Watain – The Wild Hunt (Century Media, 2013)
Sweden has always been a strong exporter of black metal bands, rivaling in quality with the Norwegian scene. In the 90’s, bands like Dissection were considered among the elite. After Dissection demise, fans and the press began to look up for the worthy successors to their throne and plenty agreed that Watain were the genre’s saviors. Formed in 1998, Watain released four full-length albums, getting huge exposure even among the mainstream fans, which gained them a contract with highly acclaimed label Century Media Records. So, armed with a better budget they went on to release their best sounding album to date “The Wild Hunt“.
A band like Satyricon taught us that having better sounding albums with better productions does not equate to make better music. Why I bring Satyricon into this? Because just like the fellow Norwegian superstars did with albums like “Now, Diabolical“, Watain‘s “The Wild Hunt” is a finely produced album but filled with not-so-fine compositions. Watain‘s music evolution dates back to their 3rd album “Sworn to the Dark” where they began to adopt a more elaborated and refined style of black metal. This musical evolution continued with “Lawless Darkness“, but they still sounded like pure Watain at the core. For most of the album’s length, “The Wild Hunt” marks a bold departure from their core sound. Out of 11 tracks, 2 of them are intrumental, opening track “Night Vision” and the 10th track “Ignem Veni Mittere“. Both of them are plain slow and doomy with some black metal riffing here and there and none of them can be considered as great tracks since they are just filler material.
“De Profundis” blasts off with some pretty cool tremolo riffing surrounded by a melody after each main riff that sounds just like removed from Possessed‘s classic “The Antichrist“. The song’s trading pace from fast to mid-tempo, along with the aforementioned melody and Erik evil vocals make this track a very solid one, among the album’s highlights. “Black Flames March” follows, and it is a 6-plus minutes mid-paced song with a heavy Behemoth and Bathory feel into it. Unlike Behemoth’s stuff, “Black Flames March” does not go anywhere after the first 3 minutes, making it a very repetitive and monotonous effort. Yeah, it sounds like black metal, but close to the late Satyricon field. “All That May Bleed” and “The Child Must Die” are fairly similar songs that are rooted in the NWOBHM style with some Priest styled riffing and extremey good guitar solos. Although both tracks are extremely well executed and are surely catchy as hell, deep at the core, none of them sounds like the Watain we used to know.
“They Rode On” follows, offering us the first “what the fuck” moment of the album: acoustic guitars and clean vocals. Yes, you read it well: clean vocals. There’s nothing wrong with clean vocals in any metal style, but the issue here is that Erik’s clean vocals sound like a washed out version of Tiamat‘s Johan Edlund mixed with late Quorthon. In fact, “They Rode On” is just 8-plus painful minutes of doomy stuff like mid-90s Tiamat and “Blood On Ice“-era Bathory. We all are aware of the huge Bathory inspiration in Watain, but they miserably failed at trying to recreate the epic atmosphere that permeated on “Blood On Ice“. This is a typical case of experimenting gone wrong. “Sleepless Evil” is next and just like “De Profundis“, it is filled with killer riffs and a great fast pace making it 5 minutes of pure black metal onslaught and another of the album’s highlights.
But since we all know that good things don’t last, Watain delivers us just another slab of “Blood On Ice“-styled stuff with the album’s title track. On this one, as opposed to “They Rode On“, they feature some black metal-styled vocals, but the result is just the same: a long song that tries hard to sound epic but turns out as somewhat boring. “Outlaw” is next, and again we are back into the black metal ground. Filled with great riffing and flawless drumming, along with the aforementioned Possessed vibe mixed with a strong NWOBHM feeling, “Outlaw” is simply the best song on the album. After the already mentioned instrumental track “Ignem Veni Mittere“, the band wraps “The Wild Hunt” with the 7-plus minutes “Holocaust Dawn“, perhaps the most experimental sounding track in the album, but finally they nailed it right when it comes to experimenting. “Holocaust Dawn” is utterly heavy and dark, and the evil atmosphere that it creates is the perfect one to ends on a positive note a not-so-good listening experience.
“The Wild Hunt” is not the kind of album that I hoped from the mighty Watain. I really applaud Erik’s willingness to do something different, but sometimes simply having the willingness is not enough. We have witnessed plenty of bands doing bold changes in their music and succeed at it. In Watain‘s case, they have not completely failed but all we got is a sub-par effort, filled with many good ideas that were not fully developed or pushed in the wrong direction. Perhaps, that old saying that goes by “if it isn’t broken, why fix it” is totally true after all.
HMT rating: 6/10
“The Wild Hunt” will be released on August 19th via Century Media Records. The track listing is as follows:
1. Night Vision 03:38
2. De Profundis 04:33
3. Black Flames March 06:20
4. All That May Bleed 04:41
5. The Child Must Die 06:04
6. They Rode On 08:43
7. Sleepless Evil 05:37
8. Wild Hunt 06:20
9. Outlaw 05:07
10. Ignem Veni Mittere 04:39
11. Holocaust Dawn 07:07
“All That May Bleed ” stream
“The Child Must Die ” stream