Watain’s The Agony & Ecstasy Of Watain: savage, brutal and… catchy?!

Album review: Watain take black metal into stellar new realms on The Agony And The Ecstasy of Watain

The Agony & Ecstasy Of Watain album cover
(Image: © Nuclear Blast)

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Watain's unwavering commitment to sonic extremity, combined with their transcendent live show, has helped to establish them as the preeminent force in today’s black metal scene, though not without controversy. In 2018, touring member Set Teitan stepped away from the band when photos emerged of him performing a Nazi salute. It was another black eye for a subgenre seeking to distance itself from such problematic behaviours.

On their latest, Watain resume their impious evolution, though the growth is subtle. Ecstasies In Night Infinite announces the album’s murderous intent with a firestorm of blastbeats and buzzsaw riffs, building to a dizzying, Slayer-esque solo. The Howling and Before The Cataclysm tap into wavelengths of such unrelenting malice that they seem to channel the very fires of Hell, serenaded by Erik Danielsson’s raw, blistering vocals. The influence of Dissection continues to ride on Watain’s shoulders like a hateful, coal-eyed raven, particularly on tracks like Black Cunt. Leper’s Grace throws sand in the face of any black metal purist with a rumbling low-end that foists its meaty bassline front and centre.

Though happy to swing sledgehammers at the skull all day long, Watain pull back the BPM on Serimosa, with its stabbing melody and grinding, mid-tempo malevolence. It’s a great example of how Watain are inspired by, rather than imitators of, the old-school Norwegian style. Then there’s We Remain, a luminous incantation that opens with the ethereal vocals of Molassess’ Farida Lemouchi, as the track’s winding, baleful melody builds to a stirring crescendo.

Though you’d never use the word ‘accessible’ with Watain, The Agony & Ecstasy Of... is their catchiest outing yet, and jaws will surely drop at the level of both savagery and precision on display. As Watain continue to push, pull and expand their scene into captivating new realms, one is left with two options: get in or be dragged.


Joe Daly

Hailing from San Diego, California, Joe Daly is an award-winning music journalist with over thirty years experience. Since 2010, Joe has been a regular contributor for Metal Hammer, penning cover features, news stories, album reviews and other content. Joe also writes for Classic Rock, Bass Player, Men’s Health and Outburn magazines. He has served as Music Editor for several online outlets and he has been a contributor for SPIN, the BBC and a frequent guest on several podcasts. When he’s not serenading his neighbours with black metal, Joe enjoys playing hockey, beating on his bass and fawning over his dogs.