Skinning The Lambs
Since the early 1980s, black metal has held its middle finger pointed toward the sky. The genre evolved from then-new genres like heavy metal and thrash and built upon punk-influenced bands like Bathory and Venom.
Soon after, the second wave of black metal was spawned in the form of bands like Burzum, Emperor and Mayhem. These bands in particular struck a chord with hordes of teenagers, drawn to their cathartic expression and using it as a way to rebel against their Christian upbringings.
Years of media-hyped terror ran rampant throughout many European countries as churches were torched to the ground and murders and suicides were committed in the name of black metal. The plague of black metal spread throughout the world, and quickly became an art form that is both renowned and notorious among metal fans and concerned parents alike.
Black metal as we know it today takes on many forms, sub-genres and styles. Though most contemporary bands deviate from the traditional formula, others not only hold true to their roots, but truly believe that what they are doing is simultaneously an artistic medium, a form of ritual worship and tribute to the lefthand path. The bands have evolved not only visually, but also musically, creating not simply albums full of songs, but music that is packed with symbolism, metaphysical and theological concepts, and artistic purpose.
Sweden’s Watain are one of these bands. Formed in 1998, the band released two demos, an EP and a live album before finally releasing their first full length album, Rabid Death’s Curse two years later. The album put them on the map, and they soon found themselves playing shows with such bands as Rotting Christ, Antaeus, Mutilation and Dark Funeral.
Since then, Watain have only grown more notorious through several more releases, relentless touring and an alliance with an illustrious, yet exclusive, collective, known as Norma Evangelium Diaboli, a label which houses notable and respected bands such as Deathspell Omega and Katharsis. Bands which are part of this fellowship are known not only for their influential approach to black metal music, but also the particular focus that is attributed to their overall artistic display, aurally, visually and otherwise.
It is clear that just as much thought and effort go into the band’s visual aesthetic and lyrical content as their songwriting. “Watain is not limited by the regular band idea where the music is the only thing that matters, our art extends far beyond such shallow thinking. A “band” is far too restricted of a concept to let the fiery horrors of our being roam freely. I’d rather see Watain as a temple of rich artistic expression which has no concrete boundaries in shape or form,” Erik Danielsson (bass, vocals) says.
This expression is apparent upon witnessing their live performances, liner notes, artwork, website, and even logos prominently displayed to represent the band’s purpose. “There is nothing that is done in connection to Watain without a complete etymology behind it; all symbols we take use of have a vast depth beneath them,” Danielsson says. A specific example of this symbolism would be the use of a logo that portrays a fierce wolf on their website and items of merchandise.
“To speak briefly about the exoteric meaning of the wolf-sigil, the wolf’s head is the symbol of the Black Metal Militia, a Watainian presentation of the spiritual war which is fought in Malkuth by each Satanist, something which the wolf corresponds perfectly to. Because the wolf is a nighttime predator of the wilderness, they are feared, but still widely admired in their fierce might. They are typically apex predators in the ecosystems they occupy, which corresponds perfectly to our position in the Black Metal scene as well.”
After being put on hold in 1997 due to a murder conviction, the influential Dissection reformed for a short period in 2004 and two Watain members participated in its rebirth. Sethlans Teitan (live guitar) was officially part of the band, and participated in the creation of their long awaited album Reinkaos, while Erik Danielsson played bass for live sessions and Watain as a whole performed as the opening act for this tour.
“When Jon [Nodtveidt] started to get regular permission to leave jail over weekends, we started to acquaint through Set who was rehearsing with them. We developed a good communication and the offer for the support position on the tour came very naturally.” Because Dissection was a band that shared the same ideas and belief systems as Watain, the bands collaborated successfully in many ways.
“Working with such a hardened, yet charismatic, personality such as Jon’s was extremely inspiring and I developed a lot from that in many ways. I can still sense the thickness of magic in the air and that breathtaking feeling that something monumental was happening. It was a great honor for us to do the tour with Dissection in their most glorious days, and deeply inspirational on many planes. It was by far the best and most powerful tour we’ve ever done,” Danielsson says. Dissection came to a sudden end when frontman Jon Nodtveidt committed suicide on August 16, 2006. He was found in his apartment with a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Watain are infamous for their live shows, which are said to accurately portray the chaos and madness from their recorded works. While much of their performance showcases some of the expected theatrics, none of it is without purpose or reason.
While not everyone will appreciate the experience Watain are working to display, Danielsson assures that it won’t be just another dog and pony show. “The fires of damnation can both illuminate and burn. Those who dare to take part of the performance and open their hearts to let the Devil in or out are in for a transformation, of what kind is for their inner selves to work out. Count on some heavy fucking black metal artillery of a most sinister kind.”
Watain’s devotion to their beliefs and artistic craft are synonymous with each other. Without one, there very well may not be the other,. “Imagine a gospel choir praising Christ, but not believing in one single word. I don’t think they would get that many churches swinging.
Black metal that sends chills down the spine and puts you in a different state of mind does so because the energies are real and come upon you. You cannot create such energy out of a mind as sinister as a white sheet of paper. In order to portray true darkness, you must experience it first,” Danielsson says. With this mindset, there is something to be said about a band such as Watain playing in the state of Utah.
There are a great many similarities between us and Sweden when it comes to the government pulling from the same pockets as the church. “The graves are beginning to open, and no prayer will ever be able to close them shut. I hope the Christians come and try to stop us. They should feel desperate. For just as we, they know that the Devil always prevails.” Watain are performing their black metal ritual at The Urban Lounge on Tuesday, Oct. 14th.
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