Erik Danielsson of Swedish metal band Watain is no stranger to dissention. A devout Satanist and proprietor of true black metal ideals, Danielsson has spent the better part of his career teetering on the cusp of controversy, while creating an assemblage of truly blasphemous music for the heavy metal masses.
After releasing their most well-received effort with 2007’s Sworn to the Dark, Watain has returned with Lawless Darkness, an amply ambitious follow-up that delves further into the band’s malevolent paradigm of pure, unadulterated evil.
I had the opportunity to speak with Danielsson prior to the band’s highly anticipated North American run. We discussed the current state of their nefarious genre, the eminent evolution of Watain, and how the band has resurrected black metal entirely.
Lawless Darkness was released earlier this year through Season of Mist. Now that you’ve had a chance to play some of the new material live, how has the response been?
I’m pretty delighted by the response and by the way we managed to make the songs work live because it was not–I don’t know, nothing is a sure thing. And you never really know how it’s going to feel when you just have an album out, and you’re going out for the first tour and pretty much replacing at least 50% of the set with new stuff.
But I think that with all the response that this album has gotten through magazines and so on, and especially from the fans, I think that people actually came to the concerts to hear the new stuff, or at least so it seemed. It’s been very, very rewarding, and it’s good to see that it works. And for us personally, I think the highlight of the new concerts so far has been the new material. So it’s good.
Prior to its release, you referred to the album as “the return of black metal.” Did you fear any sort of backlash from making such a bold statement?
Well, of course. It was meant as a provocation. But not a provocation just for the sake of being provocative, but for people to try to think and to wake up. I think black metal has been treated a bit poorly in the last years, and it doesn’t all have to do with the bands or the labels or releasing albums, but actually has a lot to do with those who are involved in the genre in general–that includes the fans as well.
And of course, a lot of people have said “that’s an arrogant thing to say” and “What about this band?” and “What about that band?” But frankly speaking, if one would compare black metal these days to what it once was, we had to take it to a point where there was a matter of either a rebirth or a funeral, and in this case, we preferred a rebirth.
What we mean is that Watain has the ambition and the power to take black metal to where it should have been by now. People have been lazy and unambitious; black metal is music for ambitious, large thinking people. I hate to see it being left to just copycats and visionless so-called artists. This genre demands cocky motherfuckers like us that are willing to do something with it.
The album seems like a very natural progression from its predecessor. How do you feel that the band has evolved since Sworn to the Dark?
I think that Sworn to the Dark became a sort of final breach in the temple of Watain. It created a sort of unity and a sort of foundation for us to finally be able to stand on and know where we had our feet and to know where we wanted to go next.
Up until Sworn, it had been a process of getting to know ourselves, which is one of the most important things an artist or a person can do. And with Sworn, we actually came to know ourselves and learn about our purposes. And of course, with that as a background and that as a foundation, Lawless Darkness became something quite sturdy, or very rich, because we finally knew what we wanted.
That’s an extremely relieving feeling, at least for me, because it just takes away so much of the–I don’t know, “insecurity” seems like such a strange word to use in relation to Watain in general. But we have found what we wanted to find, and that’s a very rewarding insight to be working with.
You’ve said in the past that black metal isn’t necessarily the most important thing to you, but Satanism is. What exactly does being Satanic mean to you and to your life in general?
Well, Satanism is first and foremost a religion and can be defined in many ways. Everyone knows that Satanism has its gods and it has its oaths and traditions and its ways of work. And the main difference between a Satanist and say, a follower of the general world religions, is that a regular Christian is devoting his life to his god and the will of his god. He devotes his life to please that god, and he devotes his life to do the work of his god.
A Satanist is different in the sense that I am sliding for not only a union, in fact, a transcendence and an aspiration into my god. And for a Satanist, it is not a sin but it is a blessing to be elevated and to transcend onto the level of a god, which in most religions, is something unthinkable and something extremely blasphemous and threatening.
Everything that I do in my life, everything that I am working with, especially Watain–which of course one could say is the most central aspect of my life–but all of these things are a way for me to communicate and to familiarize and to bond with and eventually become one with. To me, it is a search for my home, a way to get back to where I belong.
Well, with that in mind, do you feel that your music or your message is the most important aspect of the band?
I always consider the totality of the band as the most important. That’s why I never judge a band by just the music or just the message. For me, at least when it comes to Watain, that totality is always what’s important. That’s why we are always picky with details and careful as to what kinds of forums we appear because this whole thing, the totality of Watain, it’s delighting to us. It is everything that we are.
To a certain extent, black metal has become somewhat shadowed by its overall novelty, with many bands exploiting the origins of the music in favor of gimmicky ideals and personas. As a true black metal artist, how difficult is it to be lumped into a category with others who are clearly trying to cash in on controversy?
Of course, it bothers me, but to a certain extent, I have to be able to see the difference and to alienate myself or to alienate Watain from these people and from these kinds of bands because these kinds of bands will always exist. They always have, and they always will. Black metal always seems that about 90% of the bands are entertainers, you could say, while 10% have been something else, something far more tribal and spiritual, and far more profound in its nature. And that is how it always will be.
I think that as long as there is something real, and it doesn’t matter what art form you are talking about, but as long as there is something genuine somewhere, there will always be someone or probably more than just someone who will copy it and make money on it or thrive on it in some way. That’s just the way it goes. It’s a fucked up world, but that is old news.
In my life, I cannot be concerned with all these mundane things because after all, it’s these kinds of things that I want to eventually have nothing at all to do with. I don’t want to waste my precious breath or my mind power; I have far more important things to do.
The band is finally returning to the US for a proper headlining run. Are you excited to to bring Watain back to the States?
Yes, oh yes. (LAUGHS) Absolutely. We came back to Stockholm actually two days ago. We played our last show on a five-week European run. We consider that a nice warm up for the US tour, which we will leave for on Friday. We have four days at home now just rehearsing, and we need the rehearsing because as always, we are having problems to bring members into the country, but this time we managed to sort it out by bringing another guitarist instead of Set (Davide Totaro) who is usually doing guitar for us.
So actually, you’re probably the first person I’m telling this, but it’s the guitarist of a Dutch band called The Devil’s Blood, which is a progressive rock band from Holland who we have been in very close contact with for quite a long time. He seemed to be the right person, the only solution for the problem of not being able to bring Set. And actually, it’s working out really well, so I think people can look forward to, for the first time actually on US shores, seeing a complete Watain lineup. It will be the first US run where I will not be doing guitar or bass or whatever I’ve done before. This time I will only be doing the vocals, and it will be much more close to the real incarnation of Watain, which for me is a big relief.
You’ve definitely established yourselves as an incredible live band, but how difficult is it to recreate that when you’re somewhat limited in terms of your stage setup in the States?
We’re able to bring what’s most important, and that is ourselves and the fire we carry within ourselves. And that is, I think–no matter if people refer to the blood or the fire or so on–that is the most important aspect of the live show: it’s our personalities and our presence and our complete devotion to everything that we do on stage. And I don’t know, I think it’s hard to explain to someone who hasn’t been on that stage, but it’s magic. It’s magic in its purest form.
But apart from that, of course there are things to enhance that magic such as the fire that we’re beneath on stage and the blood and so on. The US has always been tricky, but this time I think it will be the least compromising tour we have done so far when it comes to a stage show in the US. So it’s for sure a step in the right direction.
In the grand scheme of things, what do hope to pass on to your fans through your music?
I wish to pass on a knowledge that there is far more to life and far more to death and far more to everything in between those things than what meets the eye. And Watain is a gateway into that kind of perception, and it is a gateway to the endless possibilities that both sides present.
That is a very ambitious goal to have as an artist, to have such a knowledge or such an insight onto the listener. I think 90% of the listeners will appreciate Watain for being genuine and an extreme and a sinister rock and roll band in its core, and that’s fine by me because that is also what we are. But if you’re asking me about the remaining 10% that might want to dig a bit deeper under the surface–well, there is a lot to find under the surface, I can tell you that, and that’s what we’re here for.
Lawless Darkness North American Tour:
11/06 – Pittsburgh, PA @ Mr. Smalls Theater
11/07 – Chicago, IL @ Reggie’s
11/08 – St. Paul, MN @ Station 4
11/10 – Denver, CO @ Marquis Theatre
11/11 – Salt Lake City, UT @ Club Vegas
11/12 – Portland, OR @ Branx
11/13 – Seattle, WA @ Studio Seven
11/14 – Vancouver, BC @ Rickshaw Theater
11/16 – Orangevale, CA @ Boardwalk
11/17 – San Francisco, CA @ DNA Lounge
11/18 – San Diego, CA @ The Ruby Room
11/19 – Hollywood, CA @ The Whiskey
11/20 – Tempe, AZ @ Clubhouse
11/21 – El Paso, TX @ Club 101
11/23 – Austin, TX @ Emo’s
11/24 – Houston, TX @ Numbers
11/26 – Metairie, LA @ The Bar
11/27 – Orlando, FL @ Back Booth
11/29 – Atlanta, GA @ Masquerade
11/30 – Baltimore, MD @ Sonar
12/01 – Cleveland, OH @ Peabody’s
12/02 – New York, NY @ Santo’s Party House
12/03 – Montreal, QC @ Les FouFounes
12/04 – Toronto, ON @ Opera House
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