watain2 smallAlright, so unless you live under a rock, by now you MUST have an inkling that Watain have carved another notch to their bullet belts with their fifth studio release — The Wild Hunt. This attractively adorned album (depicting the spoils of a lengthy musical journey) hit the shelves a few days back with all the usual hype and aggrandizement one would expect of a Watain album, released through their own label His Master’s Noise (under the umbrella of Century Media Records). Following on from their well received opus of 2010 (check out how Angry Metal Guy weighed in on Lawless Darkness here), The Wild Hunt sees Watain beefing up their orthodox brand of black metal, showing the middle finger to the dictators of the world and borrowing from a feast of decidedly odd influences. So what of it, have these gents from Sweden’s Uppsala, who cite the influence of Bathory and Dissection among others, delivered the goods?

The Wild Hunt starts off with “Night Vision,” a forlorn instrumental that plies you with the same desolate feeling as parts of Opeth‘s “Burden.” As each track has some form of tie to one of the spoils depicted on the album cover I found it pretty entertaining to match up the track to its spoil… I’m guessing “Night Vision” is tied to the T-800 inspired skull? Once “Night Vision” really gets going it makes a near flawless morph into “De Profundis.” “De Profundis,” and the tracks that follow (“Black Flames March,” “All That May Bleed,” and “The Child Must Die”), vexed me for a bit. They feel to some extent like the kind of black metal I’d expect to hear from Ofermod or Funeral Mist, but outside of that there’s a frenzied technicality and a percussive element that I don’t remember being in Watain‘s earlier work. Rather than their Sodom and Kreator influence of yesteryear, Pelle Forsberg (guitars) and Håkan Jonsson (drums) have looted some technical edge from French black metallers Deathspell Omega and hammer out a Godflesh “Like Rats” dynamic on the rhythm guitar and drums.

Erik Danielsson has a vocal style that’s huge and reminds me of the intense, hate-filled gurgle delivered by Marduk‘s Daniel “Mortuus” Rostén. This is the first Watain release where Erik includes clean vocals, and you’re either going to love this honest husky, almost Wino soaked, side of the band or it’s going to do nothing for you. “They Rode On” has the biggest concentration of cleans, the track’s dripping with about as much melancholy as Johnny Cash‘s cover of “Hurt,” and despite the brightly melodic guitar work, “They Rode On” has a depressing, dark, heavy edge. Unfortunately it’s here that it all falls apart, much like Ofermod‘s Thaumiel, Watain dropped the ball when it came to something as basic as track order. Being that this is a dark album, ordering the tracks following that dark descent and with similar start and end tempos — so possibly “Ignem Veni Mittere,” “The Wild Hunt” and then ending the album with “They Rode On” would have left me feeling far more satisfied than the current track order.

As with Lawless Darkness, The Wild Hunt was produced by the band’s friend Tore Stjerna at his Necromorbus Studio in Alvik (Sweden). The final mix is clean, but not aseptic, reminding me of the mix used on Lawless Darkness or even Marduk‘s Serpent Sermon. The mix doesn’t favor any one particular stream, but rather gives Håkan’s drum fills plenty of space to exude their impressiveness without stealing from Erik’s guileless roar or detracting from Pelle’s tormenting guitar solos that execute like a twisted SM play session. [It should also be noted that the production is also more old school than previous records, having backed off the loudness of Lawless Darkness and even worse offender Sworn to the Dark. It gives a feel reminiscent of the ’80s death metal. – AMG]

Watain 2013

If you’re looking for the hellish darkness of say tracks like “Reaping Death,” or the epic beauty and cohesive flow of “Wolves Curse” and “Waters Of Ain” The Wild Hunt doesn’t reach those glorious heights. It feels as though despite the slightly more old school influence and the poor track order, Watain were aiming for a more accessible release. I’m sure The Wild Hunt will win them some new fans with a more accessible sound, but at the same time it’s going to alienate others looking for the qualities of previous releases. A good album but no match for Lawless Darkness.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
Label: Century Media Records
Websites: templeofwatain.com | facebook.com/watainofficial
Release Dates: EU: 2013.08.19 | US: 08.20.2013

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  • Thanks for the review! I’m not sure I necessarily agree with every point, but I do think this record is substantially different from earlier records. A thing I actually _enjoy_ about it is the clean vocals. The issue I have is that the songwriting just feels kind of flat. The production is strange, even if it has that old school feel to it, and I’m not sure it does the album favors.

    • I felt the same way… there are some absolutely excellent moments here like the title track in particular, and “The Child Must Die” as well. But when the album fell flat, it really went flat… I thought the ballad was a wash. Danielsson’s clean vocals there left a lot to be desired and really the song seemed to be built around the lyrics first….to its detriment (there was nothing there musically to grasp onto).

      I dunno, I have some friends who really love the record so I’m trying to keep re-listening to the record to see what else sinks in but I find my interest waning, unlike Lawless Darkness where I just kept on getting hungrier for more successive listens.

  • Emily Potter

    I absolutely dig “They Rode On”. I was stopped in my tracks when doing some DIY listening to the album for the first time, and couldn’t work out whether it was for good or for bad. But having listened to it again, I’m definitely in the good camp. And I agree on the “no match for lawless darkness” comment. But then again I really do think that’s a brilliant album.

  • hubcapiv

    Nice review. By which I mean, I agree with it. I think the songwriting is worse on this one. Too many bits that sound OK on their own, but do not build or flow into each other, or anything much at all. And an excellent point about track order – IMO the vibe just falls apart over the back half.

    As for the balladry, I’m OK with “And They Rode On.” I don’t think it’s that good – sorry, Erik really can’t sing well enough to pull it off – but I am cool with aiming high and missing. It’s the other slow song with clear singing – “The Wild Hunt” – that kind of, um, stinks.

    And the closer, “Holocaust Dawn”….pretty lame, no? It’s not really a SONG, man. And the ending just sounds like the tape ran out. I went out to YouTube to listen to another version to make sure there wasn’t anything wrong with mine. Not how you want to cap off an album.

    (Luckily the limited edition has a remake of “When Stars No More Shine” that ends everything with a lot more punch.)

    I think this is an hour of album with about 40 minutes of good music on it. I think I will like my edited, resequenced playlist quite a bit. But the album as it is? A 3.0 is fair.

  • Josef Donner

    Thanks for putting the score at the end of the review instead of the beginning. It’s a lot nicer since it helps finishing the review with as few preconcieved notions as possible. Please continue doing this!