Watain is a band that leaves few people indifferent. Even among those who love the more extreme branches of heavy metal, there are those who see Watain as a dangerous and even poisonous force in the metal scene, a label that Watain are more than happy to embrace. And if my previous interview with Erik Danielsson, the band’s frontman, is any indication, they are not afraid to show it.
Still enjoying the success of their critically acclaimed 2010 album, “Lawless Darkness”, Watain are getting ready to expel their venom once again, in the form of “The Wild Hunt“, to be released next month by Century Media, in what promises to be one of the most important metal events of the year.
As it happened before, Erik and I had long conversation in which, although we discussed the topic of this amazing upcoming album, we also continued digging into the dark caves of the world of Watain.
You have been warned.
Read our review of “The Wild Hunt” here!
Metal comes from a place that is honest and filled with passion and fire
MB: Hi Erik, great talking to you! How are you doing today?
Erik: I’m fucking exhausted, but I’m still pretty OK [laughs]
MB: I can imagine! You’ve been doing interviews all day, right?
E: Yeah, but I don’t mind; I’m still at a point in which it is interesting to talk about the album but, yeah, you get a little pain in the brain [laughs]
MB: When I got the offer for the interview I saw that you have at least half of the week completely devoted to interviews, so I feel sorry for you!
E: Nah, fuck it, I like to talk about Watain and if people want to put it in their magazines it’s even better.
MB: Last year we had a long conversation in Bloodstock, in which we talked a lot about the philosophy and religious aspects of Watain, and it was amazing because, even though it has been almost a year, it is by far the most popular interview we have done (we still get comments and views every single day); clearly people care about what you have to say and, of course, about the band. So, before get into “The Wild Hunt“, I would like to know if there has there ever been a point at which you realized that fans actually saw you as someone who had “something” to say?
E: I try forget about that, because I don’t really like that idea too much. I like to talk about Watain and to explain my views, to a certain extent, but I’m pretty uncomfortable with the idea of people taking those words and making them their own ideas; I was never really comfortable with that. I always encourage people to think for themselves, that’s how you become someone and get to know yourself.
Of course, it is impossible to avoid this; it’s not that I’m concerned with it, but if I’m to be entirely honest, I’m not really comfortable with it either.
MB: With the idea of fans quoting you like “well, as Erik says…”?
E: Yeah, I mean, I like that people read my interviews because they want to know about the band and not because they want to get their own opinions from it. This whole “public figure thing”, to be entirely honest, is weird… fuck, I live in a fucking shed out in a field, in the countryside in the middle of nowhere, just leave me alone! [laughs]
MB: One of the things about which we got the most comments from was your mention of encouraging terrorism in the name of Watain. Do you still hold those views and, most importantly, what would be your reaction if fans actually started taking that seriously?
E: Well, I hope they do, because I don’t like to be taken as something not serious, because that would be a bit of a waste of time, to do things that are not serious. In essence, what’s important for people to know, is that Watain comes from a very dark and backwards place; and there are not that many bands in the history of metal that are ready to acknowledge that about themselves and actually encourage that fact, but we do. By saying that I’m also saying that whenever people take part of Watain, whether they like it or not, they are taking part of that place, a place with energies that are very real and that come into being if they are called upon.
With all that being said, I would take an act committed due to have taken part of Watain, in any sort of way, as a sign of the fact that what I’m saying is true, because that’s how these things manifest; they manifest within our music, they manifest when we play live, but they also manifest in other ways, which is why the history of black metal is a very controversial one, not only filled with great albums, but also with big buildings that are set on fire and with people that lose their lives.
MB: Definitely; there is a great book about it, “Lords of Chaos”, that you’ve probably read, and that covers the whole Varg/Euronymous struggle and the matter of church burnings.
When it comes to the church burnings, I remember an interview with Abbath, from Immortal, in which he says that they were never interested into the whole burning of churches because if you burn a church the government will just build another one. Perhaps they saw it as a futile attempt to change people’s perception on religion…
E: I would like to ask Abbath, whether he also thought that Al-Qaeda’s attack on the World Trade Center was also pointless, because the government would eventually rebuild it. It’s not the act of tearing down a building, that doesn’t matter, what matters is the effect that it has, and the effect that those church burnings had on the people was terrible! People were fucking afraid, they were shitting their pants, because, according to the media, there were a bunch of Satanists burning down churches and murdering people. That’s the outcome, not the wooden building with a cross on it that goes into flames, it’s the message, the iron grip that takes hold around people’s throats. That’s what was important about the church burnings, and that’s what will be important any time a church is set on fire.
MB: Well, that’s the point of, and perhaps you won’t agree with the name, terrorism, in the sense that it doesn’t seek to change governments or systems, but rather to terrorize and to change the way of life of the people. And just like after 9/11 the experience of getting on a plane became a much bigger hassle, with the church burnings perhaps the people then understood, “you attacked our traditions, you destroyed our symbols, now you will face what we faced and nobody will ever be safe again”
E: Yeah; I mean, there were a lot of motives, and a lot of them were probably just juvenile bullshit, but in the end there is always a point in this kind of acts; they always have a bigger effect than just the eradication of a building.
Abbath is, usually, a pretty funny guy, and maybe he was just joking when he said it. If you think that a church burning doesn’t matter because the government will build it up again, then you’re missing the whole point.
MB: I have met Watain fans from all walks of life, some of whom even see themselves as Christians, and who separate your message from your sound. Do you think that it is possible to be a true fan of Watain if, at the same time, you hold such philosophically contrary views?
E: Of course, most definitely! Watain performs music, and if you feel strongly about that music, and even if you feel strongly about the image and what we do onstage, then I guess that makes you a fan, and I will not question that. I appreciate quite a lot of art that I don’t necessarily agree ideologically with; I mean, I’m sure that Albert Gilles, the great coppersmith artist, was a devout Christian, but I still love his work and consider him one of the greatest artists of the modern times. So, of course, you can be a Watain fan and maybe even have a problem with what we say but- well, the only thing that I ask is for people to be aware of the fact that below the music and below the surface there is something else, and that this “something else” is very close and that all you have to do is to dig a little deeper.
I have no problem with a Watain fan not being a Satanist; I would even say that that’s probably the case for 99.9% of our fans anyway.
MB: Would you prefer if your message was to be embraced by the majority of your fans? I mean, back in our Bloodstock interview you mentioned that Watain is a “vessel” of expression so, of course, you are delivering a message through your music, so there must be a part of you that wants this message to be embraced by the listener…
E: Well, I feel a need to translate what I have inside of me, and that’s an urge that every artist feels, an urge to express yourself, to deliver a message that, even if in your head you feel that it can never be translated it still ends up in a song, in a painting or whatever it is you do. The importance of the reception of that artistic message varies from person to person. Of course, I am a little bit dependent of people appreciating what we do, because we perform concerts where we like to have an audience that is active, wild and that lets themselves lose; in that sense I care about the message being absorbed or appreciated, but I don’t ask for people to change their entire lives because of what they hear, but if they do that’s a beautiful thing, and I have no problem with that whatsoever, but I don’t ask that of every one that listens to Watain. All I ask is that they open themselves, absorb whatever it is that we are expressing through our music and then it’s up to them the way in which they relate to it.
MB: Now let’s get into “The Wild Hunt“, the album that will follow your critically acclaimed “Lawless Darkness”. I’ve had the chance to listen to it and, honestly, it sure as hell is a great album.
E: Thank you!
MB: So, for those who are yet to have the opportunity to listen to it, why don’t you tell me a little bit about it?
E: It was an album that came as the result of a long and dark winter. It was a winter of suffering and many moments of introspective self-reflection, of us thinking back and realizing that during this whole journey people around us have died, people around us have vanished and that we are somehow still here and standing proudly. We started to dig very deep into this sort of self-reflecting questions until we reached a kind of divine level of answering them. I would dare to say that this is very much what “The Wild Hunt” is based on, the divine answers to the questions that we asked about ourselves: “Why did we end up here?”, “What made us go on this hunt?”, “What kept us hunting through all these years?”, “Where are we now and where are we going?”. It was extremely fulfilling to write this album while going through such a process of getting to know ourselves in a deeper level, and it lead to this quite fucked up rollercoaster of an album; I would say that, by far, it is the most emotional musical project that we have ever been involved with in terms of how personal and naked it is.
MB: Yes, if you put it side by side with, let’s say, “Casus Luciferi” or “Lawless Darkness”, it does seem to be a more introspective album, more about what went through you and the rest of the band.
E: Yes, to a certain extent; I think that we allowed it to be more that way now, because after 15 years in this band we have kind of erased the line that we used to see clearly before us between ourselves as individuals and the band itself. Before we used to draw a very distinct line between these two parts, we were just vessels in the hands of the energies that drove us onwards, but now, after 15 years, it’s all just one thing, which is what allowed us to have this more individual or personal approach in this album, both in terms of lyrics and music.
MB: I’m sure that Century Media will ask you to do the same, so I’ll try to beat them to the punch; Can you give me a little track-by-track insight on the songs of “The Wild Hunt“?
E:I could, but I am more into the idea of people actually opening the doors to the album with as little pre-conception of it as possible. “The Wild Hunt” is a daring journey through the inmost abyss of Watain, a vast wilderness with many depths and heights and hidden crevices. I recommend everyone to unfasten their seatbelts, open their hearts, and dive straight into it…
MB: Well then, of all the songs that make up “The Wild Hunt” I was very surprised by “They Rode On”, a song that, although I really liked, definitely represents a huge change from what Watain usually delivers, with a much softer and melancholic sound. What motivated you to release this song that, as I said, differs so much from what your usual material is like?
E: I assume that you’re talking about the sound, because it’s not really a change when it comes to atmosphere or lyrical themes (although, in a certain way, it is). For us, honestly, it wasn’t that big of a deal; of course, people usually refer to Watain while mentioning blood, death, fire and chaos, and they’re right, it is very much that, but at the same time there’s also a much more solemn and melancholic side of Watain that, I think, is born out of the fact that we never considered ourselves as anything but strangers in this world. We’ve always had a very solitary approach to our surroundings, and maybe it wasn’t until now, that we’ve gone through this period of self reflection and introspective digging that we were prepared to bring that feeling into the music, and I’m very glad that we did, because it felt like a relief, it felt extremely honest and like something that would provide people with a more solemn platform for understanding the band even deeper. I’m really happy that it’s in the album, because it felt like a relief.
MB: Definitely; I mean when I was listening to the album I was, of course, surprised to notice this change in tempo and sound, but then you pay attention to the lyrics and you realize it’s definitely Watain… and, yeah, it’s a fucking amazing song.
E: Thank you; it has its natural place there.
MB: I understand what you mean when you say that it speaks to this sense of alienation that the band might feel within this world, and if we’re honest, it’s a sense that it’s quite commonplace within the metal community, the alienation that they usually feel.
E: Definitely; alienation is probably not the most uncommon feeling among our kin.
MB: As it happened when I listened to “Lawless Darkness”, I enjoyed the fact that the production of Watain’s music is… “cleaner” than what black metal bands usually do, opting for a “raw” sound, perhaps even underproduced. Burzum is a good example of this, since Varg Vikerness deliberately tried to make everything sound like shit, using the lowest quality tools he could find. Why did you decide to move away from this, sort of speak, “tradition” in black metal and opt for this cleaner (although definitely black metal!) sound?
E: I really like to have our producer [Tore Stjerna], because he’s a very integral part of this process and with whom we have worked since day one. Honestly, we leave a lot to him, because this kind of things are almost too much to have in my mind while I work on the music. We kind of present the songs to him and he sees how it goes during the recording process; of course, during that time we discuss back and forth, but in the end the sound is very much his work, but it’s also influenced with his knowledge of our sound and of what we want to express.
I’m always very happy with the results but, it’s funny, this time around, when we started sending out the promos, we immediately got 4 or 5 e-mails from journalists asking “Are you sure this is the final mix? It sounds very strange, are you sure you put the right version online?”… They can think whatever they want to, because it doesn’t sound like any pop-metal recording [laughs] it is quite extreme but, in a way, clean, which I like.
MB: What were they complaining about?
E: I think that it had to do with the reverb, because sometimes we want to sound like we’re playing our songs while we’re standing in the biggest temple on earth, so maybe some of the people who are maybe more used to, I don’t know, modern sounding metal in general, thought that something was wrong… which I love to hear because, indeed, something is very wrong.
MB: You’ve been in this business for quite a long time now, so you definitely know that… well, fuck magazines, you can’t please everyone.
E: Yes, but that was quite entertaining [laughs]
MB: To actually get an e-mail from some guy asking if it is right? Yeah, I can imagine that being entertaining.
E: Especially when it comes from music journalists, because I guess that before they listened to, I don’t know, the new Amon Amarth album or something, so, of course, they will get a little bit shocked.
MB: I have to ask you about this, since you brought up Amon Amarth, and in our last interview you said something like “If you don’t like us go listen to Amon Amart!”… what’s with you and Amon Amarth?!
E: [Laughs] I think that they represent a shallow and a little fast-food area of modern metal. It’s very easy to get, there’s not much depth, it’s just about melody and aggression and, you know…
I can’t really pinpoint it, but I think that they do things for a very different reason than what we do… they’re welcome to do that anytime, but it’s just weird, I don’t get it, I want a little bit more.. something [laughs].
MB: For you, clearly, metal goes way beyond the sound, being also about the message, about the rebellion within it.
E: I suppose so; it comes from a place that is honest and filled with passion and fucking fire, like Iron Maiden or Slayer in their early days, or Destruction, something that is driven by a genuine urge to just vomit what your heart tells you, and I just don’t get that with Amon Amarth, I just don’t. Maybe they’re great, but I just don’t get it.
MB: If you REALLY want to suffer, you should check out a band called Amaranthe…
E: Yeah, I know about that band, I keep hearing about them all the time, I think that they’re in Universal in Sweden.
MB: Basically, it’s like “Children of Bodom meet the Spice Girls and release an album”
E: [Laughs] I think that I’ve suffered enough this year, but maybe they will be my new example. It feels a bit repetitive to keep doing it with Amon Amarth. [laughs]
MB: The thing is that with Amaranthe… well, it’s like picking really low hanging fruit, there’s nothing anybody can say… I mean, really, they have 0 credibility.
Now, to get back to the album; today I received a press release from Century Media, that mentions the different formats in which “The Wild Hunt” will be available. I was particularly interested in the very limited edition box set, which among other things will include an “altar cloth”. When it comes to this clearly religious item, how much input did you have on its inclusions and what do you expect the fans to do with it?
E: It was my idea, it was going to be a replica of the item that is on the cover of the album. I wanted to make a replica of one of those items, simply because I wanted to hold it in my hands, and I thought that it would be a nice link to the cover. I like the idea of a fan looking at the cloth and thinking “well, what am I going to do with this? Maybe I’ll put it on a table and put a candle on it”; maybe they will experience a little bit of questioning themselves. It’s a bit of a challenge for the people who buy it but, on the other hand, they can wipe their ass with it for all I care, I just wanted it for myself and thought that it would fit nicely in that box… what people do with it is not really my concern, although I would prefer if they all tied it around their eyes and walked blindly into the darkness
MB: So “the tools are here, use them or do whatever the fuck you want with them”
MB: This year marks the 10th anniversary of the release of “Casus Luciferi”, an album that, according to critics, represented a huge step forward for Watain in terms of quality. Do you have anything planned to commemorate this seminal album?
E:We will be too busy working with “The Wild Hunt” to consider things like that. We have been talking about doing something focused on “Casus Luciferi” for a long time though. That album is special indeed and playing those songs, be it in our rehearsal studio or on stage, is something we nourish greatly from still. That album and the years surrounding it release remains a very important part of our history, where the veils between us and the divine forces upon which this band is built grew thinner and became lesser in number.
But in the grand scheme of things, honestly, things such as genre definition mean quite little to me. What matters is that ardent hymns of liberating destruction will continue to echo from and back into the deafening silence of utmost Nothingness.
E: I always hated that despicable tongue in cheeck attitude of people who are incapable of relating to severity and passion. It is such a human thing to laugh about things you are uncomfortable with or can not understand, and I frown upon such laughter. You often get that attitude from the “cool” people, those who live their lives covering up their wounds (if they ever had any), doing anything to hold up their fragile charade-games of being know it all happy campers. You have to suffer, you have to become small to the point of almost eliminating yourself, in order to understand where we come from. I like to talk to people who can respect the fact that we see Watain as something far more than a band, far more than a part of rock n roll, far more than life itself. Watain is our vessel of transcendence, our world outside the world of man. If you are unwilling or unable to accept that, then stay the fuck away. This is enemy ground.