I expected to be a distant observer at the Watain show at Marquis Theater last night, but somehow I found myself smashed against the stage when the Satanic Swedes came out. I was close enough to almost taste the goat blood. Struggling with mixed feelings — ‘I don’t belong here’, ‘I am a little frightened’, ‘this is too interesting to leave’, ‘are they really human?’, ‘they are an amazing band’, ‘holy shit it stinks up here!’ — all these emotions were fighting for attention, but the only thing really holding it was the dark ritual going on in front of me. I lasted over a half an hour glued to that spot, but then I finally came to my senses and moved to the back of the small theater for the remainder of the show.
Black Avil came from New York, Goatwhore came from New Orleans and Watain came from Sweden. I missed Black Anvil, but got to the show just in time for Goatwhore’s set. Despite an arguably unnecessary name, they put on an in-your-face black thrash show that had the small but determined crowd spinning around in a small but violent pit. Not a band I would want to see headline, but a damn good thrash band with no frills.
When I was a kid my parents were against me listening to bands like Iron Maiden, Megadeth and Metallica because they thought those bands were Satanic. Even as I got older I had friends who wouldn’t join me for Danzig or Marilyn Manson shows because of the imagery and anti-religious themes they portrayed. Shit, that was nothing!
Watain is the real thing. Satan first, black metal second, and everything else after. These guys truly believe they are making the Devil’s music. Interview after interview has lead-singer, Erik Danielsson, talking about how the band is blessed by Satan and how they are just channeling the dark lord’s music — their shows being more a ritual than they are a concert. Candles, animal parts and blood all factor into a Watain show. That is why I had to see this. I don’t agree with their religion, I don’t agree with any organized religion, but to each their own, right? Even if I don’t believe they are blessed by Satan anymore than the Pope is blessed by God, I do believe they believe it. And that makes them very interesting to me. After seeing all the imitators, the shock value bands like GWAR, Marilyn Manson, I wanted to witness the real thing.
It wasn’t until I went to use the bathroom last night that I realized Watain had procured what they needed for a good show…animals parts. The bathroom is near the backstage area and the smell was putrid. I was instantly transported back the open air markets I would wander in SE Asia — the markets where they would butcher pigs right in front of you. It was still 15 minutes before the band were to come on and the smell drove some people outdoors. The bartenders were plugging their noses, but the hardcore fans could have cared less. I overheard ‘I grew up in a butcher shop, this is nothing’, ‘it’s not nearly as bad as last time I saw them’ and from the mouth of a 45-year-old woman ‘it just smells like a truckload of used tampons pulling into Phoenix on a 118 degree day’. Yeah, that’s when I set down my last beer and kept my mouth shut for the rest of the night…fearing some airborne disease.
There were about three rows of people right in front of the stage when the heads (goat? lamb? pig?) were unloaded and stuck on spikes. The rest of the floor was an empty space awaiting a pit. I decided I wanted to get up close to snap some photos of Satan’s alter. I got right up there as the candles were being lit — adding the smell of hot wax to the decaying flesh. I snapped a few photos and then the band took the stage. I was stuck. A couple fledgling church burners in front of me and a swirling abyss of a pit behind me.
The first thing I noticed about the band was the blood. They weren’t soaked in it, but they had all been splattered with it. And this was not food dye. You could smell it. Animal blood. The second thing I noticed was that when Erik Danielsson wasn’t screeching out vocals, he was praying at the alters behind him. If this is an act (which I’ll never 100% write off), then they are damn good actors. Every member of the band looked like they were in some kind of trance up there.
I would love to go into details about what songs they played, and what members of the band were true members (at least one was not allowed entry into the U.S.), but I really can’t tell them all apart. That’s not to say I don’t like their music. The new album, Lawless Darkness, might be my favorite black metal album of the year and Sworn To The Dark is incredible. But I just don’t know song names. I will say they did do “Sworn To The Dark” and it was one of my favorites of the night. But everything they did sounded amazing! Sometimes they sounded like Burzum. Sometimes they slowed it down to what could almost be classical compositions. But mostly it was the fast, violent black metal that you’d expect to hear on your way to hell. That signature Watain sound that sets them apart from others in the genre.
I know there are a lot of you out there that will question why I would go to a show like this. I understand that question. But to me, it’s like a horror movie. Horror movies are fun to watch if they are good — if they are well done. And what makes a horror movie good? Or even great? It’s how real it seems. This show was like seeing one of the best horror movies ever, and if you like black metal, as I’m finding I do, it’s a damn good concert at the same time. I don’t have to believe what these guys believe to enjoy the spectacle of the show. These guys arn’t harming anyone — the animal parts and blood come from a butcher shop. And I really don’t find modern Satanism any more disturbing than most other religiosn. So go on, ‘Hail Satan!’, I don’t give a shit as long as it’s entertaining.
Interesting notes: The average age of the crowd was 30+. There were quite a few more people than the Triptykon show. It was snowing for the first time this season.