Watain CD reviewed by Luc Rodgers

Music Reviews
Watain CD reviewed by Luc Rodgers
Aug 1, 2007, 19:52

Watain - Sworn to the Dark

WATAIN Sworn to the Dark CD

The guitar leaps out, quickly met by bass and drums. You, my friends, have an everyday black metal album on your hands. Oh, the ever-present blast beat that permeates through the basement production. Faster, faster, harder—sometimes it can just be a bad aural fuck. No thought, no love, and no consideration for the partner, the listener. When will enough be enough? When can we move forward but at the same time not forget where we came from? Enter Watain and their third full-length, Sworn to the Dark. Combine crystal clear production, taut musicianship, and hook-driven, memorable parts and you have the future, and past, of pure black metal.

Watain hail from Uppsala, Sweden, which is known for pharmaceutical companies, the oldest Scandinavian university (formed in 1477), and being the last major European city to be christened—a seemingly perfect equation for birthing smart black metal. Nope. Few other bands of note come from Uppsala, which makes Watain's rise to the forefront of the genre that much more notable.

Started in 1998 by Erik Danielsson (vocals/bass), H. Jonsson (drums), and P. Forsberg (guitar), Watain trudged through the underground via tape trading and live shows (nothing new to anyone familiar with the DIY aesthetic of the metal scene) to make their own mark. Sharing the stage with lords of the underworld Dark Funeral, Rotting Christ, and Celtic Frost brought much deserved attention and their take on the genre to a wider audience, fueling the band to move forward and, eventually, to Sworn to the Dark, a release that will surely be remembered as a defining moment for black metal.

The opener, “Legions of the Black Light,” begins with the aforementioned blast beat. The difference is it ends abruptly to lock in the infectious, mid-tempo churning of the guitar and drums. Everything melds together as a perfect vehicle for the dismal, end-is-nigh guttural preaching of Danielsson, whose message comes through as clear as if he's whispering it in your sleeping, bloody ear. Throughout the next cuts, “Satan's Hunger,” “Withershins,” “Storm of the Antichrist,” and “The Light That Burns the Sun,” the groove continues to form a foundation for more blast beats which in turn stop and welcome back the swirling atmosphere of hate; a perfect formula (not to say that it is at all formulaic), especially with the clean, full studio sound, and one that makes each song an epic and, in turn, a memorable, uniform album. It is not until the title track that the ears perk up and realize that you have gone through so many songs with a smile on your face, even as bleak as it is. Yes, the moment the chorus, with the guitar doubling the vocal “melody” and the double bass raping everything in sight, breaks through, the realization happens where this has turned from a great album to a truly ground shaking-statement of not only music, but a mindset of monstrous proportions.

Through the songs “Underneath the Cenotaph,” “The Serpent's Chalice,” “Darkness and Death,” and “Dead But Dreaming,” the feeling remains unchanged. (Each song singular on its own, but in the contrast of an album so magnificent, one can only choose the outstanding in an army of heroes.) The final sermon, “Stellavore,” begins with a male chorus proclaiming an unholy everything as the drums draw you in to what seems like an apex of maddening riffs…but no. This is slow. Stoner slow. Relish this moment—it is the last song, the finale, the final slaughter of the sacrifice. The proclamation is screamed over nothing but empty, pagan air: “God of death/Manifest/God of doom/Move and appear!” Heavens, set the altar alight! Take back the night!

Sworn to the Dark will easily make 2007 top ten lists and for good reason. After nine years of being just a black metal band, Watain has become THE black metal band. So much so that those on the fence with the genre (it's “too lo-fi,” “cheesy, what with all the face paint”) will and must embrace this as an essential release and one that can be remembered and celebrated for what it is—an important snapshot of the ongoing history of metal. [Southern Lord under license from Season of Mist]

-Luc Rodgers

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