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Album Review: WATAIN The Wild Hunt

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"Maturity" is a polarizing qualifier in the black metal community, straddling as it does notions of both artistic development and selling out, a hitch in the breath of scenic purity. Once the term has been attached to a work sides are already being drawn before a single note of the music has actually been heard… on one side the snipers in their lofty perches waiting to pick off the artist at any sign of weakness, on the other the trench warfare apologists who have already decried the album a masterpiece based entirely on a sense of previously established, almost jingoistic kinship.

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On The Wild Hunt, the first Watain album in three years, the band themselves seem to hedge their bets against such polarity, offering the expected uptempo earth scorchers like "Sleepless Evil" and "De Profundis" here and there but mostly slowing their roll a bit with slower mood pieces ("The Child Must Die", "The Wild Hunt").

The album's centerpiece, "They Rode On" is – at almost nine minutes – the most outre component of a robust 11 track set. A sort of goth-tinged rumination on blackened folk, it works well within the diverse parameters of the album even if it's nothing that a thousand other bands aren't making a full time job out of.

And that's kind of the rule of thumb here: nothing on The Wild Hunt is going to shake your world view of what black metal means, but taken for what it is it's some of the most well crafted material of the type that you'll find, and there's enough diversity present to keep the listener full engaged without getting so far into left field that things start to feel too out of place.

There aren't really any out-and-out missteps throughout The Wild Hunt's 67 minutes, but the grab bag assortment of established BM tropes employed give the album as a whole a sort of pastiche quality… there isn't the sense of game changing innovation found on boundary-pushing albums such as Nachtmystium's Black Meddle set or Liturgy's Aesthetica, but then again those who would poke holes in the authenticity of those records will likely appreciate the fact that Watain mostly color within the lines here, even while employing broad strokes and as many hues as they can cautiously get away with.

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In the end, The Wild Hunt is a really good album that stops short at being great, too exploratory to ignore yet too itinerant to feel fully fleshed out. The elements that work the best are also the most shopworn and predictable while the imperfections, counter-intuitively, make for the ideal building blocks moving forward.

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