words and photos by Stefan Raduta, additional live photos by Steven Brown
Watain LIVE in Chicago during Black Metal Magic 2008
I've said it before and I'll say it again, Sweden's mighty Watain cannot be touched. In a class of their own, they embody the quintessence spirit of what true black metal was always meant to be; I'm talking about what Darkthrone started with A Blaze In The Northern Sky and ended with Panzerfaust.
Beginning with their venomous Rabid Dead Curse exactly ten years ago, this pack of hungry wolves from Uppsala has put a fist in every mouth that took this genre lightly. Casus Luciferi stands as one of the most insanely beautiful black metal pieces of all time, and without a doubt, their Sworn To The Dark can be considered a cornerstone of black metal as magnificent as Mayhem's De Misteriis. Each more crushing and devastating than the other, their recorded output is a volcanic eruption of pure black magic, a magnetic affiliation with the dark, and a spit of contempt against all and everything. This all says nothing of the otherworldly energy they intense rituals created on stage.
On July 8th 2010 they unleash their fourth opus, Lawless Darkness, via Season Of Mist and once more aim to devour every soul standing in their way. It's everything you'd expect it to be; I personally see it as their most epic and heartfelt work so far. Whether the LP is their masterwork is for you to decide, but one thing is sure: it's an impressive and beautiful piece of work.
With Lawless Darkness on the way and Watain's MDF live conjuring this weekend, front man Erik Danielsson, wild child of today's black metal scene, answered a few questions from his Stockholm stronghold. Danielsson's thoughts on the album, satanism, black metal in 2010, and his thoughts on his own death are below...
Erik, the new album doesn't go straight for the jugular like Sworn To The Dark. It seems to build up, gain momentum and then unleash like a beast. It sounds more organic, more vast...definitely more nuanced....what do you think?
I think it's a progression that we always aimed for. Through our music we always want to use all the colors on our palette in order to describe what we are seeing, in order to create this painting of the dark side. It's is big challenge, it's something that takes time; we wanted all our emotions to come across on this one, that's why it's a bit more varied.
Was the writing process different on this one? Did you take more time off to concentrate on this one since expectations were very high?
Not necessarily...the composing process is something very hard to speak about. It's something intimate, we've been writing music constantly. Actually I was surprised that we ended up in the studio ready to record, things have been more chaotic this time around. The thing is, I don't work, I only do Watain. Everything in my life revolves around this band, it is my artistic expression. I don't take weeks off to write music, when it comes to me I just write it... whether I'm designing a t-shirt or putting together a tour, it's all about the band.
With every album, we do everything in our power to create something amazing and memorable. I am very content with how Lawless Darkness turned out. We believe in progress, stagnation is not an option for us.
Watain's Lawless Darkness album art
Bands like Cradle Of Filth or Dimmu Borgir have made a mockery of what black metal really stands for, turning it into cheap entertainment for a naive audience. You once made a statement I really enjoyed in Terrorizer, saying that selling out is "adapting to the preferences of the mass, washing your hands until they are clean and shiny, ready for mass production. Gorgoroth and Dissection have refused to adapt themselves to the will of others. Satyricon stands for rock 'n' roll entertainment, Dissection for Satanism. The first means showbiz, the latter means black metal. I see nothing wrong with being involved in showbiz, but what I just don't understand is who are these bands trying to fool when they claim to still be bonded to the black metal legacy." Is this an opinion that you still hold?
Its definitely not something that I have sleepless nights over. I do find it rather embarrassing, to be mentioned in the same sentence with some of these bands you talk about... it's a bit of a shame, they're pretending to be something they're not. I mean, as an artist, why not be honest, why not be open about your purpose? People want entertainment, and they should have it, I don't have a problem with that. If you write a song about Satanism that's fine too, but why make statements that this is something you yourself stand behind when you really don't, who are you trying to fool? I personally would be embarrassed, it's an insult to themselves more than anything. It's like if I started a punk rock band with a political message just for the hell of it, writing lyrics that mean nothing to me but acted like they did...why would I want to do something like that, wouldn't that make a me a hypocrite? A band like Crass for example, who are political active would have every right not to like me, because they take that very seriously, it's who they are.
You've said that black metal is not the center of your life, Satanism is. What does this word mean to you?
It's the only thing that my heart has ever lead me towards. It's the only way to express what I have inside. I use the term because it's the one thing in this western world that truly expresses antagonism, opposition, spiritual liberation. However it's an image, a force that is present everywhere; if I was to live in Asia for example I'd probably call it Shiva or Kali. It's my religion. Satanism will always be ostracized by masses, and I am very aware that it's not something common, very few people are able to follow it for real. The human heart is not programmed, it's not meant to handle this kind of beckoning inside, it's something that's fitting to few. Even though man's heart always had a yearning for freedom, what I'm speaking of is a total liberation from all laws of society, from all dogmas or reason created by man. It's something that first and foremost begins with the human psyche and not many are able to handle it, few have the courage to really follow their spirit. Why this more important than metal it should be pretty clear by now. Black metal is a way of living this, a means to express this force, and would not exist without it.
Behind all the TV documentaries on Emperor Caligula, Ivan the IVth, Attila The Hun or Elizabeth Bathory, behind the hundreds of biographies written on Joseph Stalin or Adolph Hitler, I see man's continuous and undeniable fascination with evil. We seem to feed on it...
Absolutely, and I think the western society we live in really encourages that kind of attraction towards evil, because it is built on a belief and on an order that is in a way very unnatural, blocking an important part of what lies in man. When something is described as evil in the western civilization, it's based on a Christian idea of evil. I don't believe in a universal humanitarian all-embracing way of looking at things. If these deeds are being carried out by men, then what they are doing is a natural part of man, it's a reflection of who we really are. And as this natural part of man, this destructive side is being blocked by western society, ultimately leaving one with an eagerness, a fascination for it when it is presented as entertainment. There will always be a part of us who actually wants to be these historic figures we read about..
And maybe deep in our subconscious, before most could ever dare to admit, we in fact admire these characters, we envy their immortality...
Of course we envy them because we are not allowed to be them ourselves. We do not dare to go there ourselves, we do not dare to break the chains they set themselves free of. These are people that will always be remembered, those who have broken all manmade laws and succeeded in following their primordial instincts. They are the true opposers, the antagonists, the agents of chaos...they are the ones creating the highs and lows of our history, breaking down structures instead of creating them, they acted like human tides, like human earthquakes.
For a civilization who has achieved the most unthinkable progress, one would think that by now we would have learned to live with each other, to put all race and religious differences aside. But a simple look at everything that's happening in the world, and not only Middle East, everywhere...we don't really want peace on this planet, do we? Where do you think we're heading?
If you look back as far as you can, every great civilization born out of a peaceful environment, a common idea or belief, no matter how great its aspirations and how far it got, sooner or later it has fallen into corruption, fallen into destruction. Just like that but in a much larger scale I see the destruction of mankind. It's sprung from a natural order of things, that reaches an all times high and eventually has to slip more and more into decay. It's just the natural way of things, it's who we are. Of course you will see more wars, more carnage. If you look at the capacity and potential of destruction man has achieved today and make a parallel for example to the atrocities performed by the warlords of Chinese empires going back thousands of years, there's almost no comparison. I mean the things we're prepared to do today, biochemical warfare, atomic bombs that can wipe out entire nations in seconds...it's the only course man can follow.
Some of the images you use in your artwork are reminiscent to masonic symbols... the inverted triangle, the thirteen bones, so on... do you believe in the existence of this shadow government that controls everything?
I believe there is a tyrannical force of a higher order above us all. It doesn't matter if it's called masonry or a secret government. The most important thing to understand is that there will always be a higher force that the one we think we're aware of. As long as you know what's in your heart and you can detach yourself from all this, then you should be ok...I'm here to do what I'm here to do...
Panspermia is a theory of genesis that most scientists today follow, and many are saying that the bible hides more than what meets the eye. Do you also see it as a coded book?
Of course the bible is more than meets the eye, it's a book that has been used to enslave nations. It's a powerful tool, it is holy because man made it holy. It contains a lot of wisdom and I personally learned a lot from the biblical forces. It's something that interests me, I am a spiritual person before being an artist.
Watain's bathroom in Denver during Black Metal Magic 2008
And yet so many black metal bands just deny it without getting involved, without having a clue of what this book is even about... they just settle with the idea that they're anti-religion and that's enough I guess...
Yes of course it is like that! Because how many people who play this music are even remotely interested in spiritual thinking? It is such a shame that all these 'musicians' pretend to be something they're not, claiming to be anti-Christians and mocking the bible when in fact they have no idea of what this book is really about, of what it hides. Yeah I can understand that you're against religion and that book is written by Christians, but if you're not really truly interested in religion or philosophy why act like you are? It would be more honest to sing about beer or soccer, if you're really into that, I'd admire that more.
Do you ever see your own death?
I spend a lot of time contemplating about it. To me Death is something very rewarding, it's a positive force in my life, it has something magical around it. I look forward to discover what's really behind it one day, what forces it contains... it's a great unknown that I am very attracted to
I would expect you're a person who believes in reincarnation
Yes I do, but my conclusions and my beliefs about these kinds of things are very personal and I don't want to share this. What I want to share with the world I try to express these views in my lyrics, the essence of what I believe in is in there...But keep in mind that I don't write lyrics for people to discover who I am, I couldn't care less what people thought of me...but if you read the lyrics and you can relate to them that's what's important
Where do you stand on the use of drugs as a means to experience a higher level of consciousness? Are you a person who is preoccupied with what he puts in his body (men sana in corpore sano) or do you believe in a total attack of the senses in order to experience something else?
Drugs are very much related to magic. The shamanic traditions exist for hundreds of years and they were doing that for a reason. But as far as people taking LSD to experience another reality, to widen their perception I don't know...when you take these drugs you're no longer in control of your mind, the drugs take over and if you're not a strong person, you're fucked. Its not that simple, it takes years of practice. I can not say that I am there yet, I am not against the use of drugs but it's not something that I do, I don't think they're the answer.
I've seen you play live and I really saw you transform, you really live the music like few front men do. Perhaps that's your drug? By playing so intensely and exhausting yourself on stage you get there?
Yes music has effect of a drug, it has the power to transform. It is a way to transcend this reality. Every artist who writes music, when playing live that's what he achieves, that's the power music has. The music is always a link between this reality and something greater. I don't think the drug is the translator, but it's who you're talking to that matters.
Watain at Knitting Factory (by Stefan Raduta)
So you're doing Maryland Death Fest this summer, what then? I know you're raiding Europe this fall with Destroyer 666.
We're touring the US in November, if it works out with a really cool line-up. And yes we're touring Europe with Destroyer 666 in September and October. After MDF we'll pretty much play festivals this summer. We're planning on touring for the next 3 years, this is the reason Watain exists, so we can perform our live ceremonies.
We're approaching the end. Recommend me some Swedish bands that will knock my socks off.
Definitely, I can think of two right now. Ghost and Repugnant. First, a 70's heavy metal with very dark and satanic image...I love them. Repugnant is really amazing death metal in a classical way, with a very vintage sound like early Morbid Angel.
I know you're fascinated with The Devil's Blood. You said they're the only band out there that has the potential of putting Satanism on the cover of Rolling Stone and expose it to the masses...
Right. There aren't any great bands around anymore like Led Zeppelin or The Doors that can really reach out to a wide audience. The Devil's Blood are a superb group, they do have the potential, they play their music so effortlessly. Watain will always be an extreme metal band, we can only get so far, but these guys have it. I grew up listening with The Rolling Stones and Zeppelin from my father, and I really look forward to follow their progress.
Last words to your US fans?
On July 8th Watain will unleash it's Lawless Darkness. All true supporters of Watain and the scene are asked to commit any act of lawlessness in celebration this event.
Watain play the outside stage at Maryland Death Fest on Friday May 28th 2010. Stay tuned for more details on those 2010 US dates.
Thanks to Erik Danielsson, Dave Brenner, and Watain!