Watain’s Sworn To The Dark was my favorite album of 2007. The trio’s followup Lawless Darkness is a different black metal monster that hasn’t hit me as immediately or as totally. I’m not really complaining — We’re talking an 8.5 instead of a 10. There are more than enough of those great, always surprisingly catchy riffs and huge dynamics. Erik Danielsson’s tortured/choking vocals are still floating maniacally in a swirling, dense, bleak atmosphere. But it does feature a few shifts: You’ll discover more spaciousness (it’s not as unrelentingly claustrophobic), more psychedelic/expressive guitar solos, and — to name a specific — a 14-minute atmospheric album-closing epic that includes guest vocals from Fields Of The Nephilim’s Carl McCoy. As far as other outsiders, Pete Helmkamp, who I just interviewed re: his new project Kerasphorus, wrote the lyrics for “Total Funeral.” (If you recall, Angelcorpse played with Watain on the 2007 Sworn tour.) The Swedes are currently planning some US shows for a Lawless Darkness tour Danielsson says will be confirmed soon. Last time through people fixated on the animal blood they brought with them. Personally, I’m more into their war paint application. As I wrote in ’07:
The one Watain visual I’ve always enjoyed is the smeary, fucked-up corpse paint: Instead of the ivory glisten of some of their Norwegian counterparts and fellow countrymen, the bloody Satanic black metallers smear the stuff in an almost ad hoc fashion, making vocalist/bassist Erik Danielsson look every bit more like a drowned zombie rat. The added ambiance of blood is always an appreciated touch, but Watain’s Sworn to the Dark, one of the most impressive records of the year doesn’t need extras: It may very well be the best straight-up, older-school black metal of its sorts in years…
Last week, when I asked Danielsson if the bloodthirsty could expect more of the theatrics people fixated on last time (and boy did they fixate), he made sure to let me know this isn’t some Immortal-style KISS worship:
Questions like these show that people still seem to think that we are some kind of freak show that thrives upon chock value and taboos. 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 Watains work. There is no need for massive amounts of blood. No, it is time for people to wake up. You take this far too lightly, we are not here to be crazy, throw blood and schock people. We leave that for the rest of the “black metal scene.” No. We are the Devil’s emissaries, and we have come to do his work.
We discussed that work, among other things.
STEREOGUM: I like the album’s promotional catchphrase: “On Jun 7, black metal will be reborn.” What’s your take on the current black metal landscape? Do you think it needs a rebirth? It’s in an interesting place — more popularity than ever; bands are experimenting and screwing around with templates, etc. Though there is less genre “purity,” if that sort of things matters to a someone.
ERIK DANIELSSON: The mere thought of that “purity” –- which I equal to honesty and dignity — would not matter to someone into art as integrity-based as Black Metal (should be), pisses me off. And that is exactly why this genre deserves to be ripped up by the roots and replanted in more fertile ground. And the blood of the impure shall water the new plant of malformation, and ever upwards yonder shall it rise to crucify the very fundament of paradise…
STEREOGUM: What’s the idea behind Lawless Darkness? You’ve said, “The title symbolises the unbound chaotic potential of that which is void of light.” You see light as something that “shapes and restricts” and which the “forces of law and order” need to “uphold their reign.”
ED: The idea of Lawless Darkness is based upon the thought that light is a impulse of restriction and definition. Darkness, in turn, is the absence of light, and therefore the absence of the same restrictions. Note that Darkness in this context is also used as a spiritual and archetypal concept, not only the physical absence of light during, for example, night-time. The darkness that we refer to is the primordial wellspring of Chaos that is the abode of our gods, and unto which their children, the bloodline of fire, shall return.
STEREOGUM: How does someone achieve an absence of light, this darkness beyond illusion? What are those winding paths?
ED: As it is above, so it is below. Therefore, the same primordial darkness is reflected here in this filthy world as lawlessness, natural disasters, white-eyed panic, horror, bestial lust, passionate art, acts of true Will and to take a closer example that in a way binds all of these things together; in a band like Watain, and in all our work.
STEREOGUM: Did you work closely with Zbigniew M. Bielak on the cover art? (see below) The Ten Commandments in flame? The idea of “Malfeitor”?
ED: Yes, we sent him our detailed directives and he let them manifest through his most skilled hand and blessed ink. The concept behind Malfeitor is that of the transformation from the I into the Other. The judgment of the crossroads. Lawless becoming…
STEREOGUM: The story of Cain and Abel comes up in “Reaping Death” (posted below) and “Hymn to Qayin.” Anywhere else? What attracts you to it? When the “Reaping Death” single came out, I saw your reference to “the firstborn Murdere” and Cain’s “transformation from a slave of creation to a Lord of Uncreation.”
ED: Qayin was the first one to break the laws of god within creation as we know it. He is the first criminal, and the first one to act by his own free, Satanic will! This myth represents the spark of divine rebellion and opposition carried by his children; the bloodline of Cain. There is great depth in this myth and great wisdom, the lyrics that deal with it are results of mine and Sets –who wrote Hymn to Qayin — exploring and working with it.
STEREOGUM: Also, I’m guessing it’s in “Waters Of Ain”? Musically, that’s an interesting moment for the band. How did you approach writing it? It’s Watain in a calmer mode — those solos at the 11+ minute mark, etc. It’s less claustrophobic, more triumphant.
ED: “Waters Of Ain” is a very personal song and to me maybe the highlight of all of Watain’s work this far. It’s broad spectrum of emotion is a result of the theme of the song; the departure from life (very simply put). Naturally, such an epic subject demands a wider facet of expression than a song that is perhaps more narrow in it’s lyrical content.
STEREOGUM: There are more open-feeling solos throughout the record. Also, the nature/crickets at beginning of “Wolves Curse”
ED: Well there is a lot of variation on the whole album, and this is because we did not want to limit ourselves to the expected. Lawless Darkness is not an album made out of external rules and regulations, rather the opposite. Art is one of the few realms in this filthy world where the freedom of expression still exists, and we aim to take full use of that. To the misfortune of many a civilized human, as well as the black metal purists.
STEREOGUM: For all Lawless Darkness’s heady concepts, why’d you make the title track instrumental?
ED: The song is without lyric in the same sense that the primordial darkness beyond illusion is without shape, form, word and definition. There are things that should not be put into words.
STEREOGUM: Is the album a thematic continuation of Sworn To The Dark, or are these just your regular concerns?
ED: There is no intentional link between Sworn To The Dark and Lawless Darkness thematically, no, other than that it is written by the same people and with the same intention; the exploration, glorification and adoration of Satan.
STEREOGUM: Sworn To The Dark was a big success: It crossed over, reached new ears. Did this at all affect your approach to Lawless Darkness?
Lawless Darkness is out 6/7 via Season Of Mist. Here’s the previously mentioned lead track, “Reaping Death.”