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The Lead Review

These Hymns Of Decimation: Watain’s Trident Wolf Eclipse
Louise Brown , January 11th, 2018 08:05

Swedish black metal wolfpack Watain don’t want you to like their sixth album, but as sheep led to slaughter, we’re helpless, says Louise Brown

In a world narrated by internet memes, there is that one with Robin from the 1965 Batman comic, being smacked around the chops by the Masked Crusader. The speech bubble from Robin's mouth, in this instance, says “Black metal is about individualism, extreme feelings against soci…”. His monologue is put to a vicious end by Brucey's five-finger response and the words “Hail Satan”. It's unknown where this meme originates, nor does one care, but it’s amusing to imagine Robin is “2018” in this particular single-panel comic parody, and Batman is… Watain.

God help you if you're an extreme metal fan in 2018. As hate and confusion battle it out in the world-at-large, of course, the black metal scene mirrors it. The basement-dwelling neanderthals are down to bloodied stumps with all the kneejerk forum-posing and circle-jerking they can manage, while the social justice warriors – read: music fans who just happen to think Myrkyr's not that bad – are just trying to stay off the internet and listening to Dawn Ray'd. The world is screwed, and there is a stream of maniacal laughing on 'Ultra (Pandemoniac)', the sixth track on Watain's sixth album, that makes it seem like these stalwart leather rebels are looking on, gleefully, as we head straight for the abyss. Just when we need it the most, Watain are here to tell you all to fuck off.

For the uninitiated, Watain are an unholy metal cult from Uppsala, an otherwise quaint student town just outside of Stockholm, Sweden. But the town – which boasts a parliamentary residence with its three canons pointed at an oppressive Gothic cathedral, a strike against God above government – hosts an underbelly of artists, dissidents, rebels and rousers who make up the scene in which Watain play a central role. Since 1998 they have fought to reclaim black metal's satanic essence and, while deliberately scuppering every opportunity they’ve been handed, have become one of the most influential heavy metal bands of the modern era.

Enter new album Trident Wolf Eclipse. It’s been just over four years since 2013’s The Wild Hunt and eight since their supposed commercial breakthrough Lawless Darkness. These albums saw Watain become magazine cover stars, Swedish Grammi winners and celebrated at any number of rock music award ceremonies. Their response? A violent, cacophonous, relentless, unapologetic 33-minute album with not a second of mercy or reprieve. Essentially, a commercial bust. But for Watain, it marks their intent as a band unwilling to play by anyone's rules.

In the days following a dick-measuring contest on Twitter that could see us launched headfirst into world war three, it's apt that Watain release an album starting with a song titled 'Nuclear Alchemy'; it's a deranged howl, over a battery of percussion, commanding “Fire at will”. Trident Wolf Eclipse is the album you need when all hope has left you and you're faced with an existential acceptance that nihilism is the only solution left. Watain is your inner voice saying you can't beat them, just go feral. When the world goes to shit, will you eat your neighbours, or end up as an entree? Trident Wolf Eclipse is the aural representation of the cannibals in Cormac McCarthy's The Road. It’s not pleasant, thinking about what you’ll do when the world goes to pot. But it’s real.

Unpleasant but real: that could sum Watain up. In their 20-year existence they have never played nice, but they have always been consistent. They’ve been banned from venues for dousing audiences in pig's blood, they’ve refused to play shows if they’ve not been allowed their signature pyrotechnics, they have been pulled from shows after accusations of national socialism. Their response? Push the boundaries even further. When asked if they're Nazis, they walk out on stage with a Hitler salute. When asked to comply with health and safety regulations, they bring bigger fireworks. When told they cannot daub themselves in real blood, they make sure it’s the most noxious, unsanitary animal claret they can find, risking their own health in the process. Watain are obstinate, antisocial, untamed, unwilling, uncooperative arseholes and somehow, the hordes lap it up. They make things worse for themselves, and have a leprous smile while doing so.

And just to make the point, on their last two albums, Watain offered up a musical u-turn. They are the ultimate trolls, turning fan-baiting into an art. 2010’s Lawless Darkness invited Fields Of The Nephilim's Carl McCoy as a guest on 15-minute epic ‘Waters Of Ain’, and 2013’s The Wild Hunt continued this thread, starting the album softly, slowly, still sinister, still menacing, but inverting the black metal orthodoxy they had become infamous for. This showcased the band as so much more than one-dimensional, and opened up a unheralded narrative between band and fan. To know Watain and its parts – whether that be frontman Erik Danielsson, guitarist Pelle Forsberg, drummer Håkan Jonsson, or the live members they collaborate with; Set Teitan, Alvarro Lillo, E Forcas, Hampus Death, producer Tore Stjerna or the other many musicians and visual artists who are part of their wolfpack – is to know that Venom, Bathory, Necrovore, Mayhem, Morbid Angel and Dissection are part of their DNA, but so is Motörhead, Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, and so is David Bowie, The Cure and Sisters Of Mercy, and so is Dead Can Dance, Diamanda Galas and Kate Bush. On the last album we got closer to understanding that. But anyone expecting more of those clever nuances and knowing nods on Trident Wolf Eclipse is due to be shocked. The door is now closed. Back into the shadows, the wolfpack goes.

That is what Watain do, they pull back from your expectations. They are the great deceivers. You want caustic, annihilating black metal – they'll give you Carl McCoy guest vocals over an acoustic, hypnotic, melancholic refrain. When you complain, they'll take that to the extreme. And when you've come to expect it, they'll change tack.

Watain are the master puppeteers. They refused to bend, but they refuse to explain themselves either, and in that they manipulate their following. That is what a wolf does: it leads the sheep toward it. And because they won’t enter into discussion about their politics, their influences, their ambitions, their personal lives, you are forced to trust them. And they do nothing to deserve your trust. You are with them or without them, and again you blindly willingly follow, as Trident Wolf Eclipse is so damned essential. In these end-times, they will play fiddler while we burn. With these hymns of decimation, these uncompromising attacks, these martial anthems, these light-extinguishing odes to lawlessness, they will pummel you into submission. They are fire, they are fury. They are Watain.

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