Album Title: The Agony And Ecstasy Of Watain
Label: Nuclear Blast
Date of Release: 29 April 2022
Welcome to another thrilling instalment of ‘bands that Matt knows about but has, for one reason or another, never really gelled with’. It’s thrilling, I tell you, thrilling. Anyhow, the band to be discussed today, is none other than Swedish black metal band Watain. In spite of my love of black metal, this is one of those entities that has never lit the flame to ignite a fire in my belly. I’m hoping that album number seven from Watain will be the catalyst for a change.
Entitled ‘The Agony And Ecstasy of Watain’, I initially wondered whether this was a ‘best of’ or a live album. But, on closer inspection, it most definitely is not; this is a studio album full of original material and that means that I can dive deeply into it and offer a review.
And dive deeply I certainly have, listening intently for some time. And, for the most part, it has been an intent listen because of enjoyment, rather than obligation. That’s always a good sign, and I’d say that ‘The Agony And Ecstasy Of Watain’ might just be album to bring me fully on board with the band finally. The album still sounds like Watain, but there are strong links to bands like Dissection and Emperor within the compositions, not that this is any way a bad thing, because I love the music those bands produced.
A word on the band themselves would be useful at this juncture, because ‘The Agony And Ecstasy Of Watain’ is the first record since the band’s inception in 1998 that has been recorded live with a full line-up. Normally the creation of a trio formed of P. Forsberg, E. Danielsson, and H. Jonsson, Watain are joined this time in the studio by A. Lillo, H. Eriksson, and E. Forcas. Personally, I think that this has paid dividends on the final offering, because this sounds like it’s the most well-rounded, aggressive, and powerful collection of songs from the Swedes in a very long time, possibly ever as far as I’m concerned.
What’s also very interesting, is the way that Watain are able to mix up the pace on this record, allowing an all-out frenzied attack to follow or be followed by something much more measured in tempo, thus allowing more by way of atmosphere into the music.
The faster material features those well-known and well-loved fast-picked, staccato riffs, blastbeats, and savage vocals from Danielsson, as ably demonstrated in one of the later tracks on the album, the well-named ‘Funeral Winter’. It’s a blistering black metal assault featuring cold, scything riffs from the guitar duo of P. Forsberg and H. Eriksson that send a chill down the spine. The drumming is a relentless barrage of power from E. Forcas, backed up by bassist A. Lillo, although the mix does mean that he goes missing a little when the music is at it’s most frenetic. There’s even a chance for some dark atmosphere to creep in, thanks to a short-lived moment of creepy, eerie calm that halts the onslaught momentarily.
The opening track, Ecstasies In Night Infinite’ is another exercise in all-out aggression and venomous intent, beginning the album in a blood-and-thunder manner. It contains all of the savagery referenced above, but with added maniacal power thanks to some wailing lead guitar work that genuinely threatens to spiral out of control at any moment. There’s also some subtle melody at play beneath the tumult that gets more pronounced and effective with repeated listens.
That said, if I was asked to choose, I’d say that my favourite material on this record occurs when the accelerator pedal is lifted a little. It’s not an awful lot slower overall, but ‘The Howling’ features periods where melody and groove enter the fray to really wonderful effect. It’s here and within the riffing found on ‘Leper’s Grace’ that I hear those Dissection references most keenly. I have a definite soft spot for flamboyant musicianship too, so to hear the various drum fills, furious bass, and a myriad other small ingredients, is something I very much enjoy.
It’s within tracks like ‘Serimosa’ and ‘We Remain’ where the pace is deliberately slowed, and in so doing, the atmosphere is palpably increased through the judicious use of synths unless my ears are deceiving me. In the case of the former, it has a pronounced stomp that has an inexorability about it, as well as a very dark countenance that allows vocalist E. Danielsson to take centre stage somewhat whilst the music churns malevolently alongside. The latter sees not one but two guest vocal performances, as it features Farida Lemouchi (Molasses, ex-The Devil’s Blood), and Gottfrid Åman (PÅGÅ, ex-In Solitude). Musically, it has a much more pronounced doom vibe to it, easily the slowest song on the album, but no less impactful for it. The disconcerting sounds that flit around the edges only adds to the evil atmosphere that’s created, whilst the melodic aspect that emerges just after the halfway mark is incredibly powerful, complete with clean guitars and ethereal choral voices, begging repeated listens which I duly undertake.
For all that, I would have to say that, currently, the song ‘Before The Cataclysm’ is my personal favourite. I like the heaviness and power that the song brings, plus the tempo gets the head moving in some kind of cult-like unison. The song moves smoothly between a measured mid-tempo and bursts of speed, whilst the melodies that are introduced later on are out of the top drawer too, bringing another element to the table that I find rather irresistible. But it is a genuinely close-run thing as there are plenty of great songs here as I have hopefully got across within this review.
You know what they say, seventh time is a charm! At the seventh attempt, Watain have delivered an album that I can get on board with fully. They say in their press release that ‘our work is a celebration of the chaotic, the sublime, the sacred, the insane and of the triumphant ecstasy of the free spirit.’ Fair enough gentlemen, but you have also made some great black metal music on this album along the way, and that’s what I find most important at the end of the day.
The Score of Much Metal: 90%
Check out my other 2022 reviews here:
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: