Sunday, January 20, 2008

Watain - Casus Luciferi (2003)


Casus Luciferi is the second full-length offering from the Swedish Black Metal band known as Watain. Released in November 2003, through Drakkar Productions, this recording embodies the spirit of early '90s Black Metal. Even the booklet and back cover possessed an old and worn look that matched the music. It was as if, finally, a band decided to pick up from where Mayhem left off with De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, while adding a healthy dose of influence from Dissection's The Somberlain. Though Rabid Death's Curse was impressive in its own right, this was something entirely different.

From the first moments of "Devil's Blood", one is taken back in time and dragged into a darkness that was often forgotten in the decade that preceded it. Eerily similar to the melodies from the title track of De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, one could either look at this as a rip-off or a tribute. The haunting tremolo riffs and morbid vocals come together to create a hellish and gloomy atmosphere. There is something urgent about this, as the listener is being carried into the depths of hell. Far from being one-dimensional, the songwriting displays a good sense of structure and it rather dynamic. As with Mayhem, the bass is just audible enough to add to the sombre vibe. The cold and nocturnal guitar melodies continue with "Black Salvation", which is one of the better songs on here. The vocalist sounds possessed by some ancient demonic force, giving the image of some entity that has recently forced its way out of a rotten coffin and crawled back through the damp soil. Though including some mid-paced parts, this song blasts ahead at a frantic speed for the most part, as well.

The next couple songs are not quite as memorable, though no less intense and well-written. "Opus Dei" and "Puzzles ov Flesh" work within the context of the album as a whole, but are not likely to be songs that one would return to for repeated listens. Still, a grim and occult atmosphere is present and these tracks are filled with hatred and blasphemy. The cold riffs and gloomy bass lines do well to fill your mind with morbid images. Unlike so many modern bands that rely on keyboards and still fail to create any kind of real atmosphere, Watain succeed in doing so using conventional means. It is hard to believe that this band hails from Sweden, as this is far superior to the trash being spewed out by the likes of Marduk and Dark Funeral in recent years, while also killing the sometimes-mediocre efforts by bands such as Armagedda.

"I Am the Earth" is a dynamic song that bridges the two halves of this album, starting out rather fast and including some more intense parts later on, but being dominated by guitar riffs that are very reminiscent of early Burzum and Mayhem's "Life Eternal". As with the rest of the album, there is an undeniably morbid feeling that one gets from listening to this, even the echoes sound as thought they are echoing from some forgotten grave. The latter part of the song possesses somewhat of a melancholy vibe that serves to drag your spirit down deeper. This is accentuated by the following track, "The Golden Horns of Darash". The slower parts that dominate much of the song really hearken back to classic Mayhem, while the faster riffs add a sense of desperation. However, this is another song that really works best while listening to the album in its entirety, rather than as a stand-alone track. The listener is being taken on a dark journey through the blackest shadows and into the mouth of hell, itself. The tension builds more and more during each song, as we near the end of all things.

One of the most memorable melodies of the album begins "From the Pulpits of Abomination." The explosion of demonic voices sounds as if the final barrier has been broken and the listener now realizes that there is no return. The tension continues to build as the melodies carry you into the darkness that is eternal. Now, it is too late. One can hear the cries of the damned souls that have gone before. From this place there is no escape. The cursed ones suffer in torment for all time. There is an urgency in the riffs that comes through perfectly. Everything is well-executed and done with precision. For the most part, this track is fast-paced and carried forth by cold tremolo melodies, though a weird section appears late in the song that sort of derails things for a bit. However, the climax is so brilliant that one forgets this misstep.

Thunder and rain begin the final song. Satan's bell chimes your final doom. This is, of course, reminiscent of the song "Black Sabbath" by the band of the same name. But this is much darker, indeed. This is the culmination of that legacy began so many decades before. "Casus Luciferi" imbues the listener with horrid and twisted visions of torment and hell. This is certainly the legacy of Mayhem and Dissection seen to macabre fruition. The slow, doomy riffs inspire the listener with dread as the fast tremolo melodies increase the tension and unleash the fury of hell; a fury that will not be denied. The blasting drumbeats carry the listener forward on a path unknown. As the song comes to an end, as the melody fades into the storm of wrath, you realize that is was just a dream; this was but a mere glimpse of the fate that awaits. Utter damnation and desolation. A nightmare come to life. One to be feared by the weak for the rest of their days. Knowing that, sooner or later, it would come to pass.

Casus Luciferi is colder, darker, more sinister and hateful than most of its contemporaries. With this album, Watain picked up from where Mayhem left off and created the type of Black Metal album that many have been waiting for in all the years that have passed since the demise of Euronymous. With a better sense of composition than many bands that have tried to keep the old spirit alive, as well as production that is just clear enough to allow for the riffs to be fully appreciated while still being harsh enough to embody the underground spirit of their forebears, Watain have here succeeded in doing that which few others have even attempted. To follow the path of Darkthrone or Burzum is something rather common, yet for a band to finally attempt to recreate the brilliance of De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas is quite rare. It may not be entirely original, but there is some value in keeping the black flame burning in these dark times. If you are a fan of classic-era Mayhem (or The Somberlain, for that matter), seek this out.