Alright, 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]
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.