Music Reviews


Sworn to the Dark

Southern Lord

Watain’s sound is one of dead things, dormant worlds and lost, half-remembered primitive impulses, profane rites and a triumph in overcoming guilt and conscience. Songs shift and molt, unafraid to take their time and expand on a theme, a movement, twisting it beyond all comprehension. Watain’s Sworn to the Dark is a sprawling guide through metal’s darker corners: black metal, thrash, doom, NWOBHM/power metal’s innovative structures and pacing, even some of hardcore punk buzzbombs. Watain have seemingly ingested metal’s history as a sticky whole and now are spitting it back in a deep red spray. Goddamn these fuckers can play.

It’s very close to an ideal expression of what black metal should be: angry and nihilistic to the core, but with an experimental and progressive undercurrent that makes them unafraid to stretch the somewhat narrow strictures of the genre into new exercises in extreme metal. Primitive yet skilled, reckless but focused, atavistic AND evolving — Sworn To The Dark is an exciting herald of things to come. Satanic fucking slaughter? Of course, of course. And Watain can bring it live as well.

The screams of “Satan’s Hunger” in the chorus of that selfsame song belie any doubts as to intensity, how much they meeeeeeean it, but damn if those choruses aren’t bookended by discordant solos and a hailstorm of riffs and tempo changes. The lead guitars, sharp and trebly, sounds like angry ghosts or wind whipping through a forest of dead, brittle trees. Percussion is precise and blistering, blastbeats a’plenty, I assure you, but there is more to heaviness than just quickness. Thank fuck, “Light That Burns The Sun” goes from lightspeed to epic funeral lament and back to thrashing menace all on a dime. The vocals are full-throated raspy shrieks, screams of dark oaths that confidently front the band, rather than being left behind in a storm of guitar riffs and whirlwind drumming.

There’s no hurrying through songs and albums and then sneaking off like a thief in the night — Watain exult in the craft and evil of their songs, there’s like this palpable arrogance that seeps through every note, with a willingness to continue shifting and exploring the possibilities of a single song — like hey fucker, you thought that was heavy, well check out the fucking bridge on, say, “Serpent’s Chalice!”

New model black metal. It’s fucking beautiful.

Southern Lord:

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