Words of power are cast as this eminent Swedish horde rides forth, and their arrival is heralded by a thunderous new opus that augments our chaotic times. WATAIN has honed a distinct sound over the years, which delved into experimentation on 2013’s The Wild Hunt, followed by the total primeval blackness of 2018’s Trident Wolf Eclipse, and now a union of those extremes has become with The Agony & Ecstasy of Watain. A fitting title for the songcraft presented within, this effort wields these contrary paths while returning to the vein of works like Lawless Darkness, with detailed arrangements and features to conjure auras from unseen realms, and their enchantment prevails among the ruins for an endlessly captivating venture. WATAIN directs calculated measures of tradition with innovative force into this manifestation, and The Agony & Ecstasy of Watain seeks renewal through its ravaging spirit.
The storm rages ahead on “Ecstasies in Night Infinite,” with tremolo forces escalating across the riff and percussive intensity, and rapid transitions orchestrate further turbulence within their arrangements. Melodic excursions are highlighted at points of fleeting pause, and spacey distortions exhibit variety as multiple solos shred through the upheaval. Other frantic details are glimpsed during this full-scale assault, which seals an exemplary introduction to the work’s prevailing spirit, and the havoc transfers to a blast-beaten and tremolo bleakness on “The Howling.” Its depths expand toward sections of dark majestic flow, where double bass accentuates the aural growth from ambience joined with melody, and chaos persists in the ensuing formulas before different grooving rhythms unfold on “Serimosa.” They enhance the fretted courses and malign arpeggiated blends weaved throughout, and riffing effectively carves a path to magnify the collective derangement. Warped strikes become accented amid its heavier masses, along with a melancholic atmosphere and lead which bring the track to its peak.
Similar compositional features amplify the malevolence on “Black Cunt,” and its heavy grooved and blasting rhythmic varieties are paralleled respectively by euphoric or frenzied leadwork, after synth disturbances creep over intoxicated tremolo currents with an underlying burden. These effects represent another intriguing layer of diversity, and psychedelic torments on “Leper’s Grace” also exercise this quality while alternating with the sharpened thrashy attack of its riffs. Their strike evolves heavily toward further rhythm and lead cooperation, with the latter aspect soon accompanying piano keys amid sounds of oblivion on “Not Sun Nor Man Nor God,” and this contemplative interlude is contrasted by a forceful return on “Before the Cataclysm.” It develops a potent aura across grooving transitions, which also brings out acoustic notes appearing subtly within the other tracks, and the pace slows for crushing emphasis before instrumental and melodic dynamics attain a cumulative grandeur.
An atmospheric core is reached on “We Remain,” where spectral energies course throughout cavernous and heavy arcane textures, and it bears a solemn pace initiated by guest vocals from Farida Lemouchi, of THE DEVIL’S BLOOD. Arpeggiations glare past its shadows, and a haunting presence intensifies through the lead vocal commands of Erik, whose possession occasionally mirrors the synth and psychedelic traces encountered on tracks like “Black Cunt.“ These entrancing heights are transcended with a solo from IN SOLITUDE’s Gottfrid Åhman, and their influences linger amidst a harsh revival on “Funeral Winter.” This is especially noted during an eerie break in its otherwise relentless storm, which is compounded by unsettling vibrations produced when multiple layers converge, and a pointed mark is driven as melodies take lead over areas of fierce riffage. Epic developments are finalized on “Septentrion,” with synchronized melodic and drumming forms that convey an imminent conclusion, and the riffing delves into a last affirmation of darkness alongside hypnotic tremolo oscillations. The aura ultimately rises with otherworldly tones and acoustics toward its embrace of an accomplished end.
The energies conveyed musically are detailed further within the lyrical substance, beginning with “A violent force” and “Sudden curse” which “Spurs the storm and kills the light” on “Ecstasies in Night Infinite.” Themes of liberation and attainment arise when seeking “Freedom” and “Ecstasy,” along with aims “To illuminate the outer limits” and “The path within,” and these mysteries are explored again on “The Howling.” This refers to “The silence of the void, howling throughout eternity,” and “A call to see, to learn, to know” is answered in order to boldly delve “Beneath the surface of the great primordial sea, beyond life and death,” and “Behind the veil of all our dreams.” Apocalyptic qualities are possessed by many of the forces emerging throughout, as in the “Storm approaching” with a resolve “To brand the seal of expiration upon the flesh of man” on “Serimosa,” a title coming from a word or name of power, as stated by the band, who also reveals its “Similarities to the fiery Samhara aspect of Nataraja, the doomsday dance of Shiva marking the dissolution of order at the end of an eon.” This is perceived lyrically while “Flames reaches heaven high,” and in the act of a “Dance at the worlds ending.”
Impending demise is echoed in “Ready or not, come it will” on “Before the Cataclysm,” with depths treaded to discover “Where leads the winding path,” and its shadows “Come to awaken the flame that’s asleep within you.” The realization of “No guiding stars to lead you now” necessitates a solitary venture, and allusions to inner strength are discerned in “Yours is the star that forever shall burn in the dark,” but ultimately “Many more kingdoms must fall before you may find your rest there on the other shore.” This point is reaffirmed in “Though deep into the wild we’ve gone, deeper yet we’re sure to go” on “Funeral Winter,” where the apocalyptic energies take an icy “Reaper” form, and this “Winter of the great undoing” carries our fate “To a nameless grave beneath nameless ruin.” It describes how “Worms rejoice” since “Theirs is the kingdom and theirs is the feast,” but “Fearless like wolves we shall stand” despite these revelations. A similar spirit is noted when “The black goat” is observed with “Hind legs standing tall” on “Black Cunt,” a track revealing the origin of all these forces, which then brings “Riches to the witches!” and “Priests to the stakes!” through a ”Reversion of power.” A grim portent of “When the stars are ripe, nightmares shall flesh and ascend” also strikes, and “In the fires of Satan’s victory, the spirit of defiance shall prevail, and be set free” drives an unrelenting resolve.
Those qualities take an antireligious and outsider stance on “Leper’s Grace,” with the flock’s “Sanctimonious affirmation” and “Cage of gold” rejected in favor of “The certainty of death and its stench.” It vows to remain “Eternally in mutiny against Christ,” and like a leper, accepts its “Outcast, exiled, banished” status while asserting “In your world of peace and light, we are the filth, we are the fight” and “On these fields we are the scythe.” Considerations of “Truth” as “A tale deformed by wind and rain” that “Abides within us all” follow on “We Remain,” and it represents another apocalyptic force when waiting for “Its vengeful light to shine on our betrayal” at “The breaking of the final dawn.” The possibility of life as “An intermission,” like “The flickering of dying flame,” is also contemplated, and “Septentrion” extends this to ideas that “Life is our sacrifice, death the reward.” Desires to live “Free unto ourselves, unbound by law” are met with calls to “Ride free – Fare far – Drink deep – Die hard,” along with a final pledge to “Strive to arrive with my fist held high, at the starlit gates of the end.” Official insights into “The Howling” and “Serimosa” suggest the other tracks also contain deeper symbolism, which I’m currently unable to pinpoint, but their outward contents still inspire while advancing fierce left-hand path ambitions.
WATAIN continues exerting a prominent force within the genre, and The Agony and Ecstasy of Watain sees them pushing the extremes to craft a work laden with everything revered about their style. It imbues the black metal essence with structures and compositional intricacies to demonstrate proficient musicianship, along with the leadwork and effects to forward an aural expansion, and the fact of it being recorded live only inspires further appreciation. The arrangement of its hymns, from vicious entry through a haunting atmospheric core and beyond to a harsh resurging finish, is also notable, and their totality howls a call to prompt many returns. Similar to past releases, this ushers in a new era and represents a striking achievement for WATAIN, whose “Agony and Ecstasy” will surely resonate throughout the times ahead.