This year Watain is celebrating 20 years as a band. Formed in 1998, Watain are a Swedish black metal band that currently consists of Erik Danielsson on vocals, Håkan Jonsson on drums, and Pelle Forsberg on guitars. They are known for their theistic Satanist views and extreme stage shows, which often feature decapitated goat heads on spikes, blood, giant upside down crosses, and fire. Their 6th studio album Trident Wolf Eclipse was released on January 5 via Century Media Records, which is awesomely heavy and raw as only Watain can be. During their recent U.S. tour stop in Los Angeles in March, Erik Danielsson filled us in on the new album, the tour, and the controversy that surrounds the band.
The fact that Watain have been consistently delivering in-your-face music for 20 years is almost hard to believe since many still see them as a younger incarnation of Black Metal music. Danielsson agrees: “We are a new band, old bands to me they are the bands we worship and grew up with like fucking Celtic Frost, Venom, Bathory and Merciful Fate and even Guns n’ Roses for that matter. But you know, the idea of having been around for 20 years is still quite overwhelming also when you think about it. But we are a still a young band, I guess we will always be a young band.” When asked if he imagined Watain being around for 20 years when they first started he replied, “No, no, absolutely not. I don’t think we even imagined being alive for much longer than 5 years, I mean those were years of very heartfelt exploration of everything chaotic and destructive and forbidden. A lot of the things we did were things that could have easily prevent us from going ahead as a band. We were very deep into very dark and destructive things and by now of course those things are still a very integral part of everything we do, but they are approached in a different way and they are perhaps more familiar and known to us now than they were then. I mean we were 16 years old and I think it took until we were 25 to realize that ‘shit this is go on a long time;’ when we realized we survived that many years.” One may wonder what the band’s secret is to staying together this long, once they realized they would be alive a little longer, of course. Danielsson explains, “I don’t plan too much, and I don’t think so far ahead all the time. I just do what feels right, by now I think we kind of understand what it feels like stepping into the wrong direction and when you know how that feels it’s very easy to prevent that from happening. So I think it will always be based on a gut feeling of what is right, what feels important, what brings us closer to the sacred source that we’ve always been heading towards. That’s all we’ve tried to do.”
The new album Trident Wolf Eclipse is a fitting celebration of Watain’s 20 years for a number of reasons. First off, the title encompasses three of their core ideologies. Danielsson describes, “The album title is a reference to three of the main symbols of Watain, three of the symbols we have been using for almost the whole 20 years that we’ve been around. It’s just a matter of coming full circle, in a way, coming back to the source. The source of Watain in general, the driving force. That’s one way to interpret the title. The title sums up the content of the album very well. I think the title, the way I see it, is quite direct, direct and blunt almost, but at the same time it also has, quite a profound feel to it, it has a poetic feel to it. I like that combination of high and low. As far as the music itself, it also brings together ideas spanning Watain’s career. Danielsson continues, “Also I think that a lot of the things we are doing on Trident Wolf Eclipse are things that we really wanted to do on our first album, when we first started out, and I think that maybe we finally got to the point where we could actually reach that expression. There’s a lot of almost like juvenile aggression in it, something very predatory and hostile that I think we had, we always had it, but it’s not until now that we’ve properly managed to evoke it into music.”
Watain has recorded at the same studio with the same producer on every album, yet they all have a very different feel. One has to wonder how they pull this off. Danielsson responded to this by saying, “I think that’s a matter of, first of all, speaking from the heart, and also making very sure that we’re fighting stagnation all the time. There’s never any standing still, we are quite restless as people, and there is always movement, there is always progression, there is always evolution as far as our own persons go, and as far the spirit of the band goes. So, I think each album is a monument to the specific moment in time when the album is being made and I’m not sure at least since we are a band in constant progress, you are going to have different kinds of expressions in each of them. But it’s also nice at the same time to be able to come back to the same studio, working with the same people, just to avoid unnecessary time being spent on getting to know a new place and fucking trying to get along with dickhead producers.”
It is had been five years since Watain’s last studio album, and Danielsson explains the process between the previous record and Trident Wolf Eclipse: “I wouldn’t say it took 5 years in the making, we had 5 years between the last albums release and this albums release, but that doesn’t mean we worked constantly for 5 years on the new album. I think the new album actually came together quite fast. The Wild Hunt, our previous album, was quite an epic project. It was a very big album, emotionally and it took a little bit longer to have it runs its course. It was, just emotionally, touring wise, as well of course, and just workwise it demanded quite a lot so we just decided to take a little bit more time before we decided to enter into a new creative process.”
After a three year wait, Watain returned to North America on tour from February 23 – March 31, 2018 in support of the new album, and to kick off their world tour. The U.S tour was overall a very successful endeavor for Watain. However, there was a venue issue in San Francisco, California, but nothing major enough to stop the tour. Some may have thought the controversy was due to allegations against Watain of Nazism after their live guitarist Set “Davide Totaro” Teitan was seen doing what some mistook as a Sieg Heil/Nazi salute at a live show at the Kraken in Stockholm, Sweden in January 2018. Afterward, Watain quickly released a statement declaring, “Watain band members have no ties to Nazi ideology neither publically nor personally, and with this statement we want to put an end to further unnecessary speculation in this tiresome subject.” However, the controversy in San Francisco actually surrounded opening band Destroyer666. The DNA Lounge posted on its website, “Short Version: I kicked a support band off of a bill because I learned that they are virulent misogynists. Then the headliner, who claim to definitely not be Nazis, cancelled the whole show.” This is a perplexing statement for several reasons. First off, the show was not cancelled, it was simply moved to a different venue. Additionally, misogynists are not automatically Nazis, and Watain supporting their opening act does not make them either misogynists or Nazis. It means they are honoring the business commitment they made with Destoryer666 and their fans.
Danielsson explains his take on the controversy by saying, “We just heard the DNA lounge, in San Francisco, didn’t want Destroyer to play for some reason. Things just got too controversial for the local promoter to handle, which I guess, fair enough, it’s San Francisco after all. I know things are a bit tense there in general when it comes to political correctness. And we told our agent to look into it and see if we could just get another place, because we want fans to get what they paid for, not half the tour package but the full one. And when our agent actually found a second place the thing just kinda went through the roof with some very malevolent statement from the DNA owner. And so for us, it was just a matter of us trying to get the full tour package for the fans. Along the way, the [DNA Lounge] promoter decided to not do it. It’s a shame, its really a shame, but at the same time you have to also be prepared to face things like that when you have a band that’s not patting people nicely along their backs.” One also has to wonder why the DNA Lounge even booked the show in the first place if they were afraid of controversy; Watain is not exactly a family friendly band and the allegedly misogynist comments made by Destroyer666 took place back almost two years ago. Despite this hiccup, Danielsson assures us that it has been “a good tour, it’s a very good tour. Just pretty much everything we hoped for.”
Controversy is nothing new in the black metal scene. Christians have been protesting the overt Satanic references in some black metal for many years. Danielsson elaborates, “Yeah there’s always been stuff like that, and if there wasn’t, something’s wrong. If you play in a Black Metal band there has to be a certain kind of opposition otherwise I think you’re doing something wrong. What really aggravates me about this more recent thing, it’s more political, people are talking about sexism and racism and so on. And I don’t even how to respond to that. Things like sexism and racism are very human, mundane things that I loath and have no respect for whatsoever, the worship of the flesh, which racism somehow is, it’s the very antithesis to what we are about. So it aggravates me to have to defend myself for something I was not even apart of in the first place. It makes the whole thing very absurd or bizarre.” If anything, the recent controversy in San Francisco just brought more media attention to the tour, which is probably not what protesters intended.
A Swedish band starting their tour in the U.S. might seem a little unusual, but Danielsson describes why they made this decision: “We had a lot of discussions about what to do for the U.S. when the album came out, and we figured why do we just start actually in the U.S., start touring the album in the U.S. because there’s always an explosive feel, I think, touring in the U.S. There’s always something that’s always about to burst when we are touring here. Which rhymes very well how, with the nature of the new album I would say. So, we decided to start and that’s exactly what we got. I don’t know, but I think it has more to do with the general cultural climate of the U.S. as compared to Europe. For example, the general political and cultural climate just allows for a bit more heartfelt emotions here in the U.S.” As far as black metal being more popular in Europe, Danielsson disagrees. He had this to say about black metal worldwide: “Now it feels like everything is so spread out. I mean most shit that’s going on it’s on the web any way right. So, a lot of those borders that used to be very defining of how black metal was experienced from country to country, I think a lot of those things have just vanished now. It’s become more of a universal feel to it. You can still tell the difference when you’re in these different countries touring, but I think black metal is something publicly available now in a whole different way than it used to be. I am very narrow minded when it comes to what I define as black metal to start with. I mean people say that there are a thousand good black metal bands from Europe, I say there’s about 10. If you count from the very first one to where we are at today. I am very strict about what I call black metal and what I appreciate as black metal. So out of maybe the 20 or 30 bands worldwide that I would define as true black metal bands, I would say sure a few of those are from the U.S. For me it’s not a geographical thing, it’s not a thing that is defined by lines being drawn on a map that they call boarders. I don’t really care about those kinds of things. I think black metal is what it is regardless of where it’s from or whose doing it. It’s still, will always be a very small minority based subculture.”
As far as being a Satanist, this is a question that Danielsson gets asked about often. As far as his personal religious beliefs, he had this to say: “I understand why people ask these kinds of questions, and the older I get the more I realize that however I word it, however articulate I may be when I try describe my own beliefs, it has never lead to a proper understanding of them, I think with that in mind, it’s something that I speak less and less about. If people are interested in Satanism there is the thing called Internet now, where you can find out about things, you know for hundreds of years people have been burnt, staked, tortured for these kinds of ideas. The youth of today have a quite a lot of easier time if they want to find out about these things. So, I think if people are interested in that then go for it, search away.”
Pick up a copy of Trident Wolf Eclipse and find Watain online at the links below: