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Watain talk blistering new single The Howling: "Our work is an illumination of the abyss"

(Image credit: Nuclear Blast)

Notorious black metal troupe Watain have unveiled The Howling, the first single from their upcoming seventh album The Agony & Ecstasy Of Watain

Pairing hellish screams with blistering blast-beats, the track continues the ire of the band's 2018's Trident Wolf Eclipse while adding in imperious melodies used so well on 2013's Swedish chart-topping The Wild Hunt. Vocalist Erik Danielsson won't be baited on whether the single is indicative of the direction Watain are taking with this new release, however. 

"I have no idea to be honest, I'll leave that for others to decide!" he says. "We chose it because it is a great song and one that we felt could make for a suitable presentation of the new era of Watain. There are both harder and rawer, and slower and deeper songs than The Howling on the album, but it is a very strong song with an undeniable Watain-ian power."

Watch the official video for the track below.

Due for release on April 29 via Nuclear Blast, The Agony & Ecstasy Of Watain is the Swedish kvlt collective's seventh studio album. In addition to announcing the album's release, Watain also released digital and physical copies of The Howling on both black and oxblood 7" vinyl, with a B-side of the band covering New York black metal group Profanatica's I Arose

Hammer spoke to Danielsson to peek behind the curtain for what Watain have in store with album #7...

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(Image credit: Nuclear Blast)

How much has changed for Watain since Trident Wolf Eclipse?

"As always, we have used the time between albums to venture deeper and further into the wilderness of the Watain universe. Still, if your music is wild and free, transformation and progress is inevitable. We twist and coil and grow from each horror, from each marvel, from each revelation and from each other. We have met frequently throughout the entire pandemic and made sure we did not arrive at some unwarranted standstill. We have regrouped, recharged and refocused. And many great things came out of it. The new album being the crown of those achievements."

When approaching the new album, was the intent to follow the same path or try something different? 

"For me personally, following the creative path I’m on has always been about coming closer to the essence, the core of my being, that sacred wellspring from which I have gained my vitality and spiritual fire. In that sense, it is always the same winding path. But as you proceed to walk it, progress and personal transformation will naturally occur. You find new branches, new twists and turns, new ways to approach that source, and also new ways to translate that approaching into music and lyrics. All my music and all of my lyrics deal with a communication with - and exploration of - the darkness that contains the eternal mysteries of life and death. With the diabolic fire that is the foundation of Watain we make visible that which lays hidden in the darkest deeps. That is really what our work is in essence; an illumination of the abyss."

There was some talk about the album being closer to 2010's Lawless Darkness than the last two releases – how do you see the relationship between those two albums?

"I think it was just a feeling towards the musical side mostly, that if I had to compare it to any other album it would perhaps be that one. But then again the differences are clear and they should be, considering the time and toil and wars and rapture that have transpired since then."

What significance do you think Necromorbus [producer Tore Stjerna, who has worked on every Watain release to date] has on Watain’s sound?

"Tore Stjerna has been our soundman and producer since day one, in the studio as well as on the road. In certain ways I consider him an integral part of our sound. We collaborate in a quite seamless fashion and he understands what his role is in the process, to not overstep his bounds but instead contribute when needed with his vast knowledge, especially of the technical side of things. This was also the first recording we did in his new studio, which is located in an old church that we transformed into our audial resonation temple for the duration of the recording. Honestly just as epic and peculiar as it sounds."

How did the experience of recording live change the way the album sounds/felt?

"I think it changed everything quite drastically, to be honest. At least it was a huge difference for us to truly be able to summon the storms together in one room instead of the far more clinical approach of tracking each instrument individually. I would say it had a huge impact on the final result. It enabled us to capture the intent, the acuteness of the communal experience and the raw performance in a far more effective way than ever before. When you perform together, the music becomes your common spawn, an Egregore if you will, uplifted by the joint force of everyone involved. I found it truly inspiring to work that way instead of the usual one, a far more fitting way of dealing with the wild music we play."

What is the meaning behind the title The Agony & Ecstasy of Watain

"Thematically, the title should be thought of as a reference to the duality of Watain; high and low, sacred and profane, life and death, light and darkness, male and female. More specifically, 'agony' represents the deepest darkness and death,  while 'ecstasy' is the transcendent fire of the liberated spirit. In between those two extremes or poles, occurs the magical friction that becomes our artistic expression. This is also what can be seen on the album cover between the two columns to the left and right. In other words, the title is a quite literal declaration of what the album contains. The subject-reference should be thought of in a similar way as The Passion Of The Christ or The Possession Of Emily Rose."

The Howling seems to bring back some of the more grandiose elements you used on The Wild Hunt - what do you think they bring to Watain's sound and is it something you see yourselves exploring more on the album?

"There are certainly quite grandiose and epic arrangements in The Howling which on our last album to a certain extent had to give way for a more predatory and aggressive approach. But I have always been a great admirer of Wagnerian fucking Manowar and Bathory atmospheres and it felt great to be working with such a pallet again. As the title suggests, this is an album of strong sentiments and ardent emotions, and you will be able to trace much of heavy metal history in it I’m sure."

What is The Howling actually about?

"The Howling is a song about the wordless voice that calls us from the beyond, urging us on into the unknown. It is the voice that beckons us to great deeds and on to forbidden paths of knowledge, crime, ecstasy, transgression. We fear it, but we hunger for it..."

The lyric 'A call to see, to learn, to know/so that fearless we may go beneath, beyond, behind, below' seems to be reflective of the message included in Watain’s manifesto for this album; was this intentional?

"It wasn't, but all that we say and do should tie together in one way or another, so I am not saying you are wrong in your assumption either. The manifesto is however a separate piece that we chose to write in order to clarify our artistic intent and expression, since through the years we have grown increasingly tired of being misquoted, misjudged, misinterpreted. Many of the old industrial/noise bands had similar manifestos and I have always been inspired by the fearless eccentricity of that scene."

What does 2022 hold for Watain?

"Our return to the world of man, first and foremost! We have truly been making the most out of the last few years of well-earned exile, but we are more than ready for the beginning of a new era. I foresee many bewildering experiences and soul-fucking outbursts of magic, metal, agony and ecstasy."

The Agony and Ecstasy Of Watain is due April 29 via Nuclear Blast

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The Agony & Ecstasy Of Watain track listing:

01.    Ecstasies In Night Infinite
02.    The Howling
03.    Serimosa
04.    Black ****
05.    Leper's Grace
06.    Not Sun Nor Man Nor God
07.    Before The Cataclysm
08.    We Remain
09.    Funeral Winter
10.    Septentrion

Watain: The Agony & Ecstasy Of Watain

(Image credit: Nuclear Blast)

Staff writer for Metal Hammer, Rich has never met a feature he didn't fancy, which is just as well when it comes to covering everything rock, punk and metal for both print and online, be it legendary events like Rock In Rio or Clash Of The Titans or seeking out exciting new bands like Nine Treasures, Jinjer and Sleep Token.