As we grow older, we become more concerned with our roots—be they discolored hairs or the places where we came from. We often see our past in who we are becoming: those moments of horror when you realize you did something one of our parents would do, or the moment of joy when you cook a family favorite meal all on your own. Roots are inescapable, even when we try to stray from them. That’s certainly the case for legendary Swedish firebrands Watain, who have been carrying the flag for making emphatic, impassioned black metal since their beginning 20 years ago.
After experimenting with more atmospheric and progressive paths, their sixth album, Trident Wolf Eclipse—released in January via Century Media—explores the experience of reconnecting with your roots. However, this is no morose contemplation on the identity of the self. Watain were more interested in capturing a rabid, feverish yet efficient display of truly visceral metal—the type of music that radiates the colors of fire and blood.
Vocalist Erik Danielsson discusses the band’s recent work, what led to this shift back to more aggressive pastures, and the album’s message of empowerment.
The record has this very feral, aggressive, fiery, and ancient feel—the wolf is a good touchstone. How are you feeling about the album finally being released?
I’m—excited would be a word I could use. I don’t use it often, but why not? It feels very good. I think it’s a feeling at each album’s completion, if this is the last thing that I do in my entire life—you feel kind of drained, [but that] is just a sign that you’ve given everything, yet again. It’s a positive sign. It’s a struggle to deal with that feeling for too long, but now, it’s starting to transfer into something more empowering. It’s nothing new; this kind of post-recording trauma has been there for every album, I think, and it’s a very liberating feeling when it’s dissolving into something more positive.
After the varied vocal attack of the last full-length, 2013’s The Wild Hunt, were you eager to just scream again?
[Laughs] I liked singing as well, but that was for that album. We were pretty determined from the start to make an album that went straight for the jugular, something that was quite predatory and ferocious, pretty hostile. We were quite sure about that from the start, and I guess that had to do quite a bit with the nature of The Wild Hunt. Obviously, it was an album of quite epic proportions, you could say. It took a long while to tell the entire story. Once we were done with that, we felt like it was time to move on, and we were really fucking eager to create something that was very straight to the point and stripped-down.
Where did you draw inspiration from? This record sounds like an ode to your roots and feels like you’re taking a knife and cutting the listener up, bit by bit.
Like always, once we’re ready to begin the creative process, we’ve always made a big deal out of really making sure that all the doors to the outside world are shut and all the bonds are cut to anything else other than what’s actually at the core of the band, so to [speak]. I think we tried to use Watain itself and our past and all of own experiences as a wellspring of inspiration.
At the same time, when you talk about the musical part, part of Watain will always be an ode to the black metal tradition and the masters we grew up with. Sound-wise, Trident Wolf Eclipse is the album where that is the most obvious. It’s really a tribute, like in the production, to early ‘90s bands and albums. We were actually listening to early Dismember albums and a lot of old South American stuff, like the first albums on Cogumelo Records, who put out the first Sarcófago albums and stuff like that.
It was cool to experiment more with the more hostile and predatory side of Watain, in contrast to The Wild Hunt, which was more introspective and reflective, almost a bit melancholy. It was cool to have a change of pace, to experiment more with the beast within.
This record is more focused, like you’re on the offensive from the start; it’s less sprawling and more to-the-point.
Yeah, and I like that. We’ve been talking about doing something like this for years, way before The Wild Hunt. We were saying that, at some point, we have to go all the way with that kind of mindset and take it into a creative process for an album and run with it.
Was some of this direction influenced by playing The Wild Hunt live?
I think from the second we started playing [shows] for The Wild Hunt, that’s the way we felt: that the live shows for that album were mostly based on some of our most savage material, I would say, and maybe two songs from The Wild Hunt.
You’re onto something there, because the live setting, in general, has been extremely formative in how we see and experience Watain as members of the band. It’s weird to think about, but I’ve been in the studio six times in my entire life recording an album with Watain, and I’ve been onstage several hundred times. It’s only quite natural that this savage live aspect makes its way into the music later as well. That’s part of why Trident Wolf Eclipse became something aching for the energy of when we perform live, which is quite a violent and disastrous matter [laughs].
Given all that’s going on here in the States and in your homeland of Sweden, do you have any thoughts on the current political climate?
We’ve always made very clear that we don’t allow for any political matters that belong more to Western society, in general, to be any part of Watain. That’s part of our expression: to step outside of all of that, to create something beyond. We’ve always had, “fuck the world” as one of our mottos [laughs], and now, people are starting to realize why. The way things are going, it’s not that strange that you would want to turn your back to it and make something worthwhile yourself instead.
We formed this band when we were 16 years old, and, to a great extent, it was to provide a substitute for the world we were living in then. Growing up in Western society, we were not particularly interested in what that had to offer. We wanted to explore wilder and more unpredictable things. Watain, to a great extent, was made to create a place where we ourselves make our own rules and where we could live out our dreams independently and in a liberated fashion, not having to take into consideration everything around us. I think that’s what kept Watain wild and free; it maintained an energy in the band that often gets lost if you’re too attached to values of the world around you and the ethics and moral codes that everyone tries to push on you. If you make up your own mind about things and stick to that and have people around you who back you up and stick to that, things are going to remain interesting for quite a long fucking time.
That push for independence radiates from the record. This is a vitriolic listen, for sure. Was there any message you wanted to convey with this album?
You don’t really go back to your roots if you never really left them. I think a lot of that has to do with how we had a strong interest in empowerment on this album. We want you to clench your fist, not bow down, and just hate everything around you. We wanted something that made people fucking stand erect, fucking feel wild and empowered. It’s only natural after coming from an album like The Wild Hunt, which dealt with severe emotional states like sorrow, loss, and the past in general. We felt like we forgot that we were more interested in channeling pure force. We had to look at what it was that made us feel that way and take that into the creative process.
Top photo by James Alvarez