“I believe in Gods and I’ve seen them take place, I’ve seen them possess people, I’ve seen the Gods at work, and I can’t ever close my eyes to that again”
” They’re fucking assholes”. These are the words that a PR manager from a metal label, who was also present at Bloodstock, chose to describe Watain. Even in this friendly environment, the band finds itself the focus of criticisms and controversy, as has been the rule since they first came into the spotlight.
While Erik Danielsson is known as the singer and frontman of Watain, his role goes beyond the merely artistic, acting as the spiritual leader of the band and the increasingly large legions of Watain fans. He has stated repeatedly that this is not him playing “a part” for shock-value, since for Watain Satanism and the Devil are not there (as it happens with many black metal bands) as decoration, but rather as a real and serious representation of a deep religious fervor that runs deep among the band members.
As a demonstration of their fervor, the live shows of Watain are not referred to as “concerts”, but as “rituals”, true black masses performed by the band as part of the practice of their religion. Still, little is known about the true nature and meaning of these rituals, since the band has remained secretive about them, protecting their religion with the kind of zeal that a Crusader would envy.
Despite being rather small in size, Erik Danielsson has something in him that has the power to make people uneasy. If you watch his interviews, and even though he remains polite and soft-spoken throughout them, you can clearly see when a question bothers him or he finds the interviewer stupid. He does not seem to appreciate jokes (like when someone asked him about his favorite pizza topping) and hates any question that takes his religion or his rituals lightly, particularly those that dwell on the (now annoyingly recurrent) topic of blood and animals.
Watain represents a strange current in heavy metal, namely that of theistic Satanism. The reason why it’s strange is not the fact that they believe and worship (for lack of a better word) the devil (since doing so is as legitimate as any other faith) but the fact that they are openly religious and yet tolerated and even welcomed by metalheads. While the metal culture will quickly dismiss any sort of faith as ridiculous (ask Dave Mustaine, now that he “came out” as a nutty newborn Christian) it will, just as fast, give Satanism a free pass. This is, of course, a bit hypocritical, especially when we consider that the belief in Satan as deity is no different from the belief in Allah, Jesus, Yahweh, Mickey Mouse or whatever religious figure you can name. Perhaps it is that, as part of the mythology that metalheads like to build around themselves, Satanism (and, to a certain extent, Nordic Paganism) can be used as a way to give a “fuck you” to the rest of the world; it’s the ultimate rebellion, the act of choosing “evil” over “goodness” or darkness over light.
To the question of whether Erik Danielsson is crazy, the answer is not simple. If we are to judge him based exclusively on the fact that he believes in Satan as a deity, then no, he is not crazy; he is no different from mainstream Christians, Jews or Muslims, all of whom believe in a God and a Devil, the only difference being that Erik chose to worship the latter and hate the former. If, however, we look beyond his religion and review his behavior, then perhaps it is possible to find a few mental issues there. His misanthropy and open calls for violence, coupled with the fact that he takes “too much enjoyment in other people’s suffering” ( Metal Hammer, issue 234 (Summer 2012), p. 43. Erik mentioned this as evidence that he is not a sociopath) could be interpreted as signs of an underlying problem, although I’m far from qualified to make this assessment.
We would like to thank Erik for taking the time to do this interview, sitting down (on the floor!) with us for about 30 minutes, despite the fact that all the interviews he gave were of no more than 7 minutes in length. While we do not agree with everything he says (and, when it comes to what he “encourages”, we are adamantly opposed to it) he was very polite and willing to open the door into the dark and uncharted world of Watain.
Metal Blast: In an interview made a few years ago you said that you did not want to re-release the “Go fuck your Jewish God” demo and that, in fact, it was meant to have been only circulated in very specific circles. Why do you want to keep it like that?
Erik: Because the demos are shit [laughs]. Something happened before we recorded our first 7”, something really drastic happened in the way we sounded and in the way we looked upon Watain; anything we did before that I look at it like a seed of what we became later. I’m sure that it’s interesting to people; I’m the same, I like to check out the demos of my favorite bands, but for us… to me it doesn’t hold any artistic value. As far as I’m concerned, the 7” was the first official release that we did and I’d like to keep it that way.
Metal Blast: You’ve said that Watain challenges and opposes the mainstream and offers something new. What are you challenging in the mainstream, what are you exactly opposing?
Erik: First of all, it’s not a matter of one thing, to just intentionally oppose something. It’s the just consequence of the way we act, the way we work as artists; it becomes an opposing force to the status quo.
I look around and it doesn’t only apply to the artists world or the music world, but in general. I don’t see much that I like, and looking through history I never really did. Watain is the vessel of the opposer, what the Christians call the Devil, and the Devil has always been the accuser and the opposer, someone who has been questioning the very foundations of society and Creation; that has always been our standpoint, to always question and criticize and bring forth what we think is relevant and beautiful… which in a lot of people’s eyes is something that is very dark and destructive.
MB: Do you use Watain as a way to express yourself or are you also trying to deliver a message.
Erik: First and foremost I would say that it’s almost only as a vessel of expression, as a platform where I can not only express what I feel but also dig deeper into what I regard to be the important things in one’s lives (religion and philosophy are the majority of those). It’s my way of exploring the dark side, really, or one of them, but the main way.
As far as spreading a message goes, to me it’s more like we put something on the table because we feel the need to express and we feel the need to voice our opinions and voice our feelings, give them an actual form, and people will always look upon those forms from different angles, out of their own perspectives… it’s impossible for us to control that. If we were a propaganda band we would have done things differently and we would have been much more distinct with our viewpoints, but it’s never really been about that.
MB: When it comes to a message, in the case of the Devil’s Blood, a band you’re very familiar with, he uses a more “accessible” kind of music to deliver this “satanic message”…
Erik: Yeah, but I don’t think that the reason why the music is more accessible with The Devil’s Blood is that they wanted it to be, but that it’s actually Selim [Lemouchi]‘s way of expressing himself, and that’s the way it comes out. In a way it’s more accessible, but we’re not talking about commercial music.
I don’t know, without trying to sound arrogant, the audience is the last thing we have in mind when we compose.
MB: In an interview you said that, despite the pain in the ass that they may represent, you actually welcome and respect protesters.
MB: Have you ever actually talked with someone who opposed Watain.
Erik: Of course, many times.
MB: What do you feel is the criticism to the band?
Erik: There is something very old and very dark at the heart of Watain. We were born out of something that very few people will ever have a relation to; it has been given many names, one of them is the Devil, which a lot of people can relate to. Many people get very uncomfortable when facing a band that clearly has something that they don’t understand, that they know that it’s bad and they know that it’s dangerous. They get worried and give it all kinds of reasons of strange… they interpret it in many different ways, we’ve even been accused of being Nazis. People are really eager to find what the source is and many times, when they can’t, they get nervous and angry and they don’t like it, and that’s fine. It’s the natural way.
MB: Since you brought it up, regarding the Nazism; I’ve never seen a picture of the band doing that supposed Hitler salute in that one concert…
Erik: [laughs] Me neither!
MB: The first question then would be, was there a salute?
Erik: Not as far as I know! [laughs]
MB: You’ve said that NSBM is ridiculous and actually misses the point of what Black Metal is all about… then why Absurd? Honestly, I don’t know them that much, but they’re supposed to be NSBM…
Erik: I wasn’t aware of that either until some Germans and told me. They are people we have been fighting with side by side in countless occasions at festivals and parties in Europe since the 90s. They’re just very violent and good people that come from the black metal scene of the early 90s, and we got along since the first time we met. To me it’s a great band, I’m sure that they have skinhead fans and nazi fans, but I couldn’t care less.
MB: Although we already discussed the demos, do you think that because of this story releasing “Fuck your Jewish God” would just be a pain?
Erik: I don’t know and I honestly don’t give a fuck.
MB: I know you mean the Judeo-Christian God, but since people get so politically correct they might just go “You’re anti semitic!”.
Erik: Yeah but that’s their problem. Watain is not for people that have a problem with such small and insignificant things.
MB: Some people are just looking for stuff to be offended by.
Erik: Yeah; and if they are offended maybe they are looking at the wrong band, they can simply listen to Amon Amarth, it’s fine. Watain will always be a band that is proud to raise its middle finger towards everything and everyone. And if people cannot take that then it’s the wrong band for them, it’s as easy as that.
MB: You’ve mentioned that you long for the old days of black metal, when it was about sending tapes and letters to each other. Yet, and you clearly deserved it, you won the Grammi in Sweden, showing that nowadays there is a certain entrance of black metal into the mainstream. You stated that it’s good that all the sweat, blood and tears were finally acknowledged, but do you see that it’s a negative thing that people now have access to this once obscure genre?
Erik: If I could push a button and bring everything back to what it was 20 years ago, I would, definitely. But that’s a utopia, it can’t be done. We live in a modern day and age where the cultural climate is different from what it was back then; it’s a pointless thought. I’m a very nostalgic person and these things will always mean a lot to me but, at the same time, I know that it can never be like that again and that’s why we have to take the weapons and the tools that we have and work with them, in the context in which we are now; it’s pointless to look in any other way.
I often get confronted with people who are like “You should stay underground”, but what the fuck is the underground these days anyway? Back then it had a true purpose, it was what the Internet is to people today, but it doesn’t exist in the same sense, and to me it’s a very strange thing to criticize.
MB: Would you prefer to have Watain like it was when it started, namely not known by many people, or do you appreciate or are happy about this.
Erik: Most of my favorite bands are known by many people; Venom, Bathory, Judas Priest and Mercyful Fate, all of them were big bands and they still remained significant and relevant throughout their early years and I never had a problem with that. Back when the underground existed, when we released our first album and our tapes, it was a different climate and that was more important to me than it is now, because I just don’t see it happening anymore.
MB: You’ve spoken, and they clearly deserve it, very highly of bands like Bathory and Dissection; now, even back in the early days of black metal Mayhem’s Dead was talking about how the genre had now become something for poser skateboarding kids. Now, 20 years from that, how do you see the current black metal scene?
Erik: Entirely different from what it was back when he said those things.
Erik: It depends. You’ve had a clear progression when it comes to religious topics within black metal; for example, you have bands that take it much more seriously now than how people did in the past. Satanism must become something that is reserved for the people that really mean it, and people don’t touch upon that subject anymore in the loose sense that they did before, which to me is a very good thing.
At the same time, sure, every time that I see a hipster guy with a Burzum shirt… something inside of me will always want to stab him with a knife in the face, you know? Because that’s how I grew up and that’s how I see things. But, once again, it’s different times now and I don’t wanna be a dreamer, I like to see things for what they are.
MB: Do you consider yourself, maybe because of the satanism and this connection with the occult, rather self-destructive?
Erik: No, not at all. I look around me and see self-destruction everywhere I go, but as far as I’m concerned Satanism to me is about the elevation and the illumination of the self, not the destruction of it.
MB: This is not a joke question… do you believe in God and the Bible?
Erik: I believe in God, yes. The bible is just an interpretation of the reality of God, and it has many flaws and may points that are not based on the idea of God and divinity, but that are based on much more human and political foundation, that I can’t really relate to and that I don’t think have any place in religion whatsoever.
But, I do believe in God, yes.
MB: I’m asking you this because I’m agnostic, I don’t really believe in either, but I’m interested in understanding your points of view. When it comes to Satanism, you clearly have theistic approach to Satan… maybe it’s a silly question, but why? You believe in God, and yet you choose the Devil.
Erik: Because everything in my heart and soul tells me that that’s where I belong, and anyone who has anything in their lives that means a lot to them should be able to relate to that thought. Some people have a family, that means everything to them, some people have their careers, some people have religion. And people who have religion will go through life with guidelines and living by a life code that is very concrete and very all-consuming and to me it means everything and it has for as long as I can remember.
MB: What would you say is the central tenet of your Satanism; we see this mainstream LaVeyan satanists, who are downright ridiculous, that basically follow the Crowley maxim of “Do as thou wilt shall be the whole of thine law”, do what you want as long as you don’t hurt others.
Erik: Crowley had a much more insightful conception of religion and magic than LaVey ever had.
People often talk about energies and a “higher power” in very loose terms; to me that’s hippie bullshit. I believe in Gods and I’ve seen them take place, I’ve seen them possess people, I’ve seen the Gods at work, and I can’t ever close my eyes to that again.
MB: Regarding that because, for instance, we see in the case of The Devil’s Blood that he said the idea started after he had some hallucinations and then he started with the self mutilation, paint the altars with blood, etc. Do you ever think “maybe I’m wrong, maybe this is a mental thing…”. How do you manage to differentiate between genius and madness?
Erik: Doubt is a constant companion of mine, but I see my doubts as an open wound and my conviction as the salt within that wound. They will always be battling with each other and that’s probably a context that most people that devote their lives to a specific form of religion will find themselves in. Sometimes more than others, you go through some facets of life when you doubt more, then you go through phases when you’re entirely convinced. I’ve learned to live with that. I’ve always considered life to be a bit shallow, so there will always be a lot of things that are painful to live with, but thats life.
MB: I believe it was Nietzsche who said that “just a casual stroll through a madhouse shows that faith proves nothing”. And it’s not about Satanism, if I was to talk with my mother, who is a Catholic, and she told me that she had been talking with the Virgin Mary that morning, I’d tell her “Mom, chances are your out of your fucking mind”. So, when it all started for you, did you ever thing, “Maybe I have a problem”.
Erik: I understand what you mean. Well, I can call myself insane as well, but I don’t think that really covers all the aspects of my conception of reality. I think that insanity is based upon something that is not knowing what you want and being possessed by something that you’re not able to deal with properly, and I don’t really consider that my case.
I’m very aware of the powers that rule my life and that rule the Earth and the skies, and I work with them and I know what they’re about.
MB: You refer to your concerts not as “concerts” but as “rituals”, and that the animals are not there for shock value and that they’re actually sacrifices. Unless it’s private , what kind of rituals are these and what is their purpose?
Erik: It is personal.
MB: Where have you had problems, in terms of legality, with the sacrifices?
Erik: I don’t really see much of those issues, we have a crew that deals with that now [laughs]. I’m sure that there are problems pretty much at every concert, because people are never as prepared as they think that they are.
MB: And you try to do this everywhere?
Erik: Yeah… whenever we feel like it.
MB: A few months ago, in Columbus, Ohio, USA, I believe it was the Decibel tour, the venue had to be changed because the owner, a couple of days before the gig realized that all the bands on the bill were a bit “controversial”. Do you usually encounter this problem, namely that people go “you have a message, but I don’t wanna hear it”?
Erik: Yeah but, as I’ve said, I live in the world of Watain and it’s a very small place with very high walls, and I don’t go out of it that much. I don’t really… well, if people wanna come up to me and have a fight, I welcome them from the bottom of my heart. But people who sneak around and call the venues and tell them to cancel the shows, or venues that pull out… to me they are sheep, they’re just weak men who are not even worthy of being called enemies, and I couldn’t care less about them.
MB: Do you consider yourself hateful or violent?
Erik: If I have good enough reasons. But hate is a very precious and energy-consuming feeling and emotion, and I reserve it for when it’s needed.
MB: What would you say is the biggest concern you have right now, what focuses that hate in you?
Erik: I always have a hard time dealing with people that mistake Watain for anything else than our life’s work. When we end up in circumstances like, say, Metal Hammer, for example, you’ll always have people that don’t understand how this can be serious, and that will always concern me a bit, because to me it’s as serious as it will ever get.
MB: What do you mean about this? People question how serious you are because of appearing in such a publication?
Erik: If they see a band in the cover of Metal Hammer they count us in the same league as System of a Down or Cradle of Filth, and we are very different from these bands.
MB: You once said that your live musicians must remain as such, because otherwise it would affect the “divine trinity” of Watain. What did you mean by that?
Erik: It’s a very complex matter, and it’s something that we prefer to keep within the band, but to put it simply, me and the other two guys that form the band have a very special connection that must not be disturbed, while at the same time both Set and Alvaro have been our brothers for as long as they’ve been in the band. It’s quite a complex matter that has a lot of theory and symbolism behind it, but that we reserve for ourselves.
MB: When you’ve covered yourself in blood, didn’t you ever have health concerns about it?
MB: Didn’t you ever get sick?
Erik: Yes, we got sick a bunch of times, but it’s just as our bodies, it’s not as important, in comparison, as who we are.
MB: The goal is more important than the suffering…
Erik: The mind always has to prevail over the body, and that’s what Watain has always been about.
MB: I completely agree; if you have strong convictions it’s all about what you’re willing to do. I’ve always thought that you truly live when you find something worth dying for.
What is the ultimate goal of Watain?
Erik: To be able to pursue this quest for as long as we live, and to not let anyone invade our temple, to keep it clean, to keep it full of dignity until the very day that we’re not here anymore.
MB: One of the criticisms that have been thrown against heavy metal since the very beginning is that it has the potential to make people do bad things. Do you ever fear, or are you ever concerned with it, that a fan may misunderstand this stuff and, just to give you an example (not that you would actually cause this) go to a mall and start shooting people or doing any crazy shit like that.
Erik: That wouldn’t be a misunderstanding, that would be taking things in the very right way, and I totally encourage any kind of terrorist acts committed in the name of Watain, absolutely, that’s the way rock and roll works.
MB:… I have to stop you right here. Are you sure you want that published?
Erik: Yes, sure, absolutely. We’ve always been encouraging music to take a physical form, and that’s what happened in Norway in the early 90’s when churches were burned, and it happened many other times as well. To me it’s the very natural consequence of rock n’ roll, in the end, being the Devil’s music. It consists of energies that, at some point, need to manifest and they will, no matter if people want it or not, they will manifest. (( After the interview we, once again, asked Erik if he was sure about this point, and he repeated it. We contacted Watain’s management to get a reaction and clear the quote, and they informed us that “Erik says he has no problem with the quote.So it´s up to you as a publisher, to decide if you want to publish it or not.” )).
MB: In that case… I understand, like in the case of The Devil’s Blood, if someone wants to sacrifice himself, but isn’t it perhaps selfish to think “let’s just bring down other people”?
Erik: We are talking about lawless darkness, we are not talking about ethics and morals, we are talking about the very reverse side of this world, where no laws exist, where no morals exist, where only the spirit, the fiery spirit of the self prevails, and the fiery spirit of the self listens to no one else but itself.
MB: Now, you said at the beginning that you’re not self-destructive. But is there a destructive philosophy here, like the ultimate chaos in the end, a Götterdamerung kind of thing?
Erik: Destruction is inevitable; you have to devote a very large part of yourself if you’re going on the path that we’re walking.,you have to devote a large part of your life to destroy whatever is around you, whatever is beneath you and whatever is above you, to liberate yourself and to find out who you really are, and that is a very destructive thing.
Satanism is about the disruption and the destruction of the laws of creation, and they will always manifest in very destructive terms, and that’s why metal sounds like it sounds. Metal is not calm music, it’s wild music for wild people who don’t shun any type of sacrifice.
MB: If you say that you’d welcome any kind of terrorist activities in the name of Watain, why not do them yourself?
Erik: I know my role in this world, and I know what I’m here to do, and whatever that may be, only I know, and whatever forms that may take, only I know and only I have control over it. We have only seen the beginning.
MB: Do you consider yourself as a leader in the Satanist community?
Erik: I’m just a simple man, a simple religious man.
MB: What would you say to your fans, the people who really find Watain an important part of their lives, sometimes just musically and sometimes philosophically?
Erik: Open yourselves and let go of everything you know and let go of your egos, let go of the world for a while and let Watain in. See what happens. Take it in deep into your hearts because great things can happen.
MB: Do you see your philosophy as dangerous for the rest of the world?
Erik: Yes. Such is the nature of rock n’ roll.
MB: So the ultimate goal is ultimate destruction?
Erik: No, not at all. I mean, destruction is only a small part of what, in the end is achieving complete liberation. That shattering of all chains, the breaking of any boundary, that is the goal.
MB: If anybody wanted to know more about your Satanic philosophy. What should they read?
Erik: People have to use their own intelligence. Satanism is for the elect, an intellectual and religious elite, and people who are meant to find a way will find the way.