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Watain

Watain

by Niklas Göransson

Swedish black metal trio Watain return with a new album. Frontman Erik Danielsson shares his thoughts on dealing with censorship and cancellations, recovering from burnout, and being decried by the very underground from which they emerged.

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– “Trident Wolf Eclipse” contains eight songs and is our shortest and, I suppose you could say, most to-the-point record so far. Out of all the depths explored through our past work, I believe this holds some of our strongest and most relevant material to date.

WATAIN’s sixth full-length album was written during the four years that’s passed since “The Wild Hunt” in August 2013.

– Quite a long period it would seem, but that’s not taking into account time spent on feeding the immense furnace fires of WATAIN during those years. So, we proceeded at our own pace and as a result broke our customary three-year cycle – which felt good, like the uprooting of all patterns eventually does.

While their new soundscape offers a few surprises, such as various peculiar orchestral-sounding lunacy, both the bombastic elements found in the title-track of “The Wild Hunt” along with Erik’s clean vocals – as heard on “They Rode On” – are conspicuously absent. I noticed that the latter song is WATAIN’s number one track on both Spotify and Last.fm, so there would unquestionably have been a demand. At the same time, this composition is their most polarising among the listeners.

– As people should have noticed by now, we’re not afraid of taking big leaps and plunging into new depths – “Trident Wolf Eclipse” is but another proof of that, even if it’s in an almost opposite direction to “They Rode On”. However, I wouldn’t say the album is entirely void of epic and sublime elements. To me, parts of “Teufelsreich” as well as the entirety of “The Fire of Power” derive from similar sources as the one you refer to. But indeed, the album as a whole is surely a different piece of work altogether. We never intentionally tried to build bridges between albums, each of them should be regarded as free-standing monoliths with their own story to tell.

Was everyone involved in the composing process this time around?

– Yes. Even though I wrote much of the music, I’d have to say it was Pelle (Forsberg, guitars) who contributed most with shaping the album in terms of atmosphere and general approach. Håkan (Jonsson, drums) also wrote material, as per usual, including what I consider to be one of the record’s most central songs; “Towards the Sanctuary”.

While Håkan performs on the album, he’s not currently part of WATAIN’s live setting and hasn’t been for some time. In his place, they have recruited fellow Uppsala resident Emil Svensson from DEGIAL.

– It’s quite simple really; Håkan feels as if he’s pretty much done with touring, at least for the time being. Besides not performing live, he has the same role in WATAIN as always. While I myself am still quite content with the notion of travelling around the world to perform music in front of people, I can also fully relate as to why someone who’s done so for his entire adult life has had enough. We all respect his decision and since we’ve now been blessed with Emil filling in for him, it hasn’t caused any problems whatsoever. Emil takes his role very seriously and is a fucking beast of a drummer.

My interviewee is himself originally a percussionist. If memory serves me right, it was following this call which led Erik’s teenage self to abandon his parental home in favour of residential rehearsal place cohabitation with Dave Lepard. Mostly known internationally for his work in sleaze rock band CRASHDÏET, Lepard was without a doubt one of the wildest individuals to ever grace the Swedish metal scene. He passed away in 2006.

– It was a great time, one I’d re-live any day if I could. Dave was a good mentor in madness and heartfelt opposition to the world. He taught me a lot about the difference between wanting to be a rebel and actually being one. During the years we spent together, he became a close friend to everyone in WATAIN and I’d absolutely say he left his mark on the band.

Isn’t the chorus of “Devil’s Blood” from this era?

– Yes, the brilliant chorus was written by Dave – originally for CRUCIFIRE, a short-lived band we had. There are so many incredible stories about him, he was one of the rare ones. The kind whose short visits on earth are filled with events that would take an ordinary human being a hundred lifetimes to experience. Such people leave their marks behind, for sure.

Håkan Jonsson – drums, Pelle Forsberg – guitars, Erik Danielsson – vocals. Photo: Sara Gewalt

 

While an increasing amount of today’s black metal bands are finding themselves targeted with attempted gig cancellations, this was something WATAIN dealt with on a regular basis well over a decade ago. Back in 2007, I was made privy to an email exchange between Erik and a German festival promoter in which the matter was deliberated upon. I retrieved it from my archives while preparing for this interview.

Hail Eric!
I don´t know what to say.
Yesterday I got a phone call from the police and where they had informed me that 2 bands can´t play at the festival. The Bands are ETERNITY and WATAIN.
That really sucks but the police informed me when one of the band play they will stop the concert.
I´ll go to the police and talk to them that you be not a Nazi band, you never was and never will be.
For that I need a statement from you, so if possible send it by fax or email asap.
I hope it would help to get the permission that you can play.

Which yielded the following response:

This is our statement:
“FUCK OFF! The last year we have toured Europe, USA, Mexico and South America and NEVER have we experienced, in one single country, such hostility and unwillingness to welcome us as in the shithole of Germany. Why the fuck do you think we would care for national socialism when the only thing we want is to burn your pathetic excuse for a country to ashes? Do not blame us for the mistakes of your grandparents, we piss on their graves! Hail Stalin!”
There you go.

What’s most amazing about this is that it worked, and WATAIN were in fact allowed to play. Perhaps there’s a lesson to learned here.

– Haha! We’ve had to write quite a few such statements over the years, and I foresee many more in the future… These imbeciles must be publicly humiliated in their fear and retardation, that’s the price they must pay for randomly accusing people like us of whatever nonsense they’re afraid of. I have to say though; in a black metal context, this whole antifa business which has been widely discussed lately isn’t exclusively negative. At least it brings everything to more radical levels where many are forced to make decisions, take a stand, and in many cases realise they’re not the tough motherfuckers they’ve always claimed to be.

What’s the advantage to this?

– It’s a matter of people acknowledging that they’re not on top of the food chain, which can be a very good lesson for someone who’s willing to learn. Too bad that it’s all based on the delusional claims of vegetarian witch-hunters about matters as tiresome and boring as banned political opinions. Total intolerance against intolerance anyone? Hah! The abyss will consume you all…

It should perhaps be noted that not all concert disruptions have been strictly politically motivated.  I ran into Erik at the 2011 edition of Sweden Rock Festival, just as he was briefing a mortally hung-over Pelle about the telephone call which had just transpired between himself and their somewhat agitated manager who announced that they’d been dumped by both booking agency RTN-Touring and several scheduled summer festivals. If I recall correctly, this was the aftermath of an escapade in Germany where a promoter cancelled the show due to pyrotechnical concerns, followed by scuffling with club security and finally a WATAIN press release urging fans to firebomb the offending venue.

– Yeah, you’re more or less right. In short; we’d been on a three-day festival tour through Germany, Austria and Switzerland, during which there’d been a few minor incidents – all blown completely out of proportion by frightened and boring concert organisers if you ask me. A fire here, a fistfight there, a cancelled show, and suddenly people start screaming in panic and despair at the horror of our mere existence. Certainly not the first time we’ve heard such disgraceful whimpering, and it’s unlikely to have been the last.

The Sweden Rock weekend’s excitement concluded with Erik engaging in early-morning fisticuffs with the co-promoter from a German festival that had cancelled their appearance earlier the same day. Much to the subsequent exasperation of the gentleman in question, WATAIN were later re-added to the same event following complaints from ticketholders.

– Much like the festival, the good people at RTN realised their mistake in dropping us and we’re still working with them to this day.

One might think Erik would have a soft spot for promoters forced to deal with black metal chaos, having been in the same position himself. The first time I became aware of Erik Danielsson was in 1999 when he organised a concert in Uppsala featuring among others MALIGN and DARK FUNERAL. In a grandiose congregation of the most unsavoury characters of the contemporary Swedish scene, it was a glorious evening of old-school metal mayhem.

– A great night! Fanatical mood, tension and passion, sudden outbursts of violence, most of the audience armed in one way or another, heartfelt evil… total black metal! It’s impossible to do such an atmosphere justice with words. I don’t know if it’s nostalgia speaking but I feel it was often like that at Swedish black and death metal gigs in those days. Feels weird referring to them as ’those days’, but I guess you can say that about the late nineties now?

Seeing as it was two decades and roughly three decimetres of hairline ago, I’d be inclined to agree.

– One of the last times I experienced a similar atmosphere was in France at the Black Legions castle outside Nimes, when we met MÜTIILATION and DEATHSPELL OMEGA for the first time. And on the entire DISSECTION tour in 2004. Come to think of it, it actually comes back every now and again but it was definitely more frequent twenty years ago.

Watain – “Trident Wolf Eclipse”. Artwork by Oik Wasfuk.

 

Whilst on a 2010 tour in South America, Erik was feeling increasingly sickly and weak from one day to the next until finally collapsing three songs into a set in Santiago, the capital of Chile. The following day, after a nerve-racking day of running numerous tests at a São Paolo hospital, he was diagnosed with burnout syndrome.

– After three months of constant touring following the release of “Lawless Darkness”, I was simply drained of energy both physically and mentally. Not so strange maybe. Being unable to go through with the concert was extremely fucking aggravating, but it was a straight fact that would not bend.

This in itself acted as catalyst for some calamity.

– Eighteen people were stabbed in the audience that night, just after I’d left the stage. The knife-man was a young WATAIN enthusiast who from what I’ve been told had forged a special blade for the occasion. So the ambulance personnel who were treating me backstage had to run out and assist the wounded while I was lying on a stretcher waiting to die in the suburbs of Santiago. Quite a night!

From what I understand, burnout is something that’s rather difficult to recuperate from and requires more than simply relaxing.

– The recovery was long but, just like the harsh experience itself, a very meaningful one – stimulating both in terms of personal progression and mental strength. The way we perform with WATAIN takes its toll. No matter how gratifying and transcendent, it comes with a price and perhaps I paid part of my dues then. These days I’m far more serious with physical and mental training of both the empowering and unwinding kind, which makes for stronger experiences.

Photo: Metalion

 

I’m curious whether the twenty-year-old Erik Danielsson, with the framework for black metal he had then, would have been a fan of today’s WATAIN.

– For as long as I can recall, I’ve been drawn to bands that radiate sincerity, wholesomeness, and integrity – all of which are fundamental cornerstones of WATAIN. Bearing that in mind, I have a hard time seeing a twenty-year-old version of myself disapproving. To be honest, WATAIN is largely a projection of everything we felt was missing back then; moulded from early beginnings in accordance to our own specific ideas of what a black metal band should be. Although I’ve made significant progress in many areas of life since then, these philosophies have remained quite intact throughout the years.

Though remaining there for longer than most bigger black metal bands, WATAIN now seem to have thoroughly reached the point where they’ve fallen out of favour with what’s traditionally referred to as the underground. At least one would get this impression from perusing message boards and comments fields.

– I was always sceptical about those message boards; Full Moon Productions, Krieg, and all that shit. When they first appeared, I was on there quite often – mostly to keep myself up to date with all the new releases that came out all of a sudden once the underground turned digital. But eventually, I realised how basically ninety-five percent of the content was just time-consuming, uninteresting trash. At that time, half of the people who now spend their miserable days on today’s forums were still years away from their first YouTube NECROVORE search entry.

Having come from the same milieu yourself though, doesn’t being lumped into the same category as CRADLE OF FILTH bother you at all?

– What these people think of WATAIN and our twenty-year long history is of spectacular irrelevance to me. Unless it’s something positive, I’d be foolish to give any meaning to opinions about our life’s work from empty herd-mentality – sentiments rendered even more pathetic considering they’d never dare confront us with them in person. Such is the long-established nature of insects; they chirp all day but as soon as you walk by, they shut the fuck up.

This is an excerpt from the full article, which is approximately twice as long and will be published in Bardo Methodology #3.