Welcome into the world of Watain, where the spiritual essence of the underworld meets instrumental precision. This black metal band from Sweden gained notoriety from their crisp sound powering out heavy messages of death, sacrifice, the underworld and pretty much everything else your parents might question. Following the release of Lawless Darkness in 2010, the newest addition to their discography, The Wild Hunt, was issued Aug. 20, and after decades of touring, Watain are at it once again with a worldwide journey planned for the fall.
While sitting in an open field watching the twilight, lead singer Erik Danielsson reflected on the voyage that has brought Watain to this very moment. With such a vast audience across the globe, it’s a divine connection to the unworldly aspect of his craft that keeps Danielsson going. The singer opened up about why The Wild Hunt might take a more melancholic turn than fans might expect, how their liberal nature has a special connection with their U.S. audience, and how their past has shaped the present for Watain.
So, how does The Wild Hunt build off of your last release, Lawless Darkness?
Well, hard to say. I never really think about it like that to be honest. I never really compare albums like that because for me, they are always completely different entities. They are a direct reflection of what we were at that specific point in time and it’s been three years in between the album—like it’s been between every Watain album—and three years in the world of Watain is 1,000 years on Earth (laughs) and therefore, there’s always a lot of change and there’s always a lot of new ideas and things are always very different, so it’s hard to say really. Lawless Darkness ended with us going out on a very long journey and The Wild Hunt is kind of us looking back on that journey and reflecting upon it.
Was there anything in particular you tried to do differently?
Not in terms of like, “Hey, let’s try doing jazz!” or whatever (laughs) but, I mean, we base all of our songs on emotions and on energies. We always try to translate that as best as we can with our instruments and with lyrics. This was not different this time, but it was of course different kind of emotions and energies we tried to express, and in order to do that, we sort of had to use different methods I suppose than before.
What were some of those methods?
Well, for example, we allowed on this album for a much more melancholic side of Watain to come through and a side that’s always been a very integral part of our band. Like the melancholy of the road and the melancholy of the sensation of wandering through the strange, strange world, and that melancholy found its way into the songs very definitely I would say, and it demands a little bit of a different approach when putting that into musical form because I think most people maybe relate Watain to a very chaotic and violent nature—and that is very correct—but this time around, we chose to focus on different emotions and we tried a much more mellow [approach] on certain songs with cleaner vocals, and some of the songs sound like Dissection than Bathory, I suppose.
You mentioned on your website how performances in your hometown of Uppsala, Sweden, are way more epic than anywhere else. Why is that?
Well, it’s simple, really. You can’t just bring along a full-size temple on the road, but you can bring it from your home into the venue kind of. So it’s really about logistics and being able to, you know, set up a stage for three days instead of three hours and well, it just makes everything a lot easier and allows for more detail and more of everything, really.
What difference do you notice between your U.S. and European audience?
I would say that the American audiences are perhaps a bit more…hmm…spicy in character? You know, you play in front of an audience that has been brought up in an environment that has been quite confined in terms of religious, political and moral codes.
I think Europe is very liberal compared to the U.S. and that gives the U.S. citizen a, I believe, stronger yearning for freedom and independence and Watain at its heart is very much about liberation and about independence and about freedom. In that sense, we have a lot of our audience in the U.S. maybe relate more to our concept and essence than a liberal European spoiled little brat (laughs).
What would you say was one of the more memorable moments last year during your North America Tour?
Well honestly, that whole tour was very, very memorable. I mean, we went on the road for the first time in quite a few years and with bands that we knew by heart just before—band members we considered our brothers and sisters really in solitude—and every night, because of that, every night turned out to be very, very special. We felt very much like a traveling circus group, just going from town to town and meanwhile just making the most out of it and making it as fiery and passionate as possible and yeah, that became a really, really, really fascinating and memorable ride.
Specific moment… Well, I always enjoy arriving in actually the Pacific Northwest; Seattle and Portland have always been very, very important places to me personally. The combination of I think a kind of a Nordic nature and well, people that are just very much like us really, and I think those nights we had up there were some of the most memorable because of the whole atmosphere, and it was just magical.
You guys are kicking off another worldwide tour in the fall. Can we expect a visit to the NY/NJ area?
Definitely, that’s the plan. We are coming back in October and we are actually announcing the dates within a week from now, and I’m really not allowed to say much more than that (laughs), but I can say that it’s going to be an old Swedish tour package this time, which is pretty cool, I think. I think people are going to be excited. I really look forward to finally announcing it. It’s in October, anyway.
As veterans of touring, how do you prepare yourself and keep from burning out? Because that’s a lot of show dates.
Yeah, well, I have a very deeply, spiritual connection to the underworld. For the risk of sounding very dramatic, but I feel…a divine thing really, and to me the preparations are pretty much like preparing for any long spiritual or physical journey. I fast, I work out a lot, I meditate and you know, I align myself with the forces that I am going to be something every night on the road. I always make sure that I am prepared, especially in spirit, because that’s where the most effort will be.
Bringing it back to The Wild Hunt, each track off the album is connected to a certain object. What would you say you connected to on the fourth track, “All That May Bleed?”
Well, actually, I’m a bit reluctant to make those connections because I kind of want the listeners to work that out for themselves. I always like to have that approach to paint these images with deep symbols. Before I reveal any symbols, I want people to make up their own minds first.
Let’s just say “All That May Bleed” is really a song about sacrifice, about the actual act of sacrifice of blood lifting and the smothering of life really for a higher purpose, and it is a song about the suffering of that act as well as the consequences of that act. Well, like I said, I want people to kind of make up their own minds.
We know you have your tour coming up in the fall, but are there any big plans for 2014?
2014! C’mon, it’s only 2013! Give me a break! (Laughs) But really, I think my life right now is kind of hour by hour so I don’t make any plans, but I’m sure our management and label have tons of plans for 2014, but the only thing I know is I’m going to head back into my room and read a book, that’s what I know.
Watain’s new album, The Wild Hunt, is available now. See them at NYC’s Irving Plaza on Oct. 8 and Philly’s Underground Arts on Oct. 9. For more information, go to templeofwatain.com.