Not few bands have added their bit to the Black Metal scene. Not many bands though have managed to play such a part as Watain. Watain undoubtedly occupy a very special place in the Black Metal scene: they have managed to aquaint and attract a wider audience to Black Metal whilst remaining true and delivering anthems at the same time.
Shortly after Watain’s North American tour in the beginning of 2018, This Is Black Metal Webzine managed to snatch some of Erik Danielsson’s (founding member and lead singer of Watain) time between concerts for an interview, to shed a little more light to Watain’s mastermind’s approach and mentality.
The North American tour being so recent as well as the importance that Watain place on live performances, there was no better starting point for this interview:
This Is Black Metal: Hello Erik, it’s nice talking to you. After the release of your latest offering “Trident Wolf Eclipse” on your North American tour, you opted to focus on a career-spanning set rather than entirely on this new work. How come?
Erik Danielsson: One of the many great things with releasing a new album is to find out what the songs turn into when performed live, and how they blend in with the older material. Adding a song like Nuclear Alchemy in between Devil’s Blood and Malfeitor is a spine chilling experience, as the energies of the songs collide and unify in the midst of the fire and chaos that we surround ourselves with on stage. So rather than focusing only on new material after the release of an album we have always been keen on the new pieces to become a part of our entire body of work.
On a more personal note I can say that when I go to see a band I always enjoy when the setlist spans over their entire history, rather than focusing solely on the present.
TIBM: Your selection of the bands to appear beside you in all your concerts this year (e.g. Degial, Destroyer 666) was applauded. Ideally speaking and not restrained by anything, not even time: if you were to decide on the line-up for what would be the ideal festival for you, which bands (past or present) would you choose to perform beside Watain?
Erik Danielsson: We always try to create tour line ups that make sense and that we feel strongly about, packages that suggest kinship or a mutual respect and understanding between the bands. This is an approach that stands in opposition to the common way of building tour packages which seems to be just randomly piecing bands together based on label agendas and logistic simplicity. Our way of doing things means harder work and a longer process of piecing things together, but I am very content that what we are doing is right although it involves a bit more struggle.
The thought of being able to pick any band from history to perform alongside with is quite overwhelming, I am not really sure how to answer that. There are so many bands that would have fit the bill perfectly when they were in their prime, like early Slayer, Destruction, Mercyful Fate, Misfits, VON, Metallica, Venom etc. I am however extremely grateful to have toured alongside some bands while they were still around, such as Dissection and Celtic Frost which might still be the highlights for me personally as far as tour packages go. Touring with In Solitude and The Devil’s Blood was also very special, that tour marked a very special phase in our history.
TIBM: The release of “Trident Wolf Eclipse” has been highly and widely welcomed as an offering of pure, straight-up Black Metal. Therefore, it is clear that you are moving away from the principles adopted in the ‘Wild Hunt’. How are we to understand this, so to say, ‘turn’?
Erik Danielsson: I have to admit it is quite frustrating to be met with ideas such as us “turning away from principles” just because we have gone through a change of pace or explored other musical directions. Watain does what it does because such is its Will and nothing else will ever dictate the direction in which we venture artistically. Trident Wolf Eclipse reflects the spirit of Watain as it was during the time it was conceived, and that is the case with each of our albums. Our principle, if you will.
Watain – Nuclear Alchemy
TIBM: As you have expressed, “progression is extremely important and, I would say, inevitable for a band like Watain”. How is progression to be detected in your latest offering in view of the fact that ‘Trident Wolf Eclipse’ is said to be closest in character to ‘Casus Luciferi’ and ‘Sworn to the Dark’, albums offered not in the near past?
Erik Danielsson: I don’t really like getting all tangled up in trying to define the nature of progression, the influence that our past has over our work, which albums sounds like which, and so forth. I’ll gladly discuss those kind of subjects when it comes to other albums and bands that I’ve not been a part of myself, but as a member and creative force in Watain I am inclined to focus more on the essence and the spirit of it all, what feels right and what motivates us coming back to that Diabolical source by which we are still so forcefully inspired. But yeah, I would say that unless one is retarded, progression is inevitable when you do something continually from when you are 16 and take it into adulthood and further. The change from explosive teenage angst into the dark and forceful spirit of a grown man is a powerful one, and we are still exploring it. With that in mind, the difference between Casus Luciferi and Trident Wolf Eclipse for me is quite vast. And then again there are as many similarities between those two albums as there are between the person I am today and who I was then. Many things have changed, and many are very much the same.
TIBM: So far, you have released 6 studio full-length albums and 3 live ones. Given the importance you place on your rituals as a multi-dimensional, and eventually full experience, much closer to what Watain are about, should we expect another live recording in the future? What would give you the impulse or avert you from this? What led you to record live in the first place?
Erik Danielsson: Apart from the two old live tapes from the 1990s / early 2000s, the only actual Watain live album is Opus Diaboli, which was done as a part of our 13 Year Anniversary movie with the same name. It was a massive endeavour that eventually turned out quite close to what we had in mind, in spite of it being the first time we worked with both live recording as well as the movie format. I am definitely open for doing something similar again but when and how that would happen is still to be seen. The live line up that we have now is extremely good and I could personally imagine to release a live recording just to have that properly captured and added to our discography. We have recorded many of the shows in the past 10 years or so, but releasing them have never really been a priority, it’s been more for archival purposes or to do smaller runs of cassettes through the Watain Disciples club. Time shall tell… In the mean time I suggest people take the chance and experience the thing first hand, at an actual concert.
TIBM: Symbols and ideas are underlying all your endeavours, creating a solid whole extending beyond just music. Thinking of the release of “Lawless Darkness”, the collector’s edition contained various items to help create – to the extent possible, since a ritual held by Watain cannot be substituted – a full experience, instead of just a listening experience. Prominent item among them was your personal artwork, expressed in the design of 10 tarot cards, one for each song. Personally, I find this approach – if nothing else – commendable. Can we expect anything of the sort in the future?
Erik Danielsson: Those cards were not tarot cards, that was just a clueless misunderstanding by the label. They were just cards which could serve as points of focus while experiencing the album. But yes, I believe those box sets can in fact be made into something relevant instead of just another abundant piece to put in the bookshelf. I’ve always worked quite meticulously with each of them and the latest one for Trident Wolf Eclipse is no exception.
Watain – Malfeitor
TIBM: Philosophical depths are reflected in your lyrics. Which philosopher can you relate to?
Erik Danielsson: I do not consider myself a follower of any specific philosophers, but I do enjoy reading their books. Whether or not I agree or even relate to them is not that important, as long as they provide food for thought. I like to contemplate the ideas of others and draw my own conclusions, rather than blindly following someone else’s. I’ll read anything that is fearless and thoughtful, anything that has massive roots in the deeps.
TIBM: Ever since ancient times, music has been an element of utmost importance, serving as a means to access a different level of consciousness. Is this how you see your music and the rituals of Watain? Can you relate to any other era in history in that regard?
Erik Danielsson: There is always an element of otherworldliness in Watain, undertones that suggest a transcendent quality or a descent into the dark deeps of the soul. My own lifelong fascination with music and Metal in particular is to a great extent based on the notion that it is -or at least can be- a way to break free from the shackles of rationality and causality and enter into different realms, different truths. In Watain we add to this by intentionally working with religious and magical archetypes of a kind that stimulates the presence of the Other and the thinning of the veil that hangs between us and It. I believe that our work with Watain -and that of True Black Metal and sinister music in general- is able to evoke powers of great beauty and even greater horror that bring disruption and ecstasy into the world of man, and because of this quality we also approach it as something sacred, something divine.
Watain – Legions Of The Black Light
TIBM: Black Metal is about the rejection of authority and the downfall of order. How do you envision a society rid of those elements in practice? Do you think ideologies will have a place in that kind of society? How can spirituality survive within such a framework?
Erik Danielsson: As far as I am concerned Black Metal has never been about society or the many ways it is misbuilt and mistreated. Political ideas have always seemed so small and insignificant in comparison to the Great Darkness that feeds the heart of our movement.
Through the years I have met many people from the Black Metal scene who share a great reverence for similar spiritual ideas while the way they envision “the perfect society” or even how they live their lives may differ quite radically from one another. One of the reason for this might be the fact Black Metal has never had any clear leadership since the days of Euronymous, whose own political ideas were as extraordinary and ambivalent as the man himself – as would be expected from a visionaire and artist of such caliber. And thank fuck for that, I would have hated to see Black Metal become a political movement where the lawlessness, violence, crime and madness would have been motivated by anything else than the love for the Devil and the primal urge to express it. Then whether people are anarchists, working class revolutionaries, far left extremists or if they masturbate to hitler speeches is of less significance to me, I am no moral judge and Black Metal does not need me to be one either. What is sure is that this cultural movement by default has potential to attract fanatical people with relatively extreme and controversial ideas, that much has been clear since the beginning. Anyone who believes that is wrong or strange has a very naive conception of Black Metal.
Watain @ Metro Feb 2018
TIBM: You have received various awards so far. If nothing else, the awards in terms of public recognition surely place you in the mainstream. How does this affect the message you are trying to spread to both the Black Metal public and the world in general? How do you see this affecting you personally and as a band?
Erik Danielsson: I don’t see it affecting us at all. I am grateful for the ones we’ve got since I believe they were well earned, but you get them and then you move on to the next thing.
I am sure people read various things into these kind of awards or other form of public/mainstream attention that we have gotten through the years, which in turn might colour their approach to Watain. But then again so does everything we do and i’d like to think that awards play quite a small role in that regard. I don’t know. People have so many opinions about everything and there are so many other things to do in this short life which does not involve figuring out what these opinions are. Meanwhile the stars move fearful and silently across the vast darkness of the firmanent, and the ancient abyss dreams on treacherously beneath our feet…
Watain – Devil’s Blood
TIBM: According to your previous interviews, ever since the beginning Watain were in essence undertaking a mission, among others, on pulling the Black Metal scene away from superficialism. Now, so many years after, how do you think the Black Metal music scene has changed? Do you still think of it as you did years ago, when you stated that “there weren’t really any bands anymore to take things that seriously” (“Black Metal Satanica”)? To what extent do you have a sense of accomplishment to that matter?
Erik Danielsson: When Watain started, the Black Metal bands that were doing things outside of the underground seemed very disney-like and did not seem to have any respect for the origins and traditions of this genre that we cared so deeply for. I am proud to say that throughout the rise of Watain from an underground band into one that is also known in the mainstream, we have always kept our values intact and our vision clear. We never wimped out and we never succumbed to the cries of the masses. These are indeed direct results of taking what we do seriously. Perhaps increasingly so, the longer we do what we do.
TIBM: Finally, I have to ask: What lies ahead for Watain?
Erik Danielsson: We are touring intensely for Trident Wolf Eclipse and aim to keep on doing so until we decide to do something else. Many projects and ideas are waiting for the right time to manifest. Many disasters left to strike, many victories to be won, many nights of madness to survive and and many funerals yet to come…
That being said, nomatter what lies ahead, I personally can’t wait!
Watain – Trident Wolf Eclipse