Interviews > Watain
WATAIN
Interview by Athena Schaffer

Watain’s fourth studio release, Lawless Darkness, is truly a Black Metal masterpiece! It’s as primal as a force of Nature, and just as both beautiful and dangerous! The album throughout stirs the very soul, awakening the Dark Side inside. The Crowgrrl highly recommends this album! It has instantly become one of my personal favorites.

Hailing from Sweden, Watain is: vocalist/bassist Erik Danielsson, drummer Hakan Jonsson, and guitarist Pelle Forsberg (although their joined on the live stage by guitarist Davide Totaro and bassist Alvaro Lillo). The dark ceremony that is Lawless Darkness has spawned 2 different versions of the single Reaping Death – one is a picture-disc vinyl version with a cover of “Chains of Death” by Death SS, a cd digipak featuring a cover of Bathory’s “Return to Darkness and Evil”.

The band has of course been touring in support of the album – including an appearance at the Sweden Rock Festival where they also performed a tribute to Bathory; a CD Release Party in London where Von – an American Black Metal band whose recording Watain inspired these Swedes to use the title as their own moniker – made a very rare appearance indeed, their first since 1992! And although Watain will be bringing their Hellfire to American soil for a full scale tour in November and December, they made a special appearance last Memorial Day weekend at the Maryland Deathfest.

About the latter appearance, Erik commented, “Back from the States now, still with blisters and bruises from the victorious storm unleashed at Maryland Deathfest. Hail to the legions of Watain supporters who came out to partake in our performance; you have truly grown in number and dedication! We very much look forward to a return for a full-scale onslaught later this year.”

The Crowgrrl caught up with Erik right before the album’s release and the start of the tour.

I’m really excited about this album! I’m loving it! And there’s a lot of exciting things going on with Watain right now, with the festivals like Sweden Rock?!

Yeah! Maryland Death Fest will be our first, and that will be our One-Off thing – our “wake up call” to show people things are beginning to happen. Then we’re heading back to Europe for two months of festivals.

Is Maryland Death Fest going to be your only U.S. appearance? Or are you coming back to tour after the festival season?

We are definitely coming back after the festival season. It’s a bit of a shame because we were supposed to have news of that today, but apparently there are some T’s that need to be crossed, so we’re waiting for the final confirmations to learn something. There will be something really cool for November, actually, but we’re just waiting for the final confirmation. I guess you’ll get the news as soon as it’s confirmed.

Definitely keep me posted on that! Why did you choose "Reaping Death" as your first single rather than the title track?

There were various reasons. I think it was most of all a gut-feeling. We wanted to do a single release before the album like bands used to do in the past. We wanted one that was like a warning that soon things are going to happen. "Reaping Death" felt like a natural first strike. It was everyone’s first choice, actually. It just came to be.

The album in itself is a very epic album. The reason why we chose "Reaping Death" is perhaps it’s the most straight-forward song. We wanted to reach people in their hearts right away.

OK. Are you doing a video for it?

There have been talks about it, but I’m careful with these kinds of things. Things like DVD’s and videos, it feels a bit like people just do them because you’re supposed to do them. The day that we do a DVD or video will be when we have a completely f*cking killer idea on how to do it. But if we don’t have that, then there’s no reason to do one, really. Everything has to have an artistic reason. That would be the only reason that would be valid to do a video for me.

So far we’ve had our focus other where. We’re more focused on the artwork and the album and everything else. We’re working on Watain every day, 24 hours. We haven’t had time to think about a video.

Back to "Reaping Death", the vinyl has the cover for "Chains of Death" by Death SS, and the CD has a Bathory song, "Return of Darkness and Evil". How did you choose those instead of one of your own?

The thing was that we wanted to use only one new song for the single because we didn’t want to spoil too much of the album, you know?! We had been talking about doing a Death SS cover for a long time because they’re such a forgotten band, this old Italian band. They’re a band who has gotten far too little attention in my opinion from the world of Metal. That was one reason, and also because the song is pretty different. The original version of the song is like a Seventies “Thrill Me” Rock Song. We wanted to have a bit of a challenge instead of just picking something close to a Watain song. That’s how it came to be, that Death SS cover. I think it came out really good, in fact.

The reason why we did the Bathory cover – the CD single was not originally planned to be at all. We just intended to do this vinyl release, but then Sweden Rock Magazine, the biggest Metal magazine in Sweden, got in touch and asked us if we wanted to do a single with them to come along with the magazine. We figured it was a great way to reach out to a lot of unexpecting little souls that hadn’t been facing Watain yet. It turned out to be a great success.

We wanted to keep the vinyl version of it special still. So we chose to do another cover for the CD that was chained to Bathory because we’re doing the Sweden Rock Festival – the festival of the magazine – where we’re doing a Bathory tribute set. They wanted to make a reference to that show, and also pay homage to one of the main musical inspirations of Watain.

Right! So the Bathory tribute show you’re doing at Sweden Rock, are you just going to be doing Bathory songs or your own songs or what?

It’s going to be a 90-minute set consisting of the first half which will be Watain, and the second half will be Bathory songs.

Totally cool!

Yeah! We’re really looking forward to this! This is going to be a great f*cking lesson in Black Metal Madness, including a little bit of history!

Exactly! Are you going to be filming that? I’m sure all of your fans everywhere would love to see that!

I’m sure they would, but that’s what plane tickets are for. Seriously, I don’t think it’s right for people sitting home on their couch eating popcorn and looking at Watain. These things mean a lot to me because the Live experience should not be a faked one! It should be a feeling of almost being uncomfortable, you know? It should be unpredictable. In front of a TV is not where anything could happen.

I’ve never been a fan of these music videos. In the beginning for a band like Pink Floyd or one of these great bands that film concerts that work well in that small screen context, sure. But for us, I’m not sure. I’m not convinced. I don’t think it’s the proper format for us.

We are always filming all of our shows for ourselves. So one day if we decide to do one, we have a lot of material to choose from.

That would definitely be special for the Watainiacs!

Absolutely!

The London show is special, too! You’re appearing with Von!

That’s right. Well, what can I say?! We were sitting in the studio talking about the proper way to celebrate the release of Lawless Darkness, and we all agreed it would be good to do a concert instead of a pointless release party where people just get drunk and stupid and don’t even pay attention to why they are there.

So we wanted to make a legendary concert. All of us agreed that of course we should have Von on the bill because that is where we got our name from. You understand that they are completely vital in the history of Metal, but they’ve almost never played live since the 1990’s. We thought it was impossible! Well, you know, the Devil always wins. So it’s going to be a very special thing.

Yeah! That will be the first time they’ve played since ’92, isn’t it?!

Yeah, something like that. I mean, they haven’t even existed as a band since then. So it’s very exclusive – the one and only show they will do as the band Von. That alone makes it very special! It’s the band reunion for just this one show.

That’s very cool!

Definitely! It’s hard for me to grasp! This is such a big thing for all of us in Watain and in our lives as well. It’s very special but also like something very fitting to do.

Now, back to the album. I want to get more in depth into some of the songs – like Malfeator. That song is both dangerous and gorgeous at the same time.

"That’s exactly how it should be!

OK…is there something special behind the writing of that song?

There’s something special behind the writing of all of Watain’s songs I would say. To me, the songs in themselves are so abstract; that’s the way of me to communicate what I feel about the songs is the songs themselves. It’s hard for me to talk about them.

Musically that song shows a clear progress into sort-of a musical liberation for Watain because we’ve explored much more of our traditional Heavy Metal roots in that song which allows for a broader spectrum of emotions to be expressed – because within the contents of what people feel is traditional Black Metal – the hanging blast beats and the shrill vocals. We are forced to look beyond that in order to express the totality of Satan. It demands these heavy metal attributes as well.

Just like you said, this song is gorgeous. That’s a strange word for me to use, but it Is because Satan is beautiful. The Dark Side is one place where people like me don’t suffer. It’s a place where my heart belongs. It’s my paradise. It fills me with a feeling of great joy and a victorious feeling. That’s something that I want to put forth often in music.

I don’t go around whining about things that don’t need to be whined about. Watain is first and foremost a celebration about the forces behind the band, not a declaration of war. That is Watain. That is the consequence of my love for the enemy that other people make war against.

I definitely understand. That’s one of the reasons why I love this album so much. Especially "Four Thrones" – that’s pure celebration of the Elemental Princes!

Absolutely! That’s something I’ve had in mind to express for a long time. Those kind of things mean so much to me that it took me a long time to be able to put that forth. But I think with that song we managed. I don’t know. The hair on my arms stand up when I think about it. For me, it’s a very fortunate song and it’s charged with years of practice and emotion for the Kings for which it is written.

It’s definitely inspirational! It goes right to the heart! Now, "Wolf’s Curse" – my dogs came running to the computer to listen to that one! It’s primal enough where even animals can feel the instinct behind it.

Well, that’s a good thing. I’d rather play music for animals than for humans to be honest. I have more respect for them, to be completely honest. But absolutely – if it works like that, it’s great! That has reached the goal because Watain’s music is not meant to be superficial. It’s not meant to be even human. It’s supposed to talk to things that lay on a deeper level. If dogs can hear it, great!

Yeah, it reached them on a primal level! They sat in front of the computer wagging their tails.

Yeah, it was written with the mind of one of their kin, you know?! The wolf is not just an animal of nature. It’s also a part within some human beings that needs to be expressed. Wolf’s Curse is exactly the expression of the wolfish side of Watain.

Yeah! I thought it was very lycanthropic – very Werewolf.

Absolutely! That is also the main theme of the song, of course. It is the song on the album that is most obviously written about the very nature of the band itself and the brotherhood we have become. The wolf is also used as our “member feel” that we all use a lot. The wolf symbolism is pretty universal, I think.

Yeah. I love that song! Now, the title track is pure Chilling – it sends shivers down the spine.

We kept it instrumental because the things it’s trying to express goes beyond my ability to put into words. That’s why we kept it instrumental. We preferred to have it wordless and just have the force that it is about. The Lawless Darkness is also an essence that’s wordless, shapeless and obviously lawless.

To me, a song with that name can go so many different ways. To me, I think it’s our personal – what this song expresses is our view at that point in time of how we apprehended our salvation, our perception of lawless darkness. For some reason it turned out just like you said – it’s a rather mellow song but I would also say it’s a very solemn song. To me it’s a very serious song in that sense, almost something to meditate to, to really descend into. This is something great for me personally to bring something like that forth. To me it’s a great achievement, absolutely.

"Hymn To Qayin" – most people don’t know about that entity, Lilith’s brother. But the song itself is both wild and majestic at the same time.

People refer to it as the song that sounds most traditionally Watain, and I can sort-of agree with that musically. The lyric was written by my brother, and it’s a deeper delving into the myth of the biblical Cain, the father of those who walk the path of lawlessness, which is also the path of Satan. This is a very central theme on the album, along with what the song "Reaping Death" in a way centers around. But "Hymn To Qayin" delves more into the esoteric aspects of this myth which is worked a lot with in a certain Magickal Order. This is the expression of their way of working with this myth. It is extremely inspiring to me, and it’s led me into a lot of new very strong insights.

Yeah! That’s definitely a very deep and very majestic song.

Yes. That’s its lyrical content, and what also makes me very proud is that when I read that lyric – when you think about it, the kind of thoughts that are expressed about the myth of Qayin in this lyric have actually never been expressed before publically in any forum that I know of. The myth of Qayin and its esoteric aspects that the lyrics speak about have never been expressed in this way, at least in Metal in any form as far as I know. It makes me proud to bring him forth in a musical context. That is a great honor!

Very well done. Kudos! So how does the songwriting process work for Watain? Do the lyrics come first? Does the music come first? How does the whole process work for you guys? Do you have a pattern or just go on instinct?

Watain, I would say, is very not patterned that way. It is much more an organic force of creativity that is not really bound or limited by any schedule or pattern like that. Some of the songs on the album took 3 years to write, others took 3 days. It’s hard for me to grasp, because it’s not only me at work in the composition process. It’s not only Watain at work, it’s the forces behind Watain that work through us. They do not allow any kind of control on the creative process. They work in their own way. We’re just proud to be their messengers just like every true artist has been a messenger of something greater than themselves.

Very profound! Do you have a personal favorite song on the new album?

I would probably say the song that right now means the most to me is the last song, "The Waters of Ain". Which is – well, to me is the most powerful piece of music that I’ve been involved with myself. I think that in a way that if I died today I would be very much satisfied with my musical career by having written that song. By my standards, that means a lot!

That is a mesmerizing song. It’s like a journey into the inkiest darkness.

Yes, and for me it deals with very profound subjects. It deals with the totality of Life on Earth, and the ending of it especially. These things, some people have a tough time talking about it because maybe it doesn’t mean so much for them. But for me that is a force that is with me every day. It’s a thing I have to work with every day of my life. Just like the song’s subject, it took me quite a long time to approach because I knew it would take so much of me artistically to be able to put forth, that we managed. Somehow we managed! That song was one of the songs that only took 3 days to write from beginning to end. To me, that’s extremely fast. That’s including the lyrics and everything.

It’s a beautiful song. Absolutely beautiful! Now, what about the cover art? Were you guys involved? How did it come about?

That’s also something that’s very important to Watain – everything artistic that has to do with the band; be it shirt designs or stage props or lyrics or interviews which we also see as an artistic expression, and especially the artwork of the albums – we have to be involved in all of these things. They have to come from us because otherwise it would be very strange to let someone else do a Watain cover without our input. So what happened was we had a pretty definite idea of what we wanted the cover artwork to be and what we wanted it to represent. We found an extremely skilled artist that in turn had great respect for what we did in Watain. So that collaboration was what was behind the final artwork on the album. One of the ideas came from us while the execution itself came from an artist.

It’s very, very detailed!

Yeah, and it was one of 15 illustrations for the whole album. The album itself contained one illustration for each of the songs. So we put out an equal amount of focus and energy into artwork and energy. The end results are all equal in their value.

Awesome! Are you going to post any of the other artwork up on your website?

No. I’m getting tired of all these web things now.

But you’ve got your new merch section and everything!

Yeah, absolutely. And it serves its purpose. But the artwork is meant for the album. It’s not meant to be looked at on a computer screen. I don’t know about all these technical things that come with releasing an album now. I’m a traditional guy. I want to hold the album. I don’t want too much on the internet. That’s for lazy people.

So you’re just using it for a teaser.

I prefer to use it as little as possible. But the label is very interested in us putting up pieces of the album on the web. But I feel if people are interested, they should buy the album. That’s how I grew up listening to music. That’s the only elemental way for me to approach me to approach music.

I know there’s a lot of times where I’ve only heard a snippet of music online and went out and got the album.

Absolutely! That’s the thing that serves its purpose as well. But I would not like to put all the album artwork online or show what the album looks like online. That sort of spoils it for people that actually buy the album. They are the reason why we even released an album in the first place.

OK, I know you’re restricted to a half hour for this talk, although I could talk with you for hours! Is there anything I didn’t ask that you want to tell the Watainiacs?

Well, I would just like to say that the release of Lawless Darkness, we would like to offer our true supporters a serious chance to delve into the heart of Watain, and also become of a part of it themselves. One way of becoming a part of this, is to act in the name of Lawless Darkness as well. I would like to reach out and encourage people that any act of true lawlessness; that any act of true Free Fiery Will should be carried out in the name of the album. It should be celebrated and to join forces. I think that would be a very powerful thing. Not something to brag to your friends about or discuss in the open, but for yourself. Just be silent, be open, but just Do It. In that way we release the process of the Lawless Darkness.