Nearly ten years have passed since the release of Casus Luciferi, the record that really cemented Watain's place in the underground. Yet, in all this time, they have failed to live up to the potential shown on that effort. This is a band that has disappointed for some years now. The first strike was the much more accessible Sworn to the Dark, its release coinciding with a huge jump in popularity for the band. Every goth girl-turned-Black Metal-expert was on the bandwagon, along with countless others that were eating up the band's Orthodox philosophy. It got even worse when they released the watered-down Lawless Darkness, with the Black Metal parts seeming to be rehashed ideas from the previous albums while the obvious leanings toward a more traditional Metal sound were clear. I have long opposed the spiritual beliefs held by the band members, mostly due to the fact that their popularity among the recently initiated have been helping to breed a new kind of Black Metal fan, one that is accepting of the Great Lie of Judeo-Christian mythology, rather than rejecting it all and opposing every aspect of its existence. However, with their fifth album, Watain has relieved me of this worry as they have fully stepped away from the realm of Black Metal, despite continuing to use the aesthetics and rhetoric. Released in August 2013, The Wild Hunt marks the official coming out of the closet of this once-relevant band.
Apologists will likely cling to the belief that the band's core values have gone unchanged and that people only criticize the new album due to the fact that it is released by Century Media, a label known for low-quality mainstream filth. The truth is that Watain sold out long ago and the strategic move to a larger label is yet one more step in their evolution as a purely commercial entity. The Wild Hunt is so completely laughable that one can hardly take this seriously. This has to be a joke, yet these guys seem serious about it. The songwriting is so wretched that it is shocking that they took so long to write and record this. It couldn't be more generic if they tried, with the typical recycled thrash riffs and Black Metal parts that are so watered-down that you may drown from listening to it. From the opening moments of the record, it is clear that Watain lost any and all inspiration to make good music a long time ago. Even the first real song, "De Profundis", blatantly rips off old Tormentor. Worse than this musical theft is the amount of effects on the vocals, trying to cover up the fact that Erik's voice has been weak and destroyed for several years now. Trying to cover this up with studio trickery only makes it more apparent. The drumming is incredibly overactive, all throughout the album. It seems as if Håkan was so bored with the tired riffs that he was just doing anything that he could to keep from falling asleep. The songs "All That May Bleed" and "The Child Must Die" were the first to be released, and should have been enough to serve as a firm warning that the band that crafted Casus Luciferi had long ago died. The latter is dominated by riffs that would not have been out of place on Motley Crue's Shout at the Devil.
A lot of controversy seems to center around the weakest track on here, "They Rode On", and for good reason. This has to be the cheesiest thing that I have heard in a long time, from the songwriting to the ridiculous lyrics and the utterly hilarious vocal performance. There is no problem if someone has varied musical taste. By all means, listen to as many different things as you wish. But when you are trying so hard to be the modern epitome of underground Black Metal, recording a goofy ballad with crystal clear production is just asking for a negative reaction. If a musician needs to express himself in other ways, that is what side projects are for. Chances are, this is the sort of song that these guys have been dying to record for a long time, just now getting up the courage to do so. Perhaps, they realized that most of their fanbase is made up of girls and that they would eat this garbage up. They try to salvage their image by placing a more intense song immediately after this, "Sleepless Evil", but it is so drenched in effects and generic riffs that it is easily forgettable and makes no impact. The same can be said of the album closer, "Holocaust Dawn", which tries to hard to be epic and brutal but fails in every way. By this point, even a less critical listener should realize that it is all for show. Whatever fire Watain once possessed was extinguished a long time ago. They even seem to be courting the wannabe thug/hardcore crowd with the jungle beats that dominate "Outlaw". One has to wonder what the hell they were thinking in recording this nonsense.
Special mention has to be made of the further raping of Bathory's corpse, which Watain has taken to in recent years in some fantastical hope to proclaim themselves as heirs to Quorthon's legacy as well, with the title track. However, instead of imitating the style of "The Return...", they have decided to take a stab at incorporating the Viking Metal approach of Blood Fire Death or Hammerheart. The vocals are especially awkward and horrible, though this is in part to the putrid lyrics. It seems that, with this album, the band has no idea what style they want to play, so they are just throwing everything against the wall to see what sticks.
Anyone that supported this band from its earliest days, back when no one outside of Sweden had heard them, has every right to feel wronged. Personally, I feel shame for ever having contributed anything to their cause. With the left-turn they took with Sworn to the Dark, there was a sense of denial about what was happening. However, if Lawless Darkness did not make it clear enough, The Wild Hunt has certainly proven that this band possesses no relevance for the Black Metal scene. This album is a farce, yet the joke is on those of us who supported them during the days of Rabid Death's Curse and Casus Luciferi. As for the members of Watain, they will be laughing all the way to the bank, cashing large checks from Century Media for sales of this mainstream, accessible garbage that they call music, as well as all of the merchandise that they continuously pump out with their logo feces smeared all over it.
This is the epitome of generic songwriting, a disgusting abandonment not only of Black Metal but of anything remotely underground and features an over-produced and plastic sound that suits the theatrical and disingenuous approach of the album. However, those within the Black Metal scene can rest easy now. There is no longer any need to expose Watain for the false entity that it has become, for their most recent musical statement is shouting from the rooftops that they have nothing to do with the underground and never belonged in the first place. Perhaps, their whole career has been a strategic plan to dupe listeners and to ride the coattails of cult bands like Mayhem, Burzum and Dissection, earning a reputation that would put them in a position to sell out, cash in and make fools of us all. By all means, avoid this at all costs.