Watain - Lawless darknessWatain
Lawless darkness
Season of Mist


The first thing you'll notice about this fourth studio full-length from the Swedish purveyors of stench-laden black metal is just how polished it is, at least in relation to anything they've previously vomited forth. It's a strange listen in that such a hefty production sounds great, even though it doesn't fully represent what was expected of the mighty Watain. The music itself is clearly representative of the Swedish horde though, with plenty of riffs that are instantly recognisable as Erik Danielsson and his cohorts, but there's something else in here. Other familiar black metal element has crept into the foray and, as much as some may try to deny it, it must be said that there's a slight tinge of Norway on "Lawless darkness". Or, to be more precise, there's a slight tinge of Dimmu Borgir on "Lawless darkness". Is that a bad thing? Well, yes and no. Dimmu Borgir is Dimmu Borgir and Watain is Watain. They're two definite entities that tread their own ground and pretty much do what's expected of them. For the Norwegians, it's black metal at its most polished, a big budget, high shine, mass appeal madness that works. For the Swedes, it's down and dirty, filth-ridden, black mass uneasiness. That works. Whether or not the high of their extreme cult status has now found Watain aspiring to the grander levels that Dimmu enjoys remains to be seen and, no doubt, will become clear with future releases. Listening to "Lawless darkness" though, it seems as if the journey may have already begun.

As a standalone black metal album this is damn fine stuff, standing head and shoulders above much of the material currently saturating the scene. As a Watain album it's... slightly unexpected. It's definitely a grower and it's definitely s(l)ick stuff, it just doesn't quite reek of the 666-year-old pig's blood that "Sworn to the dark" or "Casus luciferi" did. The sparse leads on the album, I don't think work. Most of the time they knock whatever true menace is currently growing off kilter and generally deaden the impact of the song. The most enigmatic of the tracks on offer is without a doubt the 14-minute closer, "Waters of ain". Throughout its duration it displays Watain at their most venomous, yet, equally, at their most mainstream. It's a great track. It's an odd track. Part of it is a Watain track. Part of it isn't. For the most part, "Lawless darkness" is a great album that I'll return to when I'm in the mood for some quality black metal, but If it's a true sense of impending doom I'm after, I'll just blast "Casus luciferi" instead.
- John Norby