Often viewed as the “real deal” in black metal, as opposed to it simply being a gimmick, Watain has been blasting their versions of blasphemy since 1998. Although fan favorite records Rabid’s Death Curse and Sworn To Dark existed prior, it wasn’t until 2010’s Lawless Darkness that the infernal fireball truly ignited for the theistic Satanists from Sweden. In Lawless Darkness, the band found themselves achieving a level of musicianship and writing ability that transcended the typically limited style of traditional black metal into a new level. Lawless Darkness maintained very true to its roots but was able to resonate outside the world of black metal and into a much larger audience. It seemed to garner such critical claim that many thought the band blew its wad and was going to have face the impossible task of following up. It took 3 years but The Wild Hunt is upon us and is here to show that the bar could be set much higher than the highly regarded, Lawless Darkness.

Over the years, Black Metal has erupted into something far bigger than I think what the pioneers of the genre had anticipated or even wanted. Bands like Dimmu Borgir and Behemoth who started to incorporate other styles of metal into achieving some monumentally epic sounds. Sure there are some bands that are remaining “TRVE” and “CVLT” but overall the genre was evolving into something much, much more. Watain has long since been one of those that seemed to keep it simple, while escaping the trappings of the many Mayhem clones out there. The sheer intensity remained with the buzzsaw tremolo picking coupled with machine gun blast-beat heavy drumming, but much like predecessors Emperor and Dissection there was an obvious sense of melody needed. The first 3 records were a band finding themselves and Lawless Darkness showed the band come right into their own.

What The Wild Hunt brings to the table is everything the previous album presented but with an even higher level of maturity and easily their “biggest” album to date. I know just reading that sentence a lot of elitist black metal fans are going to be turned off but this is seriously Watain’s best work and I’ll explain. The Emperor worship that the band has been gravitating towards comes front and center this time out and the incorporation of background synths at times adds the same element of depth that Ihsahn & Co. possess. The band follows further into that tribute with their ability to pace an album properly much in the vein of IX Equilibrium did. The album starts off with a soft instrumental that sounds like something that would fit perfectly in Transylvania and immediately catapults into the sinister De Profundis, which basically takes off where the last record left us. The Lawless Darkness clone continues until track 6, They Rode On. This is where the band starts to distance themselves from other black metal bands and shows off their true talent. They Rode On is a nearly 9 minute ballad that is comprised of mostly clean singing and guitars. It took 2 or 3 listens for me to appreciate this song but it comes in at a perfect time on the record and it really captures the dismal emotion the band was going for. It goes from one end of the spectrum to the other in a single track as Sleepless Evil is arguably the heaviest song the band has ever written. If to mess with your heartrate, the band dives right back into its 2nd ballad of the record in the title track. It’s not nearly as clean and They Rode On but the atmosphere is equal to it. Branching out, The Outlaw beginnings and ends with an incorporation of tribal beats. I would more likely compare to a satanic séance than something along the lines of Sepultura though. After an atmospheric instrumental record, the album rights itself for its conclusion in Holocaust Dawn, which is much more comparable to some of the earlier tracks on the record and Lawless Darkness.

It’s a bit much to take in on the first listen but I truly believe that The Wild Hunt is going to end up being revered as Watain’s masterpiece. The band has found what works for them but is able to build on the core to maintain something that is both true to their original plans but not be limited by them. They aren’t as epic as a Dimmu Borgir but this middle of the road sound they are taking is absolutely perfect. I can’t wait to catch them on tour for this record. Do not sleep on this.