World Exclusive Subterranea Watain Feature Online
Subterranea are proud to bring you their world exclusive interview with Black Metal heroes, Watain. This very special interview was conducted on the cusp of the band’s tenth anniversary. Come back tomorrow for some exclusive, unpublished outtakes from the interview.
Watain – Decayed In Darkness
WATAIN’s rotting blood-soaked voyage to the upper echelons of the black metal elite has passed through pungent realms others fear to tread. Subterranea commemorates the 10th anniversary of a band for whom BM is matter of life and death.
“There is something ticklish in ‘the truth’ and in the search for the truth; and if a man goes about it too humanely, I wager he find nothing!” – Fredrik Nietzsche
The stench hits you the second you get out of the service lift: a sweet, fermented, corporeal tang emanating from the stage props arranged across the floor –inverted cross stands, chains, candles, backdrop, but more specifically the sheep heads and cartons of putrid animal blood waiting to poured into a goblet and over their owners. This is Watain’s calling card, not just a rank corrective to the otherwise sterile, white-painted surroundings of the Musikens Hus backstage area, it’s also a portal – a potent, unsavoury aura that takes you outside of your comfortable co-ordinates, and inducts you into the world of the band now regarded as the true, walk-it-like-they-talk-it keepers of the black metal’s spiritual flame.
Erik Danielsson, Watain’s diminutive, softly-spoken yet charismatically self-contained vocalist is looking a bit pale. Preparing for the band’s 10th anniversary show in their hometown of Uppsala, Sweden, he’s been sleeping in his rehearsal room amidst 20 of the aforementioned heads, and has spent the previous day throwing up. It must have been a cleansing experience, because today he’s in no doubt about the path Watain have travelled.
“Years are only years, but it’s good, at some point in the history of the band to actually commemorate everything that has been done before, to lift it up a bit and to make it a bit ceremonial. Once in a while we have to put our foot down and say, ‘This is what we’ve done so far’.”
Watain’s ascent into the black metal elite has been a gradual, reverential one, both offering absolute loyalty to the original, transgressive spirit of black metal, but also an ongoing realisation of what sets them apart.
“The scene when we started, “Erik recalls, “was a very prestigious movement you could not just beat your way into and do what the fuck you wanted. You really had to live up to your words. We were patient in gaining our position and we worked hard to become a part of all this, and the more that happens and the more you achieve and the more that you feel that you have more to give than most other bands around you, the more of a stance you take, that hey, no-one else is doing anything, let’s fucking show them how to do this. For us what Mayhem did was something great to build out from, not just something to live up to, and that is what is lacking. This revolutionary aspect of black metal that happened in the first and second wave of it has sort of gotten lost.
“We’ve been around for a while now, so I can say without being shy about it that we must belong in the upper realms of the black metal hierarchy. For us, there’s no other option. We cannot just sit around in the shadows waiting for something to happen, we must aim for the lowest depths.”
Rather than bury themselves in insular, illegible missives from the safe haven of the underground, the path Watain have travelled upon has been a search for clarity and forbidden knowledge (‘Make my torch into a furnace, so that I can see the secrets clear’), a devotional Satanism that isn’t reduced down to mere potshots at Christianity or Anton LaVey-style withering commentary on human foibles, but rather one that opens up into a resolute, voracious quest for the far recesses of existence, to read the writing on its walls and then to break on through to the beyond. ‘No Return’ reads the legend on the cover of 2007’s Sworn To The Dark – only their third full-length over the course of a decade – and there’s an unwavering commitment within Watain’s music that drives it on, suffused in tangibly twilit atmosphere, but also willing to spell itself out, lashing the ferocious melody of Dissection to verging-on-anthemic, brilliantly constructed songs, all fearless pilgrimages, at once meticulous and unfettered in their full-force conviction.
“To us this has always been sacred music,” says Erik, “and sacred ground you just don’t fool around on. If you do it, you have to do it 110 per cent. otherwise there is no reason. I’ve always appreciated the artists that you can listen to and you can feel what they’re singing about and the kind of music they write really reflects their innermost feelings and things that they’ve actually experienced and seen, and their whole heart is aching to tell about it. I mean, I wouldn’t like to listen to old Pink Floyd if they’d just read a book about acid. They were on fucking acid and that’s why they sounded like they sounded. I want something real behind the music, and if I cannot give that myself, then I have no reason to do it.”
Watain’s approach is to take the notion of black metal as a virulent force that was never just about the music, and create a world around themsevles, one that reaches into every aspect of their pungent, blood-soaked lives.
“It’s not really a conscious thing, “Eric explains. “This is how we have always lived. In a way, for me this is the way I live my life, but of course the decisions that we make, they are made with an intent of exploring our dark side further. I always want to go further, because I know that if I listen to my heart and shut off everything else, that’s the one thing that it tells me. That’s why I think that Watain has always become more extreme, to use a word I don’t really like. Possessed, Death, Morbid Angel – all of them have gone a in a softer direction – people will say that about a lot of black metal too – but the reason why we don’t is because we are on a spiritual journey as well. That doesn’t lead us any place clean or orderly.”
Surrounding themselves not just in symbols of death and decay, but its actual artefacts, must have a strange effect on their everyday consciousness. Are they seeking altered states? A permanent reminder of an anti-life creed?
“Watain is a lot about portraying and glorifying the dark side of reality, the things that people unconsciously look away from. Instead of taking the longer way away from the dark alley between the creepy houses, we go straight into that dark alley instead, because there is our reality, and there lies our heart. Death is always present in those environments. This is why we use a lot of artefacts and a lot of things onstage that correspond directly to death and the state of putrefaction where life is decaying. You could say that is the twilight zone of the flesh, the state of putrefaction where it’s between life and death, and this is what the rotten carcass and the blood represent. We are standing on the verge, on the line between life and death.”
Many occult and ancient belief systems treat this in between state as one of transition and renewal, where the process of breaking down is a creative one in itself.
“To me,” states Erik, “the places of the in between, like twilight or dawn, or states of putrefaction, they are dynamic states of change. My whole life, and Watain, is based upon the breaking down of everything that is in front of you in order to reach new heights, and you need to strive. It’s these types of states that we are trying to correspond with, when things actually take place. It may be in a destructive way, but destruction is the one thing that will actually take you on and move you forward, because in order to see new things, and in order to grow beyond your human form and beyond everything that this world wants you to be, you need to break down everything that is around you in order to even see what’s behind it.”
When Watain take the stage in front of a sell-out crowd of rabid fans, some of whom have travelled from across the world, and the majority of which have the band’s logo and symbols displayed across their chest, the acridly aromatic atmosphere is one of searing, ritualistic devotion, the filth and blood-caked leathers making the musicians look like an army of resurrected, Lazarus-style warriors. Erik himself comes on like a wide-eyed, diabolic seer, thowing hands up to his ornately corpsepainted face and out into the crowd as Casus Luceferi scales the cliff faces of Hades and Storm Of The Antichrist’s spluttering, spiralling melody bears down like a plague of locusts, only for the gig to end prematurely as the two gasoline lamps flanking Erik flare violently, setting off the fire alarms and stopping the gig in its tracks, to the confusion of the audience and the obvious delight of the frontman.
In the Watain dressing room, we’re still talking about the smell, and its effect.
“In relation to what the audience sees and hears, it turns very powerful, because all of a sudden they find themselves in a completely different reality to what they saw when they woke up in their beds in the morning. It’s the dark side of their reality that they’re coming into, and this is something that I’m extremely proud of achieving. I feel so much that I belong in that dark side that is when I use my existence on earth to the furthest extent possible, when I can actually, like a god, transform the reality into something else, not only to myself, but to hundreds of people.”
From his ten-year vantage point, can Erik see where Watain can go from here, what they can yet still become?
“To me it’s always been about one thing, to find the most potent ways possible of having as little of yourself as possible and as much as possible that inhuman force behind you that breathes through all real black metal albums, because there’s always a human aspect blocking the real essence of the music to come through. I want to make that filter as thin as possible by absorbing as much of the force as possible myself That is what we have been developing into and what we’ve constantly been trying to reach more and more during these ten years. That is definitely the road we are taking.”