Title: The Agony & The Ecstasy Of Watain
Genre: Black Metal
Release Date: 29th April 2022
Label: Nuclear Blast
WATAIN are from Sweden and I’m not a connoisseur of their music, that is true. But I was asked to review a few bands the other day and I thought to myself “Hmmm, I’ve not had the pleasure of filling my ears with WATAIN before so let’s give them a try out and see what happens.” They’ve been around since the late 1990s, been banned from playing, thrown blood on audiences, denied links to far-right politics and exclaimed in their own way that they hate humans as a whole not subsets of them. And in that time, they’ve released seven studio albums, the first of which I listened to before this current one. I liked it for the most part.
‘Rabid Death’s Curse’ is a dark and punchy bastard indeed! It sounds authentic and the art is serious whilst at the same time not coming across as polished. The vocals, lyrical content and blast beat driven guitar noodles don’t feel fake or that they are being used as musical devices sans sincerity. JO QUAIL created ‘The Cartographer’, it is the nexus where heavy music and classical music meet. The whole is textured and spaced with an Ansel Adams style. There are gradations of tones which give a depth to the black heaviness. WATAIN on the other hand goes for the Billy Brandt vibe. Charcoal black in tone, not as many gradations down to the piercing white lightness.
Still, having said that there are reference points that jump out at you before being consumed back into the shadows. It’s like juggling misty soot. ‘The Agony & The Ecstasy Of Watain’ feels very bombastic and more polished than ‘Rabid Death’s Curse’, of course there’s been a progression and refinement without distilling out the essence. There are more trad metal elements in this (Ecstasies In Night Infinite) and sinewy guitar trill a la BURZUM as in ‘The Howling’, which by the way does a good job at galloping along like an unfettered stallion. Lovely drumming. ‘Serimosa’ which apparently is a word mix of serum and pain tells the story of a visitor from beyond who crosses over into this realm, the whole feeling like a painful birthing, which is fitting because the next track is called ‘Black Cunt’. Well, you would wouldn’t you, after a painful birth? The blast beats kick me from the inside and contorted guitar twists around my bodily exits. This is where those soot juggling references come in, but jeesh the guitars are so melodiously good, my head can’t stop bobbing at this blackness, my eyes mischievous.
The axe grinding abandon on ‘Lepers grace’ is a joy to behold and in places steps into CRADLE OF FILTH territory before exclaiming “NO IT’S NOT, IT’S OURS!”. ‘Not Sun Nor Man Nor God’ feels light in comparison to everything else to start with, and then! classical but not so overt! ‘Before The Cataclysm’ satisfies with thick twangling bass and what I call “slow motion head bang” phases. The guitars go through these phases nicely layered and seamless. Sombre and ominous, the sprinkle of feminine watery vocals and votive guitars build the tension in ‘We Remain’. There’s a pleasing wailing quality to the guitars that starts the spine shivers within me, a perfect track innervates your followers into hypnotic fervour. The end is satisfying also with brief shift into a proggy groove before reverting back to the previous mood walk.
The final track on the album, ‘Septentrion’, is all drums! Galloping double kick with the upper body satiating the attention seeking of the sticks. The snare flicks here, the tom flicks there, all the while the wiry sinews attached to the guitars do their resonant things with the help of supple and nimble digits, a cacophony of differing sounds all jumping and bouncing about in harmonious glee. At 3.37 the walking bit kicks in. Or should I say “rolling bit”? Because it’s like rolling down a long satisfying incline until you stop at the bottom, covered in dirt and grass and with a big grin on your face!
In summary, I’d say my first foray into WATAIN has impressed me! ‘The Agony & The Ecstasy Of Watain’ was not recorded live in front of an audience, it was recorded from start to finish in the studio, so it retains the energy and the focus of an audience-fronted set. I get the sense that as the recording progressed the artists began to relax into the task ahead and become more expressive and fluid in their playing. It comes across, I can feel the authenticity. It must have been great at the end when the last note died away and all looked at each other with satisfied eyes. You have gotta check this out! That’s it, I’m done!
01. Ecstasies In Night Infinite
02. The Howling
04. Black Cunt
05. Leper’s Grace
06. Not Sun Nor Man Nor God
07. Before The Cataclysm
08. We Remain
09. Funeral Winter
E Danielsson – Vocals
P Forsberg – Guitar
A Lillo – Bass Guitar
H Eriksson – Guitar
E Forcas – Drums
Total: 8.5 / 10