Watain – “The Child Must Die” (Stereogum Premiere)

Like many Scandinavian black metal bands, Sweden’s Watain seem to be held to a standard of spiritual integrity several degrees more extreme than their North American counterparts. That’s why, I think, the band is so committed to preserving their extramusical image: They’re probably best known for their stage show, which famously includes unwashed clothing, animal carcasses, and blood. (They’re probably second-best known for the knee-buckling stench that fills the room when they play.) “People still seem to think that we are some kind of freak show that thrives upon shock value and taboos,” Watain frontman Erik Danielsson told Brandon back in 2010. “I laugh scornfully at such misinterpretations. The blood we use on stage is a magical link; we anoint ourselves in it in order to commune with the powers which are the wellspring of Watain’s work.”

Scornful laughter aside, the intense focus on that aspect of Watain often necessarily keeps the band’s actual music somewhere in the background. Danielsson seems most comfortable discussing his craft in terms of its spiritual aspirations, even though doing so often amplifies (rather than diminishing) its freak-show/shock-value elements. That’s a shame, because based only on the music, Watain’s artistic ambitions are massive. In last month’s Black Market, I compared Watain to Metallica, and that comparison feels increasingly apt as I spend more time with Watain’s new album, The Wild Hunt. In fact, if you were to put Watain’s catalog alongside Metallica’s, you’d notice an almost eerie mirroring effect: 2000 debut Rabid Death’s Curse is Watain’s Kill ‘Em All; 2003’s Casus Luciferi is their Ride The Lightning; 2007’s Sworn To The Dark is their Master Of Puppets; and 2010’s Lawless Darkness is their …And Justice For All. Which makes Watain’s forthcoming fifth LP, The Wild Hunt, their “Black Album,” and the similarities are striking: The Wild Hunt is Watain’s most straightforward collection, their most traditional rock-based collection; it’s also a tremendous leap, from the lofty, daunting — and perhaps inaccessible — peaks previously scaled by the band into a wide, deep, very big pond. The Wild Hunt has two songs on which Danielsson employs “clean” vocals (a first for Watain), at least one of which might be called a “power ballad” — that would be “They Rode On,” which can very reasonably be compared to “The Unforgiven,” “Wherever I May Roam,” or “Nothing Else Matters.” Perhaps, then, “The Child Must Die” — which we’ve got for you to hear today — is Watain’s “Don’t Tread On Me”: a song that captures much of the band’s old intensity and spirit, but presents it in a more polished, aerodynamic body. Listen and let me know what you think.

The Wild Hunt Tracklist:

01 “Night Vision”
02 “De Profundis”
03 “Black Flames March”
04 “All That May Bleed”
05 “The Child Must Die”
06 “They Rode On”
07 “Sleepless Evil”
08 “The Wild Hunt”
09 “Outlaw”
10 “Ignem Veni Mittere”
11 “Holocaust Dawn”

The Wild Hunt is out 8/20 via Century Media.

Tags: Watain