Watain: The Hellbound Interview
By Justin M. Norton
Black metal is now the subject of academic conferences and parody videos. None of this sits well with Watain’s Erik Danielsson. The Swedish band has been one of the few bright spots in recent years for a black metal scene plagued with copycats, derivative artists and mediocre music. Watain got noticed after their 2003 album Casus Luciferi and ascended further with Sworn To the Dark, which many critics called one of the best albums of 2007.
Their live performances are visceral, violent and unpredictable. Danielsson has insisted that black metal isn’t a parlor act but something to be taken seriously and used to channel mysterious, intangible energies. He’s also an ardent fan of the old school who thinks the new generation doesn’t know nearly enough about forebears like Venom, Bathory and Hellhammer.
Watain’s fourth album Lawless Darkness is due from Season of Mist in early June, shortly after Watain makes a headlining appearance at the Maryland Deathfest. “Let’s use (the music’s) potential, explore it deeply,” Danielsson says. “Let’s not play around like it’s a fucking game. It’s not.”
Justin M. Norton: When did you first get interested in metal and then black metal? What drew you to the music when you were younger?
Erik Danielsson: This kind of music attracts people that want to explore the dark , the kinds of things within that want to have an outlet and want to be manifested in reality, in your life. Black metal is one way of letting this side manifest.
Did you always envision that you would start a band?
No. I had far too much respect for what I heard to think I could do it myself. I deeply admired people who played such things and didn’t think I was capable of such things. That’s a way of looking at black metal that has been lost to this generation.
Bathory has always been a strong influence of yours from the beginning…
They were one of the first black metal bands I heard. I heard Under The Sign Of The Black Mark on a tape that was given to me. It changed my life. I was attracted to it immediately because it was one of those bands that managed to create something completely genuine. It was genuine darkness, genuine artistic output. It seemed like there were creatures performing this music , that there was something bigger inside of them performing the music.
That’s how all great art works. Human beings aren’t very interesting. But music can be interesting when it creates a bridge between the human and something much greater, in this case darkness.
Were you always attracted to more extreme forms of musical expression or did you work your way to them after becoming interested in other types of music?
I was always drawn to extreme artistic expression, if you mean people who are extremely sincere and passionate about what they are doing. That’s the only art that ever mattered to me.
Your band name comes from the underground San Francisco black metal band VON. How were you first exposed to their music?
It was in 1996. There was a VON demo on a bootleg. There were like 500 copies. I don’t how I got it or if I read about it. In any case I picked it up . In 1996 I was deep into my (musical) explorations and thought I had experienced everything.
They took it to an even more primal state of expression. That’s as far as human music can go.
Can you tell me about the title Lawless Darkness?
It’s an expression about liberating all bonds. To question everything around you, to break down all barriers that are around you. Some call it salvation and others liberation. Lawlessness can mean liberation.
The promotions for the album say that “black metal will be reborn.” Do you feel that black metal in general has been lacking in spirit and execution?
That’s a leading question, right? (laughs). Just look around you. Look at the beginning with Venom and Bathory and what the old-school artists did. It’s amazing compared to what is being done these days. It could have been so much greater than this constant stream of repetition and boredom. Is that really the result of the great work of these old masters?
That’s what we’re here to prove. We have a legacy to uphold. It’s time to take back what’s ours and show people this is how it’s meant to be, this is how it should be done. Enough playing around, enough fooling around. We’re tired of it. Let’s do something real and take this a step further. It’s a bit sad. The scene is proudly worn on tee-shirts. But people are doing nothing.
I remember growing up it was different, you had to work hard to find underground music, now anything is easily accessible on the Internet and through social media…
It’s strange. So much of metal was about this gang-like feeling. That you were part of something special that no one knew about, a brotherhood and a dark secret. It just cannot exist in the same sense anymore.
The first time I heard Venom, it was when a friend played a tape of “Black Metal” to me over the telephone…
Music back then could be lethal, it was pure fucking aggression. I don’t know how things turned out the way they did. So instead of whining we’re doing something about it.
What was the leap or the progression you wanted to make with this record from Sworn To The Dark?
There was never anything that organized. We let things happen. But there is an obvious progression.
The most important thing is that we’ve grown as artists. We’re able to express ourselves completely and freely without any restrictions. Before we might have let external influences define us. The main inspiration for Lawless Darkness was Watain. We’re a band, a brotherhood, and there is so much coming from these inward forces we don’t need much else.
All of the artwork and the aesthetics of Watain seem to be based around medieval representations and concepts of the devil – is that the case?
It just turned out that way. The modern world doesn’t offer that much that interests me. Most of what I’ve read was done before the 19th century. The most radical artists weren’t modern artists.
Can you tell me more about the limited box set you are offering that comes wrapped in leather and includes personally designed Tarot cards and a black candle?
We wanted to do something special for the release. We figured we have a big name now, why not use it? We wanted people to have a ritualistic listening experience. It’s not meant to be a ‘cool’ thing. It’s meant for people to have a more deep experience. It’s nothing to brag to your friends about and say “yeah, I sat down and listened to the Watain album.” I want people to have a special experience.
Your live performances are a big component of experiencing Watain – what do you do to prepare before you play a live show?
I don’t need to prepare. When I focus on our music something happens. There’s a profound transformation. It may sound like mumbo jumbo to most people. But there’s nothing that prepares you for the transformation except to let it come.
Can you tell me more about the Bathory tribute show you will be playing in Sweden this June?
We figured there would be so many young people, so wanted to incorporate a little bit of history. Thus was born the idea. While we educate unenlightened youngsters we will also pay homage to one of our main artistic inspirations.
What is your ultimate goal for Watain’s music?
To transcend all barriers between music and the power where music comes from. That’s our artistic process, to have a channel for the pure primordial force that drives Watain.
Lawless Darkness will be released in Canada on June 15th via Season Of Mist