The last time Watain defiled the Marquis Theater was almost three years ago, and like last night, the ritual corresponded with the first signs of a greedy winter. The final season never wants to wait her turn — instead, she blasts through autumn with brute force — ripping leaves from high on trees and delivering them to frozen gutter graves — the brilliant kaleidoscope that existed the day before chokes on the thawed remains of the snow that silenced the night. This brutal battle is an occurrence familiar to many around the globe, but few experience it quite like those who inhabit the city built a mile above the sea. Hardened to manic temperature fluctuation, it came as no surprise to the black-clad masses that last night’s Hunter’s Moon shone full on a frigid night. Watain might have brought the hell fire with them, but even the power of Satan could not prevent the red line from descending well past the point of freezing — on the streets at least. Things were much different on the other side of the curtain — inside the Marquis Theater — where two bands from Uppsala, Sweden were keeping warm by boiling the blood of their most ardent disciples.
While Swedish death-metallers, Tribulation, were warming the stage for their compatriots, we found shelter from the elements in a bar just down road. There’s nothing like drinking heavy, bourbon-aged stouts while trying to drown out the sounds of a Friday night crowd — those who were pounding Coors Lights and Jägerbombs with a complete lack of appreciation for the devil’s work being performed a few doors down. From a corner booth we were able to eavesdrops on conversations that can only happen among people who don’t get out on a regular basis. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t judging them, just as they judge the crowd that haunts the front of the Marquis Theater during a metal show. They walk by with a sense of wonder, mixed with loathing and just a little fear — which is exactly the reaction the patched-up pack of miscreants desire.
ID’d, stamped and wristbanded – we entered the main chamber of the theater half-way through In Solitude’s “Demons” — the stand-out track from 2011’s The World. The Flesh. The Devil. Opening the set with the riff-heavy, Maidenesque track from their sophomore album came across as a statement — just because the band’s journey has taken them a different direction with their latest album, Sister, it does not mean they are turning their backs on their past. The band alternated between songs from both albums throughout their set, and although it was obvious that the new tracks come from a very different place (mentally, not physically), the young Pelle Åman was the grounding force that kept the set together. My friend mentioned Pelle reminded him of Ozzy in ’71, which is perfect, because Ozzy would have been 22 years-old back then…the same age Pelle will be on his next birthday. The material on Sister might bring into question In Solitude’s commitment to heavy metal, but their stage presence proves that although they are able to incorporate Swans into their sound, metal is what they will always be. If the leap to Sister from The World. The Flesh. The Devil is any indication of what these kids from Uppsala are capable of, it just might be their name on the marquee next time around.
The most shocking part about the butcher boards being unveiled wasn’t that they were decorated with the remains of various beasts, but that the air was still fresh. Well, fresh isn’t the right word — the beer-soaked body aroma of a metal show isn’t something that will ever be bottled and sold, but when it comes to a Watain show, you would expect the putrid stench of decay to engulf the senses. The bones were up there, and what looked like blood splatter, but nothing with meat on it. No heads impaled on spikes, no entrails hanging from hooks, not even any real blood. The place was almost unbearable an hour before they took the stage last time. This time there was nothing more than some bones, a few candles burning at an alter and the hum of a fog machine. To be honest, I was a little disappointed. As repulsive and foul as the 2010 show was, it was also invigorating in a sort of primal, subhuman way.
As soon as Erik Danielsson took the stage, bowing before his alter, all disappointment went the way of a moth to a flame. There was no time for disappointment, because all conscious decision-making had been lost. It was survival mode — dodging (and failing to dodge) flying elbows and fists — real life zombies, with guitars, shredding eardrums — the crazy-eyed man with the microphone screaming satanic scripture — it’s all I could do to keep it all together. This was Watain! And although they weren’t soaked in vital fluids on this particular night, they were still a truly frightening band. One of the few remaining in this desensitized world.
Like their brothers in In Solitude, Watain have undergone a transformation of their own. For many years they have walked a razor between being true (troo) black metal and being extremely popular. Buckets of blood and body parts are a staple of their ritual, but it’s gotta be nice to know you can go clean up on your first-class tour bus after the ceremony comes to a close. I believe it’s their uncompromising ideology that keeps them in favor with those closed-minded black metal fans — those who don’t want to see the music break from the founding philosophy (whatever that was) — but I think it was inevitable that this band would break some of those sacred barriers and venture out into the forbidden land. I just didn’t know they would do it so drastically. They didn’t just look for flaws in the fortification with The Wild Hunt, they burned the walls down and pissed on the ashes. Clean-singing, an epic ballad and a straight-up metal anthem — this album is not what anyone expected from Sweden’s premiere satanists…
But it’s a damn good album! And even those who yell “sell-out!” while applying their foundation with their pentagram painted fingernails will have to admit that there are tracks on the album that sound like classic Watain. You just have to dig for them. Luckily, those who don’t care for the new style didn’t have to suffer through much last night. “They Rode On” was not performed live, and the tracks that were inserted into the setlist fit like a pig on a spit. In fact, they added texture to set. Tracks like “The Wild Hunt” and “Outlaw” were great at breaking up the onslaught — giving you just enough time to take a breath and realize how much of a beat down you were taking before “Reaping Death” and “Sworn to the Dark” came back around and busted your skull.
The performance might have been lacking when it came to gore, but the blood and guts of the band came through even stronger than the last time they rode into town on the heels of a storm. It was just as intense as the last show and the setlist was even better. Stacking the bill with all Swedish bands was also a smart move — seeing In Solitude and Watain perform songs from their new albums (which were recorded in the same studio around the same time) on the same night was something special. I understand there are those who don’t appreciate the direction these bands are trying to take them, but that’s what bands do. They are artists and they are going to go where the muse (or Satan) takes them — it’s not for us to stand in their way. And if you don’t understand it, then you can always go hang out at the bar down the street. Just try not to stare too hard when you walk by the Marquis Theater next time — you don’t want to become one of those people.
We Were Never Here
A Buried Sun
To Her Darkness
Storm of the Antichrist
The Wild Hunt
All That May Bleed
Sworn to the Dark
On Horns Impaled
The Serpents Chalice