2004, Drakkar Productions
It's difficult not to like Watain, as far as I can tell: they don't present anything overtly offensive to the strictest of puritan underground sensibilities, they're excellent songwriters, their guitarist(s) is/are talented in terms of creating original melodies, the influences they do show when it suits them are of the finest pedigree (Mayhem, Dissection), they have great lyrics, their website it suitably mysterious and/or well-designed, the art they use is in the grand occult black metal tradition, etc. You might ask, "What's not to like?" I can't think of anything, really. I sometimes wish they would show a little more originality, but that's just me, my own tastes...my own obsessions. I would have all bands be trailblazers...
So yes, most critics on and off the internet usually point to the vaunted Dissection influence as if that "critique" somehow delineated and defined Watain and set their abilities within proscribed boundaries which made it easier or more agreeable to digest what they offer. I don't know that it does. For the most part I just think this is a blind reaction on the part of most self-made "experts" who try to define musical groups based purely on their geographic location. Luckily for them Watain reside in the same country as Jon Nodveidt and are "friendly" with death metal bands (right now they are embarking on a tour with Kaamos)...in their songs they do show a melodic sensibility and expressiveness that references Dissection, but I wouldn't ever compare them to that band or say (as one one ridiculous review I read would have one believe) that they have finally "transcended their main influence". No, in the past as well as the present metal (especially black metal) has always been an art form where contemporary artists build upon what has come before. Metal is very, very conservative in this respect - innovations and "revolutions" in aesthetics mainly come about as a sort of instinctive reaction to one's influences, and these prior forebears then appear as a latent virus or communicative medium within the new band's melodies...in many respects a lot of the "meaning" in the riffing is simply a reflection on how a band has gained a position where they can reflect on what has come before...react to it, comment on it, use it to build something new as a response. Where is the "transcendence"? I don't know. That seems to imply that there is a concrete standard or limit within the aesthetic realm...as if there was a goal or summit of melodic skill which all musicians within the field were struggling towards as a crowning achievement. I just don't believe that. The only real "success" that I would grant musicians is their refined ability to express, as close as they are able to, something resembling a totality of aesthetic desire...coming nearer and nearer to creating, within reality, the music they hear in their heads, the musical ideals they want to bring into being.
This is just an enjoyable album. The first three songs in particular are just extremely well-written and expertly constructed assemblages of atmospheric, evocative, brooding melodies, with the opener "Devil's Blood" and successor "Black Salvation" (as close as this band might ever come to writing a perfect black metal song) particularly effective. There is a maturity of instrumental prowess and songwriting flexibility on display here which places Watain in the top rank of black metal bands across the world, in my humble opinion. As an admirer of this genre and a writer who often tries (and fails) to adequately express my high regard for the best musicians in the art form, I can only point to a random series of ranked superlative adjectives and ask you to apply them yourself to this music. Say whatever you want about it, just listen to this beautiful album and "support" this band...because they are still trying to create complex, evocative, enrapturing, viably creative music of the highest quality in this time of stagnation and doubt, and the hard work, enthusiasm, and joy in the genre's bracing potential that comes through here is refreshing to the listener and commendable in its own right. This is easily one of the best black metal albums of the year.