Watain – The Wild Hunt

Watain’s The Wild Hunt is the sound of black metal going mainstream – or as mainstream as it’s going to get, anyway. Now in its 15th year, the Swedish band is presently experiencing a big push from its label, Century Media, and reaping lots of hype. This leads us to the burning question, is Watain “true” black metal?

Well, I suppose that’s all a matter of how you define “true.” If burning churches and murdering fellow band members is your idea of black metal authenticity, then Watain does not qualify. Hell, they might be disqualified just for production values and cultural visibility: The Wild Hunt is audible – even melodic at times. And the band is on a relatively high profile tour with In Solitude.

But you won’t be hearing Watain played on the radio alongside Katy Perry, and it’s highly unlikely that Miley Cyrus will be posting Instagram photos of herself wearing a Watain T-shirt in the near future. Popularity is a relative thing. Black metal is too musically abrasive to serve as party music at the corner bar, and Heathenism, Satanism, and nihilistic ideology is a hard pill for the proverbial Average Joe to swallow. Watain’s American ascent will probably be blocked by a glass ceiling pretty soon.

The Wild Hunt may not be (sorry) wild enough for black metal purists – but, at the same time, the album is musical enough for adventurous fans of classic metal, thrash, and death metal to appreciate. The average black metal band plays so many blastbeats that the music seems either “so-fast-it’s-slow” or an arrhythmic whirl, whereas Watain hits a fast but still perceptible pace that you can latch onto. The average black metal band is so cacophonous that it comes across as an aural wash, whereas Watain’s songs feature tangible riffs and actual melodies. One thing that Watain does have in common with the rest of the black metal horde is the lyrics – which are inaudible. It doesn’t matter, really. You can tell that the songs are angry and scary, and that’s good enough.

Of course there’s a sticking point. The acme (or nadir) of the album is the power ballad, “They Rode On.” The song is either cringeworthy or epic – maybe both. Watain, like all metal bands of any subgenre, treads that nebulous DMZ between kickass and preposterous.

Ultimately, I’m digging this album because it’s just fun to listen to. When I’m having a rough day, nothing cheers me up better than rocking the songs of plague, death and Satan. The Wild Hunt is not exactly groundbreaking, but who cares?

The Wild Hunt
[Century Media]