in like another instrument. The raging Black / Thrash riffs are followed by some more traditional tremolo riffs that really carry a dark and sinister feeling. The drums are blasting and quite typical for this style. Worth mention is that the bass is audible, and the sound is somewhat reminiscent of old Mayhem.

"Rabid Death's Curse" begins with eerie sounds as a ghostly guitar melody fades in. The song rages forth for a brief time, before slowing down a bit. It is during this section that it truly drips with utter morbidity. The vocals have a very "Dead" quality to them, as one can imagine a rotting corpse rising from a dark and forgotten crypt, half-decayed and thirsting for mortal blood. As with the last song, the bass adds depth to the sound, accentuating the macabre guitar riffs. The band really seems to shine during the mid-paced sections, which allows the atmosphere of gloom and dread really begin to unfold and to consume the listener.

"On Horns Impaled" erupts forth, like a legion of demons bursting through the gates of Hell to unleash strife and torment upon the mortal world. Very fast-paced and straight-forward, this features more possessed vocals and pure chaos. As with other songs on here, there is a noticeable Mayhem influence in some of the guitar melodies, though not as emphatic as on Casus Luciferi.

The next song is "Life Dethroned", which continues with the same furious pace as has already been established on this album. The opening riffs are sort of ominous, adding to the dark feeling of the album, followed by a melody that sounds inspired by some of Dissection's work from The Somberlain. The raw sound of the album kind of downplays this a bit, but the influence is clearly there. About halfway through, the sound changes to an oldschool Hellhammer / Celtic Frost vibe, yet with a cold tremolo melody cutting through it and circling like a vulture over a carcass. This is a good mixture of the northern style of Black Metal and the old school sound of the '80s.

"Walls of Life Ruptured" begins with hellish screams, blasting drums and intense guitar riffs. It is almost reminiscent of something from The Secrets of the Black Arts, from Dark Funeral. There are moments of brilliance, foreshadowing what would come on the next album, briefly appearing and then vanishing suddenly. Everything about this album seems to be a rejection of the established Black Metal sound of the period in which it was recorded; instead, hearkening back to the '80s and early '90s. As the pace slows down, briefly, the song switches up and the hauntingly wicked tremolo melody is like a fresh razor slicing through pale, white flesh.

The pace slows down and the macabre atmosphere culminates with "Agony Fires", one of the best and most memorable songs on the entire album. The early moments of this song are rotten with the stench of death and decay. The bleak guitar riffs and the dismal bass lines combine to convey a feeling of doom and hopelessness. Within a minute or so, everything speeds up. The structuring of the song is flawless and the chorus of hellish demons, midway through, is very nicely done. As the opening riff returns, one can feel that the graves are opening and that which has died shall return to end the world of the living.

"Angelrape" opens much as the first song of the album. This album is much less melodic than those that follow it. The twisted sounds serve to possess the listener and hasten the heartbeat, near the point of bursting. This serves to work the listener up into a frenzy, being like the storm before the calm, to reverse an old saying. On its own, it is not necessarily the strongest track on here, but it fits into place very well, within the context of the album as a whole.

"Mortem Sibi Consciscere" is the highlight of the album. This is what it has all been building up to. This is epic in nocturnal glory and utterly morbid and hideous. To listen to this is to voluntarily cast your body into a pit of serpents, reveling in the agony as their fangs pierce your flesh and the venom enters your veins. Beginning with mid-paced riffs that hearken back to the classic era of Mayhem, this track soon picks up speed and drags the listener deeper into the abyss. This does well to mix the gloom and occult feeling of the aforementioned band with the cold and melodic style of early Dissection.

"For what dwells behind those flames
Is hidden for your eyes
And just one single glance
Would transform your smiles into cries"

There is a grim desperation to the vocals, at certain points, and one gets the feeling that this is no mere song. This is a dark ritual to be experienced. As the song builds to its climax, you can feel the dark spirits of the night embrace you, soon to be taken beyond the darkest shadows and into the grim nothingness.

Rabid Death's Curse may be a few steps behind Casus Luciferi, but if offers an intensely impassioned performance of raw and morbid Black Metal, filled with haunting melodies and horrific vocal lines that will linger in your subconscious for a long time to come. Watain did a very good job in meshing the various influences that they had into something coherent and memorable, never compromising for even a second. This is the best Black Metal album to come from Sweden in a few years. If you're new to the band, take a break from the latest album and immerse yourself in the grim atmosphere of Rabid Death's Curse.
 
(14 Jan. 2009)

 
Casus Luciferi (2003)
 
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Casus Luciferi is the second full-length offering from the Swedish Black Metal band known as Watain. Released in November 2003, through Drakkar Productions, this recording embodies the spirit of early '90s Black Metal. Even the booklet and back cover possessed an old and worn look that matched the music. It was as if, finally, a band decided to pick up from where Mayhem left off with De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, while adding a healthy dose of influence from Dissection's The Somberlain. Though Rabid Death's Curse was impressive in its own right, this was something entirely different.

From the first moments of "Devil's Blood", one is taken back in time and dragged into a darkness that was often forgotten in the decade that preceded it. Eerily similar to the melodies from the title track of De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, one could either look at this as a rip-off or a tribute. The haunting tremolo riffs and morbid vocals come together to create a hellish and gloomy atmosphere. There is something urgent about this, as the listener is being carried into the depths of hell. Far from being one-dimensional, the songwriting displays a good sense of structure and it rather dynamic. As with Mayhem, the bass is just audible enough to add to the sombre vibe. The cold and nocturnal guitar melodies continue with "Black Salvation", which is one of the better songs on here. The vocalist sounds possessed by some ancient demonic force, giving the image of some entity that has recently forced its way out of a rotten coffin and crawled back through the damp soil. Though including some mid-paced parts, this song blasts ahead at a frantic speed for the most part, as well.

The next couple songs are not quite as memorable, though no less intense and well-written. "Opus Dei" and "Puzzles ov Flesh" work within the context of the album as a whole, but are not likely to be songs that one would return to for repeated listens. Still, a grim and occult atmosphere is present and these tracks are filled with hatred and blasphemy. The cold riffs and gloomy bass lines do well to fill your mind with morbid images. Unlike so many modern bands that rely on keyboards and still fail to create any kind of real atmosphere, Watain succeed in doing so using conventional means. It is hard to believe that this band hails from Sweden, as this is far superior to the trash being spewed out by the likes of Marduk and Dark Funeral in recent years, while also killing the sometimes-mediocre efforts by bands such as Armagedda.

"I Am the Earth" is a dynamic song that bridges the two halves of this album, starting out rather fast and including some more intense parts later on, but being dominated by guitar riffs that are very reminiscent of early Burzum and Mayhem's "Life Eternal". As with the rest of the album, there is an undeniably morbid feeling that one gets from listening to this, even the echoes sound as thought they are echoing from some forgotten grave. The latter part of the song possesses somewhat of a melancholy vibe that serves to drag your spirit down deeper. This is accentuated by the following track, "The Golden Horns of Darash". The slower parts that dominate much of the song really hearken back to classic Mayhem, while the faster riffs add a sense of desperation. However, this is another song that really works best while listening to the album in its entirety, rather than as a stand-alone track. The listener is being taken on a dark journey through the blackest shadows and into the mouth of hell, itself. The tension builds more and more during each song, as we near the end of all things.

One of the most memorable melodies of the album begins "From the Pulpits of Abomination." The explosion of demonic voices sounds as if the final barrier has been broken and the listener now realizes that there is no return. The tension continues to build as the melodies carry you into the darkness that is eternal. Now, it is too late. One can hear the cries of the damned souls that have gone before. From this place there is no escape. The cursed ones suffer in torment for all time. There is an urgency in the riffs that comes through perfectly. Everything is well-executed and done with precision. For the most part, this track is fast-paced and carried forth by cold tremolo melodies, though a weird section appears late in the song that sort of derails things for a bit. However, the climax is so brilliant that one forgets this misstep.

Thunder and rain begin the final song. Satan's bell chimes your final doom. This is, of course, reminiscent of the song "Black Sabbath" by the band of the same name. But this is much darker, indeed. This is the culmination of that legacy began so many decades before. "Casus Luciferi" imbues the listener with horrid and twisted visions of torment and hell. This is certainly the legacy of Mayhem and Dissection seen to macabre fruition. The slow, doomy riffs inspire the listener with dread as the fast tremolo melodies increase the tension and unleash the fury of hell; a fury that will not be denied. The blasting drumbeats carry the listener forward on a path unknown. As the song comes to an end, as the melody fades into the storm of wrath, you realize that is was just a dream; this was but a mere glimpse of the fate that awaits. Utter damnation and desolation. A nightmare come to life. One to be feared by the weak for the rest of their days. Knowing that, sooner or later, it would come to pass.

Casus Luciferi is colder, darker, more sinister and hateful than most of its contemporaries. With this album, Watain picked up from where Mayhem left off and created the type of Black Metal album that many have been waiting for in all the years that have passed since the demise of Euronymous. With a better sense of composition than many bands that have tried to keep the old spirit alive, as well as production that is just clear enough to allow for the riffs to be fully appreciated while still being harsh enough to embody the underground spirit of their forebears, Watain have here succeeded in doing that which few others have even attempted. To follow the path of Darkthrone or Burzum is something rather common, yet for a band to finally attempt to recreate the brilliance of De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas is quite rare. It may not be entirely original, but there is some value in keeping the black flame burning in these dark times. If you are a fan of classic-era Mayhem (or The Somberlain, for that matter), seek this out.
 
(20 Jan. 2008)

 
Sworn to the Dark (2007)
 
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Sworn to the Dark is the third full-length album from Swedish Black Metal band Watain. Released in the cold month of February 2007, this was the band's first effort on their new label, Season of Mist. The cover art includes the words "no return", which can be viewed in many ways. This was the beginning of the band's departure from the obscure depths of the Black Metal underground. Not only did they leave behind the more cult label, Drakkar, but their sound evolved to something more accessible. This coincided with a great number of interviews in the Metal press, drawing more attention to the band. 

After spending several years supporting this band, in various ways, I was glad to see them finally becoming more known. For far too long, the majority of those I talked to had no idea that Watain existed. After successful tours with Dissection, Celtic Frost and Kreator, word seemed to spread quite rapidly and, by the time Sworn to the Dark was released, I found that I wasn't the only one anticipating this album. It was a freezing cold winter night when I first listened to this L.P. The room was lit only by a few candles and I gave my full attention to the music, with the booklet in hand. I had very much hoped that the album would pick up from where its predecessor left off, yet it utterly failed to live up to those expectations. I was taken aback from the opening moments, as the thicker and more modern sound polluted my ears. It suits the songwriting in the end, though it was an unwanted change, when compared to the somewhat more raw and cold production of its predecessor. It also comes off as somewhat claustrophobic, maybe due to some kind of compression, as there is a lack of space between the instruments. This is but one of several complaints.

Watain was never really known for possessing the most original songwriting. Looking back, the prime reason that their sophomore album was so appealing to many is that it hearkens back to the glory days of Mayhem and Dissection, with hints of Burzum thrown in as well. It was, more or less, an updated and amalgamated version of De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas and The Somberlain. What one finds with Sworn to the Dark is that the Mayhem influence is practically gone and the inspiration taken from Dissection is stronger than ever; however, rather than taking their cues from the old records, this release seems like the more underground brother of Reinkaos. There are still far more pure Black Metal riffs, but the overall sense of melody and structure has changed, considerably. This is evident from the first song, "Legions of the Black Light", which offers up sinister tremolo melodies mixed with more old school riffs, before diving headfirst into a continuation of Jon Nödtveidt's work. From the eerie solo to the riffs that play beneath it, it is clear that Watain has been influenced by their association with Dissection. This fact becomes more obvious with tracks like "Storm of the Antichrist" and "The Light that Burns the Sun", though the latter does feature some brilliant tremolo melodies that weave in and out, reminding one of the band's last outing.

Though starting and ending on strong notes, much of the album's remainder leaves a bit to be desired. There is a dark and morbid atmosphere that permeates most of the songs, with some truly haunting melodies here and there. Still, many of the tracks feel as if they could (and should) have been much better, as is the case with "Storm of the Antichrist" and the title track. "Sworn to the Dark" certainly sounds like the band traded artistic integrity for an attempt at making something catchy. The riffing style features a lot more of a thrash influence, with less emphasis on the tremolo melodies that made the previous album so memorable. This is painfully demonstrated on "Underneath the Cenotaph", which begins with a very mournful melody and then degenerates into thrashy nonsense. When the tremolo riffs do appear, they seem to play a supporting role, only serving to accentuate the rest of the composition rather than being the central focus. This is definitely the case with "The Light That Burns the Sun". "Darkness and Death" is also a bit of a letdown, being the most straightforward song on here and yet still not reaching the quality of the band's earlier work, though it does have its moments.

While paying attention to the negative aspects, such as the often boring songwriting and the modern production, one cannot overlook the drumming. The percussion is far too high in the mix and incredibly hyperactive. At times, it is almost reminiscent of Marduk, which is not a good thing. It is bad enough that the riffs are not as strong this time through, but the drumming often distracts and also gives yet more of a modern feel to the music.

With that said, it's not all downhill after the opening track. There is still some quality material to be heard, here. "Satan's Hunger" is one of the better songs, though it really sounds quite similar to Gorgoroth's "Possessed (By Satan)". Watain uses the same galloping drum beat to carry the listener toward the gates of Hell. Thankfully, the riffs have a morbid feeling and there is an overall dark and sorrowful vibe that makes this one of the most memorable songs on the album. The tremolo melody that appears around the four-minute mark is among my favourites on Sworn to the Dark, though it is all-too-brief. Still, from the composition to the execution, this track possesses a very epic atmosphere and more than makes up for the flaws found elsewhere. As the song finishes, it flows into an otherworldly instrumental piece, "Withershins". This track is very haunting and you almost feel as if you have passed through a gateway into a realm of nightmares. Though only lasting one minute, this is clearly one of the highlights of the album. It really has a way of messing with your mind, as if it offers a short glimpse into another world. In some ways, it seems as if it is foreshadowing a horrifying future, yet it ends before you are able to get a clear picture. This would be a fitting piece of music to die to.

"The Serpents Chalice" is one of the best songs on here and manages to succeed where some of the other songs came up short. It is mid-paced, with more of the Mayhem / Burzum influence evident in the main riffs. This is one of the more consistent tracks on Sworn to the Dark, and does well to mix elements of their earlier efforts with their new approach. Two-thirds of the way through, everything stops, with the exception of the guitar. Haunting whispers accompany the open arpeggio riffs, building up into a very melodic riff that is pure Dissection. The song ends on a very sorrowful note, which is also one of the more memorable moments of the album.

The final chapter of Watain's third album begins with "Dead But Dreaming", another haunting instrumental that serves as the calm before the storm. It lulls the listener into a trance, preparing them for what is to come. This leads into "Stellarvore", which witnesses the band keeping up their tradition of ending albums with something more epic and awe-inspiring. This finally offers up the sort of melodies that have been hinted at, on and off, up until this point. The song creeps out of the abyss in a slow and menacing manner, a creature of horror and dread prepared to unleash Hell upon the sleeping world. It is very memorable and the vocals are possessed with a macabre conviction. Not every riff is pure brilliance, but the tremolo melodies that lurk within this beast of a song are masterful and really take you away from this world, into a place of indescribable darkness.

"Let us welcome the bringer of the end with open arms
Let us adorn the gates to nothingness with blood"

Sworn to the Dark is the beginning of a new phase for Watain. It seems as if they all but abandoned their previous path in an effort to ascend to the cold and dusty throne left vacant by the passing of Dissection. In that respect, they have succeeded. In many ways, this is what many expected Reinkaos to sound like, and certainly does well as a follow-up effort. There is no way to know if the shift in style was simply due to the affiliation with Jon, or if the band was looking to broaden their sound and fanbase as well. It would seem that they have definitely done that, as nearly everyone is jumping on the bandwagon now. Hopefully, this is not the beginning of the end. This album is a disappointing step down from Casus Luciferi.

(24 Oct. 2008)

 
 

Anyone following Watain for the past decade should be well accustomed to the lengthy passage of time that separates each of their releases. So, it was no surprise that the follow-up to 2007's Sworn to the Dark took over three years to come forth. There was a great deal of anticipation for the new record, and even the promotional campaign was proclaiming that, on 7 June 2010, Black Metal would be reborn. Such a statement was maybe a bit arrogant, especially seeing as how many bands have kept the black flame burning throughout the years. Not long before the release of their fourth full-length album, Lawless Darkness, the Reaping Death E.P. gave listeners a small taste of what was to come. Unfortunately, it was a rather disappointing affair and did not bode well for the full-length that followed.

It is difficult to believe that it took so long for the band to write and record this album, as it is quite forgettable. So much of it sounds like recycled ideas from Sworn to the Dark. Those parts that are more memorable come across as them trying to hard to write something anthemic that would appeal to a mass audience, thus seem really boring and contrived. The sing-along chorus of "Total Funeral" is enough to make Euronymous turn in his grave. This seems to be a direct result of the moderate success the band enjoyed since the release of their previous record. Occasionally, there are interesting melodies that seem to hint at the gloom and morbidity of their first two offerings, but these moments are brief and fail to make an impact. One of the few songs that might have the listener coming back for repeated listens is "Malfeitor", though it is only a matter of time before it becomes apparent that the most interesting riff of the song is a rip off of Burzum's "Jesu Dřd". It still possesses a decent solo, as do several of the other songs, showing that the band has become far more comfortable with their melodic side than creating anything truly dark or menacing. It really seems that these guys are doing their best to try to carry on the style that Dissection utilized on Reinkaos, to a large extent. There are momentary reminders that this is the same band that created Casus Luciferi, but it all ends up just being very disappointing. It is apparent, with the closer "Waters of Ain", that they tried very hard to create something epic but failed. It has its moments, but the more meaningful parts are mixed in with random riffs and passages that only serve to interrupt the flow of the song and kill whatever atmosphere they were able to build up. With the album clocking in at well over an hour, one gets the sense that much of this was simply for the sake of length and it can be a tedious listen, at times. Perhaps, the rigorous touring did not allow them to focus on the compositions as much as they would have liked. The lyrical content is a real turn-off, as it contains more of the Orthodox nonsense that seems to be so popular these days. Erik has even stated in interviews that he believes in the existence of the Judeo-Christian god, which should come as disturbing to real Black Metal fans.

Aside from the haphazard songwriting and rehashed ideas, one of the most detrimental aspects of Lawless Darkness is the production. As with their previous albums, it was recorded at Necromorbus Studio. However, this sounds is even more polished than before, hardly befitting the underground image that the band still tries to project. Then again, that may have died with the multitude of bizarre magazine covers. There is nothing raw or gritty about the sound of this album, rather, it is very clear and somewhat overdone. The drums are far too high in the mix, as well. Sworn to the Dark was the first step in this direction, but Lawless Darkness shows Watain completely abandoning any attempts to maintain an underground Black Metal sound and going for a presentation that is rather plastic and modern. It could be worse, but the production really does no favours for the music. 

A lot of bands begin to stray from their path, after a couple albums albums, or their material simply lacks the quality of their past work. Watain is no different and have failed to live up to the potential shown on Casus Luciferi, in particular. That album, itself, owed a lot to early Mayhem and Dissection, but was done very well. It seemed that the band would go on to do great things, and to keep the old spirit alive, but fame and success appear to have been more important than artistic integrity. Lawless Darkness is a product intended to generate profit for the commercial entity that is Watain. They will continue to amass a large following, further dumbing down the music and wandering outside the boundaries of Black Metal while still using the aesthetics and rhetoric in an attempt to connect themselves with something that was significant. If you want pure Black Metal, avoid this. The music of Watain is now more geared toward children and beginners. Any relevance this band once possessed is long dead and buried.
 
(22 Dec. 2010)

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