Latest release: Lawless Darkness (Season of Mist/Riot!)

Swedish black metallers Watain have just released their fourth full-length opus, Lawless Darkness through Season Of Mist/Riot!. Covering territory from the wickedly vengeful and blasphemous 14-minute epic ‘Waters of Ain’ and the adventurous instrumental title track – not to mention covering a wide range of ground both metal and non-metal elsewhere on the disc – it’s another mightily impressive addition to their catalogue. The sprawling 70-plus minute record features some of their most complex, yet emotive pieces yet and is an excellent follow-up to 2007’s Sworn To The DarkLoud Online got thoughtful mainman Erik Danielsson on the phone to talk about when he feels black metal as a whole went awry, the completion of the new album, his love of death, taking part in the world’s shortest metal press conference recently and more.

Q: Hello Erik, what’s new in the Watain camp?

Erik Danielsson: Well, we are up to a lot of… we are mostly rehearsing actually. We’re doing festivals here in Europe all summer. So yeah, like every day is rehearsals and interviews and so on. It’s a busy period, but it’s going really well, so no complaints there.

Q: Lawless Darkness has been out for a few weeks now – what has the reception been like that you’ve noticed?

Erik Danielsson: I always say to myself, “fuck it, I won’t read a single review, I will just be happy with the way it turned out”. But this time around it’s actually been impossible, because the response has been quite overwhelming. So no, it’s been great, it’s been unlike anything we could imagine. It’s been very well-received and especially, I mean, the press is one thing, that’s just one journalist’s point of view. The reviews have been great, but especially the reception from the fans and especially the concerts we’ve done so far, we can really see that something is really going on here with the album. People are going fucking insane, so that’s perfect, perfect.

Q: The tagline the band used prior to the release of the album was “the return of black metal”. Did you fear a substantial backlash from fans, critics and even other bands with such a bold statement like that?

Erik Danielsson: (Laughs) We always do. We’ve always been a bold band and that’s who we are, you know? To me, it would be strange to perform this kind of music with this kind of message that we have without being bold. I never understood these shy people, who are like hiding behind some kind of image instead of just putting out their true intentions. We always did that and this time around, what we meant with that statement was simply this; that black metal as a genre has for far too long a time been something that has been defined as a thing of the past, you know? I mean, people are always referring to Bathory, Mayhem, Hellhammer and so on which are great bands, they are the originators. But at some point, there has to be someone to take their place. It happened in every other genre except for black metal. So at some point, either (this happens) or the scene withers and dies due to constant repetition and stagnation… Or there will be bands like Watain and a few others who are our contemporaries that are actually willing and ready to take this to the next level and to actually make black metal something that is here and now and not just a thing of the past. That is what we mean, that this is the return in that sense. There is no more looking back; there is no more reveling in past glories. We have to look forward and we have to take this genre where it belongs.

Q: At what point in history do you feel that black metal as a whole did go awry?

Erik Danielsson: It’s hard to refer to a specific point. I think it’s been like a downward spiral, you know? In the beginning there was this huge explosion with, first of all with Venom and Bathory and Celtic Frost and bands like that in the early days. But it seems like it always sort of went downwards. There’s never been that push of energy, there’s never been that explosive feeling really around black metal, except for maybe what happened in Scandinavia around the early 90s. But even that… I think it has a lot to do with people constantly feel(ing) overshadowed by that first black metal explosion and they think that will always be the glory days. To me, I find it hard to think about it like that, because then you… if you think like that you distance yourself from the real heart of the genre. And you consider yourself as something that is outside, that is not linked to the heart of the genre, when we in fact consider Watain to be just as important for black metal as those bands were in the past. There has to be bands taking an old master’s place and that is what we are aiming to do. We owe that to black metal.

Q: I believe you’ve said this in the past, that too many black metal bands today have just blindly followed convention and retracing what others have done in the past.

Erik Danielsson: Yeah, there’s nothing wrong with respecting the roots. Watain is a very traditional band in many ways. To me, that’s a great thing, that’s always been important in metal in general. But what I mean is more the… I’m not necessarily talking about bringing the music itself to new places; metal is metal, that’s one thing. But I’m talking about to not look upon your own work within your black metal band as something that is just a mirror of what someone else has done in the past. Watain is a mirror of our hearts and that is why it becomes black metal, it’s just… people have to be more honest with themselves. That’s the main thing, there’s far too little genuine artistry in black metal, there’s far too little vision and that’s a bit sad to me, because black metal is a genre based upon these things, or should be at least.

Q: Who are some of the other newer bands you believe are legitimately seeking to push the genre forward?

Erik Danielsson: There will be always be bands that share our mindset. Otherwise this music style would have been dead a long time ago. Out of our contemporaries, not necessarily only speaking about the black metal genre, but extreme metal in general. Nowadays, I would probably mention Repugnant from Sweden, which is a very great band. Vomitor from Australia is another band that really manages to bring this forward and make things feel pure and genuine again, honest again, which I really appreciate. Destroyer 666 is another great example. I could probably go on; I don’t mean to say that nowadays extreme metal is shit, that’s not what I mean. It’s just that emphasis should be put on honesty and on the genuine will of the artist to create, not to recreate or to copy. That is what I am trying to say; this genre needs new, fresh artistic blood.

Q: Interesting. On to the new album – ‘Waters Of Ain’ is one of the most vicious and blasphemous songs you’ve written thus far. What was the inspiration for that track?

Erik Danielsson: It came from years and years and years of a relationship that I had with the greatest love of my life, which is death. And I never really approached the topic of death in my lyrics, at least not that obviously before. Because I felt I needed more time and more experience to actually approach it. But ‘Waters of Ain’ is my first attempt to express my love towards death and departure in general and to try to sum up my feelings for it. That is I think also why it became so special, that song, because it took me so long to work with the subject and to finally approach it lyrically and musically.

Q: The title track is an instrumental – tell me about how that came together?

Erik Danielsson: Well, the title track is one of those songs that were written during the whole course of time when we wrote the album. We started with some of the parts of that song right after we did Swarm… or actually even before I think and we finished it in the studio. It’s one of those songs that just been with us during the whole composition process. Which is a special thing, because it sort of encompasses everything on the album in that sense. The reason why we left it instrumental was because the title ‘Lawless Darkness’, is meant to describe something that can’t really be described with words. We didn’t want to limit the conception of the listener about that specific title with a lyric. You see what I’m saying; for us, it meant more to keep the song instrumental because we didn’t want to put words on ‘Lawless Darkness’, it was just too immense of a topic for us to approach lyrically. We prefer to keep it wordless, just as ‘Lawless Darkness’ is wordless in its reality.

Q: I definitely detect some non-metal influences on this album, as well as influences of more traditional bands such as Judas Priest. Was this a conscious thing?

Erik Danielsson: Yeah, definitely. Watain has always been a filter. We as persons will always be the filter through which the energy of Watain flows. Everything that exists in this filter is down to us, the members, we’ll of course colour the final outcome. So yeah, you’ll hear everything from Judas Priest to Rainbow to Mayhem to Bathory. That’s the kind of shit we listen to and that’s probably, a lot of that would probably come through in the music as well, which I’m really happy for. I myself am not a very big fan of this typical, blast-beat Marduk kind of black metal. I enjoy it to a certain extent, but I think in my heart I’m more of a heavy metal fan, you know?

Q: Indeed. Now, I was reading a few days ago about the environment in which the band lives writes and practices its music and I understand it’s quite a desolate, isolated environment. Can you tell us more about that?

Erik Danielsson: I think if you want to express something as powerful, dynamic and chaotic as black metal, then you need to have experienced these things. To me, that’s a must. Experience always comes first, it always has to come first. I would feel very strange to write a love song if I would never have been in love, if you see what I’m saying. So it’s a strange life we lead I guess here, people would call it. But I don’t really think about it; to me, life is always is always a battle, you just go on and I am lucky to have Watain as a tool of expression. It’s where I sort of dump all that energy into. The place where we compose and so on is the Watain headquarters here in Stockholm and it’s a special place, you know? The walls breathe in there and the air is thick, it’s a special place.

Q: With regard to live performances, how do you approach those and are there any rituals the band engages in before you take the stage?

Erik Danielsson: Well, what people don’t seem to really understand is that the concert itself is what is the ritual. Of course you try to get in a certain mood before the concert takes place and to sort of leave the regular world behind. But the ritual itself, or the ceremony itself is what is happening on-stage. And that is something very, very powerful, very special. Unfortunately we haven’t been able to make it over to Australia yet, but I really look forward to bringing it there, because all the friends that I have from Australia, that I’ve met in Europe and so on, judging from them and their outlook on things I think it would do very well over there somehow. Because a Watain live concert has this very primal, raw aspect to it that I think would fit very well on an Australian tour. All the time when I think about Australia and metal, I always think about like Bestial Warlust and Sadistik Exekution and those kinds of bands. That really makes me think that we should really head over there some day and join in the madness.

Q: What are the band’s touring plans for this record?

Erik Danielsson: Well, they’re quite vast. We’re doing Europe first in September together with Destroyer 666, who are actually from Australia, as you may know. Then we’ll head over to the USA in November and after that we’re working on right now for South America and Australia, but there’s nothing really confirmed yet. I’d keep that in the Twilight Zone for now (laughs). But the aim is definitely to reach as far and wide as possible. There’s a lot of fire to be lit.

Q: Good to hear. Changing topics, the band made headlines on Blabbermouth last week for taking part in what was supposedly the shortest heavy metal press conference ever at just two minutes. Can you shed some light on how this occurred?

Erik Danielsson: (Laughs) Yeah, the Sweden Rock thing. I think it was just a matter of that, this was like a regular metal/rock festival, there was not really… People I think were not interested in black metal and they had probably heard so much about us already, that when we came in to the press conference, people just turned stiff, you know? I don’t know what the fuck it was. But I’m not the kind of person who likes to sit around for five minutes in silence and wait for the motherfuckers to gain enough confidence to ask a question. So we gave them 45 seconds, someone asked a stupid question, I answered it and then we went, “what the fuck?” Aren’t these supposed to be metal people, you know? It was like standing in front of a bunch of shy little schoolgirls.

Q: Final question – any famous last words?

Erik Danielsson: Well, I really hope that with Lawless Darkness we’ll be able to reach a lot of new hearts and souls, especially in Australia, which is a territory that we haven’t really reached out to enough I think in the past. Take your chance and rediscover black metal with this album, because as you will very well experience there is a lot left to discover.