The Agony and Ecstasy of Watain, yet again, breaks new ground. A significant turn away from their previous endeavor, the unrelentingly aggressive and merciless, Trident Wolf Eclipse, this newest record explores lots of new rhythms and demonstrates a different character of legerity. As a complete record, it's nothing like you've heard before from the band, yet, at the same time, it is most distinctively still Watain.
First, we have to talk about those primally addictive rhythms on this record, from the brilliant first single, "The Howling" to the absolutely breathtaking "Before the Cataclysm," all the way through the masterful closer "Septentrion" (not to be confused with the new Abbath song just released with the same name). Watain explores new movement, flow and pattern in their songs as a dominant theme. They do this, however, while still being as raw and unremitting as ever.
These songs are multi-layered and the listener is required to unwrap them in a manner that is still very accessible. "Septentrion" is a primary example of this. It features the band's signature tremolo guitars, though at more restrained speed, interspersed with a number of hooks at just the right moment. In fact, this is some of the best guitar work I've heard from Pelle Forsberg in his storied career and I love how his guitar is so prominent in the mix. As I listen to this song and all it's sounds, I imagine just how much effort and craft when into the songwriting. I get that same feeling when I hear the brilliant 7+ minute long "Before the Cataclysm" where the bass and guitars come together at just the right moment to provide the low end behind the chorus that you hear right before the higher-pitched tremolo lead takes control. That's the type of musicianship that puts Watain in the genre's upper echelon.
Along these same lines, "Serimosa" is a desolate song with the big sound that packs both power and emotion with appropriate nuance. It is signature Watain with this signature lyric about the world's demise:
"And thus again the fields were sown
And scattered seeds replanted
And so the devil is reborn
Again and again and again
To fuck the world
Till flames reaches heaven high
To shine on the worlds ending
To dance at the worlds ending
To shine upon the world's end"
"Black Cunt" not only features a song title that you might expect on a Danzig record, it features a very distinct and prominent use of pinch harmonics that's straight out of the John Christ (original Danzig guitarist) playbook. This particular track introduces a number of strategic rests and time changes that we've never really heard in a Watain song before.
If there's any one song that's going to remind fans of the more "classic" Watain sound it's the penultimate track on the record, "Funeral Winter," which uses a lot of familiar sounds and themes as the band busts through a short and tight unrelenting old school banger. It also features a massive crescendo at the end that blasts so cold you'll be whacked right back to Uppsala circa 2001.
While all ten songs were written by the founders of the band (Erik Danielsson, Hakan Jonsson and Pelle Forsberg), this is the first Watain record to be recorded with a the lineup completed by Alvaro Lillo (Undercraft) on bass, H. Eriksson on second guitar and E. Forcas on drums. Watain pushes all of its members here and also brings onboard vocalist Farida Lemouchi (ex-The Devil's Blood, currently in Molasses and Gott) for a duet with Danielsson entitled "We Remain." This song really blends together the sounds of Watain with that of The Devil's Blood in a manner that's going to bring you back to the short-lived splendor of when Farida and her brother Selim were mesmerizing crowds across Europe with their unique brand of satanic hard rock. The band channels Selim on guitar in this track and you feel his presence as you engage with it. Just like the mesmerizing "They Rode On" from The Wild Hunt, "We Remain" stays with you long after you've listened to it. It is a full composition that is larger than its parts and it's entirely unique. I wasn't at all expecting something like this.
Similar to the The Wild Hunt, all the songs on this record are carefully placed in a specific order that helps maximize affect and introspection. There's a great deal of depth to this record. While it still contains a significant helping of the raw emotion we've come to expect with Watain, there is a carefully woven texture of diverse sounds that blend multiple guitars and vocals in manner that you won't ever forget. While some will likely criticize the record for it's diverse array of sounds that has clearly evolved from their early years, there is little doubt that history will view this record as one of their greatest triumphs. A brilliant record from beginning to end.