Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Watain - Rabid Death's Curse (2000)

The cult of Watain was formed in 1998, in the cold and grey land of Sweden. After a handful of demos, and even a live album, they unleashed their first LP in 2000. Rabid Death's Curse shows a band with a lot of chaotic energy. I was somewhat familiar with a few of these songs, before getting the album, but Casus Luciferi is the one that really drew me in, so going back and picking this up left me a little disappointed at first. It did not fully match up to the expectations that I had for it. However, what awaits the listener with this opus is a dark and morbid album that is drenched in a deathlike atmosphere.

From the beginning of "The Limb Crucifix", one can sense a very raw atmosphere. It is like your skull is split open by an axe, and your brain erupts. This is accentuated by the grim vocals, sounding somewhat gargled. Erik Danielsson does well not to overpower the sound, simply blending in like another instrument. The raging Black / Thrash riffs are followed by some more traditional tremolo riffs that really carry a dark and sinister feeling. The drums are blasting and quite typical for this style. Worth mention is that the bass is audible, and the sound is somewhat reminiscent of old Mayhem.

"Rabid Death's Curse" begins with eerie sounds as a ghostly guitar melody fades in. The song rages forth for a brief time, before slowing down a bit. It is during this section that it truly drips with utter morbidity. The vocals have a very "Dead" quality to them, as one can imagine a rotting corpse rising from a dark and forgotten crypt, half-decayed and thirsting for mortal blood. As with the last song, the bass adds depth to the sound, accentuating the macabre guitar riffs. The band really seems to shine during the mid-paced sections, which allows the atmosphere of gloom and dread really begin to unfold and to consume the listener.

"On Horns Impaled" erupts forth, like a legion of demons bursting through the gates of Hell to unleash strife and torment upon the mortal world. Very fast-paced and straight-forward, this features more possessed vocals and pure chaos. The lyrics, on this album, display a wealth of knowledge, regarding the subject matter, far more evolved than most of their contemporaries. As with other songs on here, there is a noticeable Mayhem influence in some of the guitar melodies, though not as emphatic as on Casus Luciferi.

The next song is "Life Dethroned", which continues with the same furious pace as has already been established on this album. The opening riffs are sort of ominous, adding to the dark feeling of the album, followed by a melody that sounds inspired by some of Dissection's work from The Somberlain. The raw sound of the album kind of downplays this a bit, but the influence is clearly there. About halfway through, the sound changes to an oldschool Hellhammer / Celtic Frost vibe, yet with a cold tremolo melody cutting through it and circling like a vulture over a carcass. This is a good mixture of the northern style of Black Metal and the old school sound of the '80s.

"Walls of Life Ruptured" begins with hellish screams, blasting drums and intense guitar riffs. It is almost reminiscent of something from The Secrets of the Black Arts, from Dark Funeral. There are moments of true brilliance, foreshadowing what would come on the next album, briefly appearing and then vanishing suddenly. Everything about this album seems to be a rejection of the established Black Metal sound of the period in which it was recorded; instead, hearkening back to the '80s and early '90s. As the pace slows down, briefly, the song switches up and the hauntingly wicked tremolo melody is like a fresh razor slicing through pale, white flesh. 

The pace slows down and the macabre atmosphere culminates with "Agony Fires", one of the best and most memorable songs on the entire album. The early moments of this song are rotten with the stench of death and decay. The bleak guitar riffs and the dismal bass lines combine to convey a feeling of doom and hopelessness. Within a minute or so, everything speeds up. The structuring of the song is flawless and the chorus of hellish demons, midway through, is very nicely done. As the opening riff returns, one can feel that the graves are opening and that which has died shall return to end the world of the living.

"Angelrape" opens much as the first song of the album. This album is much less melodic than those that follow it. The twisted sounds serve to possess the listener and hasten the heartbeat, near the point of bursting. This serves to work the listener up into a frenzy, being like the storm before the calm, to reverse an old saying. On its own, it is not necessarily the strongest track on here, but it fits into place very well, within the context of the album as a whole.

"Mortem Sibi Consciscere" is the highlight of the album. This is what it has all been building up to. This is epic in nocturnal glory and utterly morbid and hideous. To listen to this is to voluntarily cast your body into a pit of serpents, reveling in the agony as their fangs pierce your flesh and the venom enters your veins. Beginning with mid-paced riffs that hearken back to the classic era of Mayhem, this track soon picks up speed and drags the listener deeper into the abyss. This does well to mix the gloom and occult feeling of the aforementioned band with the cold and melodic style of early Dissection. 

"For what dwells behind those flames
Is hidden for your eyes
And just one single glance
Would transform your smiles into cries"

There is a grim desperation to the vocals, at certain points, and one gets the feeling that this is no mere song. This is a dark ritual to be experienced. As the song builds to its climax, you can feel the dark spirits of the night embrace you, soon to be taken beyond the darkest shadows and into the grim nothingness. This is what is possible when a band comes along and truly embraces the spirit of the ancient ones, while also cultivating a darkness within themselves and going beyond mere imitation.

Rabid Death's Curse may be a few steps behind Casus Luciferi, but if offers an intensely impassioned performance of raw and morbid Black Metal, filled with haunting melodies and horrific vocal lines that will linger in your subconscious for a long time to come. Watain did a very good job in meshing the various influences that they had into something coherent and memorable, never compromising for even a second. This is the best Black Metal album to come from Sweden in a few years. If you're new to the band, take a break from the latest album and immerse yourself in the grim atmosphere of Rabid Death's Curse.