Five years might seem like an unreasonably long gap between albums for a band of Watain’s cutting-edge clout, but then the Swedes plainly provided us with more than enough to chew on last time round. Perfectly timed to coincide with their stately rise to black metal’s media-conquering pinnacle, 2013’s The Wild Hunt was both wildly primal and fervently cerebral. It felt like the breathing, spitting sonic embodiment of the band’s underlying Luciferian individualism: barbarous to a fault but complex and contrary too, not least thanks to infernal outlaw ballad They Rode On and the genuinely unnerving Holocaust Dawn. The act of following up a widely acclaimed album of such self-evident quality has confounded many bands in the past, but Trident Wolf Eclipse once again confirms that Watain are one of the sharpest and smartest bands in the black metal scene.
The first thing you notice about Watain’s sixth album is its brevity: only 34 and a half minutes in length, Trident Wolf Eclipse delivers what is absolutely necessary and nothing more. From the opening seconds of the aptly titled Nuclear Alchemy onwards, it’s more than apparent that succinctness is not limited to the album’s duration. Where the Watain of five years ago revelled in the sinister slow build, these songs are aimed squarely at our twitching hive-mind jugular. After Nuclear Alchemy’s breathless and brutal three minutes are up, there is only a miniscule pause before Sacred Damnation erupts in a similarly bellicose manner, as if remotely triggered by Satan himself. Anyone worried that The Wild Hunt pointed to a future full of country rock whimsy can rest easy by this point, as spidery riffs slither across the barrage of kick-drums and low-end rumble and Erik Danielsson vomits out some abyssal credo, euphoric and aglow within Hell’s flames.
If they weren’t so notoriously obstreperous and disdainful of the notion of toeing some bland party line, one might conclude that Watain are purposefully reclaiming their crown as musical extremists here. From the pendulous swagger of Teufelsreich to the rampaging grandeur of Furor Diabolicus, and on to A Throne Below’s skewed melodic thrust and feral, heads-down canter, it’s an album that eschews traditional atmospheric ebb and flow in favour of an all-out assault. Not that something as pitch-black and priapic as Ultra (Pandemoniac) lacks dynamics or textural subtlety, but Watain have never sounded less interested in beating around the burning bush.
The downside of this, of course, is that Trident Wolf Eclipse offers little in the way of fresh revelations beyond the mild surprise that Watain have become better songwriters than ever by stripping things back to blistering basics. Few bands execute this kind of imperious, misanthropic extreme metal with anywhere near this level of flair or conviction, but those with more progressive instincts may find themselves puzzled by what could be misconstrued as a backwards step. But in truth, this is all part of Watain’s usual campaign of musical destruction: it’s just the streamlined, haven’t-got-time-to-fuck-about version, and it’s devilishly good.