An album almost certain to divide fans, unite detractors and still receive inexplicable praise from rags like Decibel and Metal Hammer, WATAIN’s “The Wild Hunt” represents the absolute nadir of their heretofore impressive body of work. In a year that has had more than its fair share of disappointments (BLACK SABBATH, ROTTING CHRIST, ORPHANED LAND), WATAIN’s fifth full-length stands head and shoulders above the rest as one of 2013’s most insulting and unlistenable releases. Clearly the sign of a band with its creative faculties under severe strain, “The Wild Hunt” stumbles along clumsily to no discernible beat and even less in the way of melody.
That WATAIN have always been a rather overrated band is a point that could certainly be entertained. After all, they’ve shot to the upper echelons of contemporary Black Metal largely on the lingering fumes of DISSECTION’s early musical triumphs and an arcane host of esoteric texts just to prove that, you know, they play for Him, not for fun. Yes, these Swedes have made it easy for their detractors to sharpen their paper knives, yet underneath all the bologna one could always find a band with a clear sense of purpose and a keen ear for melody. The soaring atmospherics of tracks like “The Serpent’s Chalice” and “Waters of Ain” stand as testament to this. The fact that they sacrificed their proven song-writing talents at the altar of whatever the fuck it is they tried to pull off here is what makes this album such a frustrating listen.
“Night Vision” tempts the listener with strains of subdued melody that hearken back to something like “Withershins”, before all hell breaks loose with “De Profundis”, and not in a good way. Remember the tactic they used on “Reaping Death” (i.e. an instantaneous barrage of wild double bass, thrashy riffs and aggressive Death-like screams that appear out of nowhere and just pounds and pounds until something gives)? Well, they use that throughout the majority of the album. Those moments of near-muted melodies being violently interrupted by sudden bursts of Grind-like aggression and thumping drums form the backbone of “De Profundis”, “Black Flames March”, All That May Bleed”, “Sleepless Evil” and “Holocaust Dawn”. Each track is more chaotic than the one that came before, and the utterly shit mix that gives the drums a loud, plastic-y thud (what the unholy fuck, Tore?!) totally drowns out the guitars. These aforementioned songs have absolutely no melody or flow to them, and if you can actually remember a single riff from any of them you should consider donating your brain to science, as you are blessed with the ability to hear tones and waves inaudible to the naked human ear.
Whereas the abovementioned songs serve as prime examples of basic structural grasp having gone out the window, others are just plain laughable. Believe it or not, but the band saw fit to include a full on ballad on here. “They Rode On” is 8 minutes of syrupy melodrama, and I can already see a future gig where their scores of female fans will be waving their lighters in unison to Erik’s croons of “Say gooooodbye… to the la-hight”. Not to belabour the point, but this is seriously the most pitiful WATAIN song I’ve ever had to sit through, and it doesn’t really get better from here on in. The title track is in a similar fromage-laden vein, though here the insipid clean vocals are offset by sporadic bursts of aggression and faint traces of flamenco guitar. Why are they there? God knows. Hell, the same applies to the inexplicable presence of orchestral touches in “Black Flames March” and the eerie yet ultimately disposable violin strains near the end of “Holocaust Dawn”. I’m all for experimentation, but when the instrumentation is as haphazardly and arbitrarily handled as they are here, then there’s no point. It’s like they threw us these curveballs simply because they could, not because they actually serve to further the dynamic of the songs. Oh, and speaking of curveballs, we’re thrown another big one in the form of “Outlaw” – a peculiar number that sees the band opting for straight-up tribal beats, ritualistic chanting and a series of detached guitar licks that simply float in and out of the mix without rhyme or reason. It’s an interesting song, but they pilfered the basic idea from PHAZM’s “Burarum”.
This effectively leaves us with “The Child Must Die” as the one decent song on here, and it is definitely classic WATAIN through and through – rich melodies, and eerie atmosphere and great riffs. If the album had more songs like this on it, then we’d be talking top 20 here. As it stands, however, “The Wild Hunt” is a laughably pathetic release that completely misses the mark in terms of execution. An ill-conceived piece of bush-league “Black” Metal that tries to take you everywhere but ultimately arrives nowhere. The biggest disappointment of 2013, bar none.
(Online August 8, 2013)