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Interview: Watain

Watain‘s reputation precedes them. Blood (gallons of it)! Animals (heads of them)! Dissection riffs (lots of them)! The formula has made Watain the black metal band of the moment. Decibel put them on the cover of issue #69 (order here). Maryland Deathfest made them headliners. Their new album Lawless Darkness came out yesterday. People everywhere are jawing about them. Are they for real? Or are they some circus act? I talked to frontman Erik Danielsson to find out.

— Cosmo Lee

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What is the mission of Watain?

The mission of Watain, first and foremost, is to find a complete outlet for the things that we have within us. If you live with a beautiful partner for your whole life that you hold genuine affection [for], then you would not want to go through that [relationship] without expressing your feelings for your partner. We have the same kind of feeling inside of us for what people often call the devil. The dark nature within us – we have a genuine affection for it, and we need to express that. We need to put that into music.

Some musicians say they play metal in order to displace this dark side – they direct it into the music instead of their everyday lives, where they might instead commit crimes or do bad things. Do you disagree with this view?

Well, we commit crimes and do bad things, and then we write music about it. That’s the difference. To me, it would be very hard to express something that I didn’t feel was entirely me, that was something that I wanted to get rid of, because then the music would be a focus on something that I didn’t want in my life. But Watain – that is a celebration of all these things. It is our way of expressing our passion for it and our dedication to it. It’s a natural outcome of the life that we lead. So I am probably 180 degrees opposite to that kind of thinking. To me, the dark side is nothing that should be exorcised. It’s something that should be evoked and furthered, enhanced in any way possible, because it’s the only thing in my life that I feel has a true meaning.

What are some of these crimes and “bad things”?

These kinds of questions are natural, and they are valid, of course, with a band like Watain. But you must also understand that if this would have been an image thing for us, then maybe I could come up with all sorts of cool things. But right now we’re talking about things that are very serious to us, things that we build our lives upon. They are not to be “cool stories” or what some bad boys do in their spare time. Just rest assured that the energy that Watain manages to bring forth stems from experiences that reflect the same kind of energy. This is something we are always on the lookout for. Watain is one way to live these things. But there are many other ways as well. We are all what normal people would consider to be outlaws or enemies of society. We have to be. I think it’s the natural destiny of anyone deeply into this kind of art.

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Photo by Tor Johnsson

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Do you support all evil, then?

We’re talking about a very general concept here. The evil that people view as [such] – yes, probably. Why? Because the evil is often the force that breaks down law and order. It is the force that drags people over thresholds. It is the force that makes people realize that there is more to it than the illusions of everyday life. These things are important. There is a reason why there is an attraction to them, even in the heart of a regular man. They mean opportunity, they mean potential, they explorations of things unknown. They are breaking down the patterns of creation as we know it. In that sense, I support it fully.

Given what you said about law and order, if I break into your house and take something, would you not want the Swedish police to catch me and put me in jail?

No, I would want to catch you myself.

What’s the difference?

There’s a big fucking difference, because the police represent a system of illusive law and order that I do not support to any extent at all. My loss [is] not their loss. Their punishment [is] not my punishment. These things, when they happen to me, I prefer to take care of myself, because I am my own law, and I am my own society. I live in my own world, and that’s how I prefer to keep it. That’s the way I built up my life. So I’m much more of an eye-for-an-eye kind of person – or let’s say head-for-an-eye.

Do you think the world would be better off if all six billion people lived this way?

Yes, definitely, because it would shorten its long and painful process to total extermination. (Laughs) But I’m not very interested in the course of the world as such. I’m much more focused on [how] I and my brothers live our lives. The world is not a very interesting place to me at all. It can go about its own business. I know where it’s going, anyway.

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Photo by Tor Johnsson

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When did you first encounter the dark nature?

The minute I was born, I assume. If you’re talking about when I realized who I was deep inside, I assume that it took place in my early teens. When you start to realize who you are and you start to question the things around you, that’s a very delicate point in life. Most people explore these things for a little while, and then they move on into the safety of society and the safety of their confines that I view as a prison existence. There are a lot of nice and comfortable things to lean back [on], and the human mind is shaped that way. The human mind is meant to appreciate comfort and safety. But the part of me that led me into the opposite [direction], that part is not human in that sense. That part comes from somewhere else. That part is the only part of me that I view as relevant.

What were some of these teenage explorations?

Like always, there was a lot of hell-raising going on, literally. I don’t know if it was really the actions themselves – exploring how it was to break the law, or how it was to indulge in perversion, or how it was to indulge in violence – these kinds of things, of course, shaped me in a certain way. The main transformation was one that happened within me. My general outlook on life changed. Eventually that outlook came to color every important decision that I made in my life. Physically that meant to live outside of society, within my own world. [We] tried to build up strong walls around our own confines that later became the brotherhood of Watain. That was one of the results of my delving into these things.

Erik Danielsson on Watain and animals

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How did animals enter the presentation of Watain?

I’ve been doing a lot of interviews [in] these last [few] days, and we keep coming back to this subject. People seem to think that there is this shock value behind us using dead animals. There are animal activists who complain about this and that, and there is this taboo about Watain’s show. But people have to widen their concept about all this. These things have been used throughout all of mankind’s existence as a way to commune with something that is greater than life. What we’re using is, as the way I see it onstage, not a bunch of dead animals. People like to refer to it as roadkill. Who cares?

The important thing is that it has lived, and now it is dead. And therefore it represents a state of in-between. It represents a state of putrefaction that is very relevant in the magickal context, in the context where you actually can correspond with something that is beyond life, that is beyond reality. That is what these things are onstage for. They make gateways into something greater than life, something that lies beyond life. That is why they are there. That is why we use the blood. It is an ointment that has these qualities as well. That is something that people do not understand. These things – they do not mean any kind of controversy to us. They are a way for us to establish a connection with the power behind Watain.

If you asked most metalheads about Watain – “candles, darkness, animal sacrifice” – they would say, “Cool!”

I hope so!

Has any metalhead actually resisted Watain’s presentation?

You’re asking me if any metalhead [has] resisted. And I would say that if people resist, they are not metalheads. Then they are fucking wimps. But of course, to most people Watain will be an artistic expression that they can have a stance about, that they can have their own opinion about. If people don’t like the way we do things…I mean, I don’t like Manowar. We all have our own tastes. But what I find strange is when people come and say, this is too much, I prefer Emperor, who don’t do shit for me. OK, fuck off, you know!

To me, metal has always been about something real, something that you can almost touch because it’s so real in its energy. Look at the foundation of black metal. Look at Bathory and Venom and Mercyful Fate and Celtic Frost. They had an energy about them that [makes] the hair on my arms stand up when I think about it. Where has this [energy] gone? It should always be present, by any means possible. That’s one of our aims with Watain, to make that force come alive again.

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What would you say to atheists who say that there is neither God nor Satan?

I don’t know if I’d have that much to say to them. They do not really interest me. I’d much rather discuss with a Christian or with someone that at least has a more spiritual conception of reality. I don’t really have anything to discuss with these kinds of people. They don’t really mean much to me. It’s like talking to a wall, in a way. I’m not here to enlighten atheists. It’s their own loss that they have not come further in their spiritual search, or that they [haven’t] even indulged in one. They are welcome to listen to our music, but if they want to talk about the concept of it, then they have to loosen their atheist minds and open up for a different perception of reality. Otherwise, what’s there to discuss? I have other things to do.

So there’s an element of faith involved.

Definitely.

If you went deaf, what would you do instead of music?

(Pauses for a while) Hard to say. Being totally focused that I am on Watain, it’s one of these things that I don’t ponder too often. I live too much in the now, and [am] too much focused on what I’m doing now to think about what would happen if everything went to shit. But I always manage to overcome obstacles. With Watain, we have always managed to eliminate all obstacles that have come in our path. We have had members that couldn’t come on the tours. Then we just rearranged the lineup a bit. We had members having to go to the hospital 10 minutes before the show, but we still did the show. We always managed to be victorious. The devil always wins in some way.

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Trident Arts work, L-R: Black Breath logo; The Devil's Blood, Bloodline, Necrophobic, Nifelheim album covers

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You have a graphic design business called Trident Arts. What is your art background?

If you’re talking about education, I don’t really have any, apart from being deeply into that whole thing for as long as I can remember. I’ve always been attracted by strong graphics that speak to me. That’s pretty much the only reason why I became involved in it. It was just a natural thing, just like getting involved in music. I’m totally self-learned. I’m happy that way, actually. It’s the same thing with music. I never went to any musical classes and so on. To me, it puts limitations [on] creativity. I want to explore [things] myself, and I want to become an artist on my own. I haven’t really bothered about reading books about art – how to perform art. I’d rather just do it. I think that’s when you get the most genuine result.

What were some of your early visual reference points?

Of course, a youth filled with drowning in album covers, sitting, staring at the Blood Fire Death cover by Bathory or Iron Maiden covers or the first Black Sabbath album. I’ve been staring at those albums so much, I know them by detail [by heart]. I think that made my foundation. These very rich graphical expressions within metal have always been the ones that attracted me the most. I should also add that I’ve always been more attracted to the rougher and more DIY kind of stuff. I think that’s the perfect representation of death and black metal to me. I like it when it doesn’t look clean. Metal is not clean music.

These days many people download MP3’s without looking at liner notes or artwork. I talked to Tom G. Warrior yesterday, and he wasn’t bothered by this at all. He said that someone should listen to his music and be able get the power just from that without looking at the liner notes or artwork. What do you think about that?

No, I’m not sure if I would agree. I see Tom’s point. Maybe we have a slightly different opinion about this, though. We have a different approach to it in our art. Now, I know that Tom is one that cares deeply about the graphic side of things as well, obviously, if you look at the Celtic Frost albums. Of course, Watain’s music is powerful enough on its own. But I’m still opposed to the idea of someone that’s completely unaware of what graphic and what lyrical context the music should be expressed within. I feel a bit uncomfortable with that thought. I think I will never come to [agree] with these people that just are downloading albums and listening to them at their computer. I think they don’t see the whole totality of Watain coming through in that sense.

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What do you feel about people who listen to your music and buy Watain shirts, but don’t believe the same things that you do?

You’re referring to probably 90% of the people who appreciate Watain, to be honest. We are privileged to have a big fanbase that absolutely cares about our standpoint and what we are trying to express. But to say that they understand it the way we do – it’s a bit far-fetched to me. I’m confident that we ourselves have managed to create something that we can stand behind fully. We present that to people because we want to spread it. But the way it is taken in by others – that is really not up to us. It’s up to everyone to find what they like in Watain. I just know myself that I am doing exactly the kind of band that I myself would want to take part [of]. If other people just like the idea or just some songs, it’s just the way things go.

What are you listening to these days?

I’ve been listening to quite a lot of new music lately, for some strange reason. But [it’s] new music that sounds old, obviously, because I am not a big fan of modern music in general. I’ve been listening a lot to a band from Sweden called Ghost, which is a fantastic, kind of ’70s progressive rock band with a very dark and sinister lyrical theme. I think a lot of people will hear more about them soon. They’re just about to record their first full-length album. Repugnant from Sweden is another band I’ve been listening a lot to. It’s like the bastard child between Kill ‘Em All with Metallica and Altars of Madness with Morbid Angel. It’s fantastically vintage-sounding death metal, completely wild and untamed. It’s amazing.

Other than that, it’s a lot of classics. I always come back to Master of Puppets, the Mercyful Fate albums, Bathory, this really classic stuff that is timeless, that will never go away. That’s the kind of album that we aimed to do with Lawless Darkness. We don’t have any smaller intentions than that. It’s time for black metal to have another classic album, you know? There hasn’t been many, but it’s about time, I think, that someone took that upon their shoulders. This genre has been lacking monuments for far too long.

“Reaping Death”, from Lawless Darkness

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I think some people have been trying. I think Funeral Mist and Marduk have tried.

I would definitely say that Funeral Mist have succeeded. I would say that Dissection and Nifelheim succeeded, too. I don’t think that black metal has been dead since Bathory, not at all. But it’s still strange to me how few of the black metal albums that have come out during the last 10 years have actually been extraordinary. But Funeral Mist is definitely one of them.

If Watain had unlimited resources, what would you do that you have not done so far?

We would get a stage that was big enough to hold six billion corpses. Then we would arrange six billion human corpses and put them on the stage, and then we would play the last Watain show ever on that stage. And then we would probably go and have a drink at headquarters, and drink to the world’s end.

Would you join the corpses afterwards?

No, we would probably shuffle them in their own grave, and then we would find a more suitable place for a graveyard of kings.

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