Watain are a band that divide opinion within the metal community, but they’ve never struck me as a band that has any interest in pandering to one group or another for commercial gain; rather, they’re a band that make unapologetic and uncompromising extreme music with total dedication to their craft. And for all of its many flaws, Watain’s previous album The Wild Hunt always struck me as a genuine attempt at something new and different that paid homage to one of the band’s greatest influences (Bathory) while trying to simultaneously doing justice to their own legacy, without pandering to what long-term fans expected or wanted. The album’s mixed reception among fans was predictable and understandable, but made the question of the band’s future an interesting one: Would Watain continue down the road they began with The Wild Hunt and move yet further away from the traditional black metal with which they earned their reputation? In response, Trident Wolf Eclipse offers a resplendent and resounding ‘No’ on the band’s most extreme and punishing album to date.
In terms of the band’s own discography, the most relevant comparison would in fact be their debut album, Rabid Death’s Curse, released back in 2000. They’re both driven by a restless, furious spirit of violence and menace, and are incredibly orthodox in their approach to black metal, and they’re both are incredibly concise, Trident Wolf Eclipse clocking in at just over 34 minutes in total. The album explodes out of the gates in one of the band’s most visceral and violent songs to date, ‘Nuclear Alchemy’, an absolute rager which doesn’t let up with blastbeats, thrashy blackened riffs and one of Erik’s most visceral vocal performances to date. In fact, there’s not a single ballad to be found here, all you will find is ferocious black metal all the way through.
Most of the album finds itself propelled onwards by drummer Håkan Jonsson, who must be credited with delivering one of the most intense and dynamic drumming performances of any black metal album in recent memory. ‘Teufelsreich’ and ‘Furor Diabolicus’ are thunderous black metal blitzes which rage with a brilliant, unholy violence; ‘Ultra (Pandemoniac)’ is a terrifying monster of black/death metal ferocity, while closer ‘The Fire of Power’ dials in some of the aggression in favour of a more unsettling, atmospheric approach which brings classics like ‘Stellarvore’ or ‘Total Funeral’ to mind.
But the album also retains the distinctively melodic character of Watain’s later albums, and that’s really the key to what makes Trident Wolf Eclipse work so well. For all the force and aggression on display here, Watain are always finding ways of injecting snippets of dark melodies, riffs and hooks which catch the attention and draw you in for repeated listens. The first half of ‘Sacred Damnation’ invokes the epic scale of 2010’s Lawless Darkness, a perfect balance between violence and melody, while the latter half dispenses with vocals entirely in a truly sublime transformation into a trascendent black metal spectacle, driven onwards by Jonsson’s stunning work behind the drums and an eerie crescendo of black metal guitarwork.
One of the less frantic cuts, the opening of ‘A Throne Below’ draws on the primitive black metal of early Darkthrone, but later opens up, referencing Lawless Darkness‘ capacity for simple, sublimely beautiful choruses. The true highlight of the album for me is ‘Towards the Sanctuary’, which is perhaps the most Dissection-inspired song Watain have written in 17 years. The battery of the double-bass over discordant, yet strangely harmonised tremolo-picked guitar leads and Danielsson’s harsh, manic vocal style rises to a crescendo during the chorus, and yet the song’s momentum continues to build into an eerie, beautiful avalanche. It’s one of the best songs Watain have ever written, a relentless, violent, beautiful black metal masterpiece which wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Casus Luciferi.
The production on the album overall is superb: it feels organic and full of vigour, it does a good job of making sure not to bury or obscure any of the layers or details in the music, and with plenty of dynamic range it’s very easy on the ears and a thankful departure from the sterile, compressed sound of The Wild Hunt. If the dull ballads and lifeless production of The Wild Hunt left you feeling cold, Trident Wolf Eclipse is for you. It’s everything Watain does best, with all of the fat trimmed away with probably the best production of any album in their discography. Watain have well and truly reclaimed their unholy throne.
Trident Wolf Eclipse is available to order through Century Media Records.