Watain – The Wild Hunt | Review

Watain seems like one of those bands we assume are important because everyone else does too. As soon as release copies of 'The Wild Hunt' went out, journalists debated it on twitter, because that’s almost what we were supposed to do, right? Merits of the album in a changing black metal landscape or no, it was sold to us as the album for metal fans to talk about this summer.

In a sense, this worked. It received big write-ups on sites like Pitchfork, and debuted in the Billboard 200 chart in North America. Now, a proudly-satanic band dropping a top-200 album would have caused a stir in the mid-80s, but either due to the decline of sales or a cynicism about evil or the conversion of all Christian Mothers associations into debased cults of our southern lord, this just registers as another reason why we’re supposed to be paying attention to Watain. After all, it’s big, right?

But at the end of it, 'The Wild Hunt' is still an album, and Watain a band, whether they smear themselves with the blood of the unborn onstage or not. And frankly, I had to get past all the hype, and even the expectations of other music journos, before I could enjoy Hunt on its own terms. And yes, I did say ‘enjoy,’ because in many ways Hunt kicks ass in an old-school way, all sneering guitar solos, cheesy lyrics and hammerhead riffs, aiming for cheap seats that are probably only about 20 feet from the stage, anyway.

My first step toward appreciating these songs was to get out of my house. I listened to it a lot driving to and from work, gathering a few weird looks in the process, and I was struck by how much rawk was in this album. For a band that takes itself so seriously in print and presentation, Watain are masters of cheesy thrills. Chugging guitar lines can be fist-pumped to, solo sections sound like they should be accented by onstage fireworks displays, and once “The Child Must Die” really gets going it more than resembles the Power Rangers theme song. “Outlaw” even opens with straight caveman grunts. Instead of the insanity and claustrophobia of its peers, Watain offers a vision of black metal you could blast at a particularly kvlt barbecue.

In 10,000 years, when the whispers of our internet communications long outlive us and travel to the farthest edges of the galaxy, aliens will know at least one thing: people sure had a lot of opinions about “They Rode On.” It forms the thematic centerpiece of Hunt, describing an endless touring lifestyle and the desire for stylistic evolution on the part of Watain. It also comes wrapped up in an 80’s metal ballad that could have been written by Poison. You can probably guess which of these aspects has caused so much opining. For my part, I’m indifferent; the band clearly accomplishes what it means to, just in a style I have no affinity for. Clean vocals interlock with flanged guitars and simple, weeping melodic figures in a mode new for the band, if not for music in general.

But doesn’t that describe Hunt, and Watain in general? They’ve been ‘innovating’ within the band for over 10 years, even if that just means picking up the best of Bathory and Dissection and adding a coat of stage makeup to make it a ‘BIG IMPORTANT EVENT.’ They’re certainly good at it, and that may explain why a very retro album like Hunt has been pitched as something new and progressive. These are fun songs, certainly, but undermined by groundless expectations that Watain will be a band it cannot possibly, and definitely doesn’t want to, be. Come at it with an ear for enjoyment, however, and I think you’ll be surprised just how much you’ll like Hunt.

Rob Rubsam 

Band info: www.facebook.com/watainofficial
Label info: www.centurymedia.com

Rob Rubsam is a freelance writer and itinerant resident of Upstate New York. His writing about music has been published at CVLT Nation, Tom Tom Magazine, The Rumpus, Burning Ambulance, and others. When not contemplating giant squids or erecting a standing stone in his backyard, he tweets at @millenialistfun. Do not contact him with your black mass-related inquiries, please.