By on 29 April 2010

In issue #196, out now (with the metal god that is Rob fucking Halford on the cover), I was lucky enough to be one of the first people, outside of the Watain inner circle, to hear their new album ‘Lawless Darkness’. As promised here is an extended article with frontman E, excerpts from the interview we did about the birth of their latest opus. The first and most pertinent question was to ask about the place we had been invited. We had been told by the label Season Of Mist that the band were hesitant to allow outsiders into their rehearsal room, an almost sacred lair, where as you’ll read below is a place where the band have created a universe that is essential to their craft and where they can escape into their own microcosmic world. It should be said that E is one of the most sincere, genuine artists I’ve interviewed, who has such a self-assured opinion of his art and everything he says feels like it has to be passed on and put in the feature. With just a few hundred words for the studio report it was hard to decide which elements of this interview to use, so I wanted to post this interview in whole as it seemed a disservice to the band and to E to leave so much of this conversation unpublished. There will be an in depth cover story, written by Olivier Badin, in issue #197, in which E further delves into some of the topics we merely touched upon, so look out for that on May 22.

The rehearsal studio, which is a bunker beneath a Stockholm subway station, has the feel of a secretive temple, and it was an honour to be invited, I was interested to know its history
E: “Dismember used to rehearse here back in the day and then Repugnant took it over for a while and then when they split up we got the place from them. We had about 5 rehearsal places since we started, and we always wanted a place where we could create our own world without interference from other people, and that doesn’t only go for the place where you’re actually playing the songs, but in general. No one of us actually likes to go to the pub, that’s the thing that belonged to our teenage years, as you grow up you realise that this thing with other people, its not that interesting after all. What we need is a place to sit down where we can be alone , you know, invite our allies and that’s it, we need our own place. That’s what we aimed for and that’s what we got.
“We wanted to create a place that resembled our view of things and we wanted our own universe. The minute that I walk down from the subway and close the door behind me I feel that I am at home, I shut the world out, and that’s exactly what we need. What we have created in here is a microcosmic version of the Watain universe.”

Could you consider this place as a temple or place of worship?
E: “Yes, i suppose so. I mean, for example, we all lived here, now our guitarist and bassist live down there. I lived down here myself before. I think no one of us had this need of feeling at home anywhere else than here, this is where we belong, y’know. I say that we are very lucky, as they call it in the normal world, to have this place. Its ours, and at this moment of time this is the point on the Earth where we reside.”

Is it essential as a conduit to your creativity?
E: “To me the physical place that you are in when you are writing music is not as relevant as the spiritual place that you are in. To me, the most important thing is to be able to put ourselves in a kind of environment where we are able to free ourselves from the humane or mundane shackles that we are in in our everyday life. So yeah, in a certain way, yes, its been important to have a place that we can relate to when we are composing the album, but on the other hand I could have just as well have written it on a boat to Finland. The physical place is not as important as the spiritual place that you are in at the time when you are writing it.”

Is there a ritual to get to that spiritual place where you can write the music of Watain?
E: “Most of our undertakings when it comes to Watain are ceremonial or ritualistic in the sense that we always consciously and intentionally try to distance ourselves from everyday life and the longer that this band has existed the more and more we do this to ourselves. I mean it doesn’t matter if we are here or not but in our minds and in our souls we are consciously always aiming away from a regular life, and that is why the album in the end came out as it did because if you want to express chaotic energy you have to live it, you have to experience it yourself.”

Dissection used to describe themselves as a Satanic Propaganda Unit – is this also true of Watain?
E: “In the sense that we are in fact aiming to get people to have a standpoint, yeah. Then again, we never pretended to be preachers in the sense that we would lead everyone to where we are at. The controversial aspect of the band will always be controversial for the people that go to a concert, listen to the album or reads the lyrics and then takes the standpoint that this is something that they can’t relate to, to the extent that they feel cornered. What we are aiming for is for people to make a standpoint, which is something that people in general perhaps don’t really do because nowadays, people are in too much of a hurry when it comes to music. People are easy, people are too like relaxed when it comes to such important things as music nowadays. To us, the propagandic part of it only goes as far to the extent that we don’t want to leave anyone without the feeling that they have been confronted with something that they have to make a standpoint towards.”
“I certainly cannot say that I respect people that listen to our album and then distance themselves from what we do, but on the other hand I would be a hypocrite if I would say that the only people that we want to perform for are the people that can relate to what we do. People relate to it in many kinds of ways. I don’t have a definite way of how I want people to react when they listen to a Watain album, the only criteria that I have is that they give this the attention that it needs in order for you to get a standpoint. Then be it that you relate totally to it and that you get devoured by it or be it that you distance yourself totally from it and are like ‘oh, this is completely alien to me, this is something that i don’t want to be a part of’. As long as you don’t feel like ‘oh whatever’.”

You have a very deep knowledge of your own ghostic beliefs, that’s crystal clear, and it’s manifested in how you respect the ways a listener can accept Watain’s music. With that in mind what do you think of the more theatrical, ‘Satanic for Satanic sake’ black metal bands who might claim Satanism but not have any spiritual grounding in its ethos?
E: “Most of metal and black metal are based upon blueprints that already exist. What we are doing is to embrace your own personal belief, and once again I would be a hypocrite if I said the whole black metal scene should only be about that, because it never has been and never will be. What I would like is that when people refer to black metal they should refer to a band like us or to Dissection instead of referring to a band that is based upon what someone who meant what they did, did. To me, its a bit embarrassing to think that these people that are following others, that they are meant to represent the genre. That’s why we never aim for anything less than world domination with Watain, because I want people to refer to Watain when it comes to black metal not to Dark Funeral, although I understand what Dark Funeral are doing and they are doing what the director of Rosemary’s Baby did. They are also doing entertainment with a satanic concept. [And that’s] fine. It always works like that, I mean so did Judas Priest and the Rolling Stones. They were not satanists, and maybe they were in it more seriously than Dark Funeral, but still, for them it was about entertainment. For some people it is not, and these kind of parts of the music scene have always been the ones that attracted me. The parts that are genuine, the parts that are made by people who actually mean what they say. And then if people want to take it to the level where they copy that or make that into an entertainment thing, fine. It’s a natural cycle of human beings. But that should not be the core of it, the core should always be people that mean what they do.”

Do you feel under pressure because you put so much stock, on so many levels, in what you want to create and put across?
E: “Of course. We would never be satisfied with anything less than what we would consider perfection, so we put a lot of pressure on ourselves, but its not the same kind of pressure that other people put on us. The only pressure that we have is from ourselves, and that’s pressure enough. For me, its never been a question of what other people might expect from the next Watain album, the minute we feel that something is wrong, then we wont do it. And that’s how we always work and that’s how we always will work.”

Do you feel you are a channel for something beyond this world?
E: “That’s what makes a difference between a person that believes in the ego and the person that believes in external powers. For me, Watain has always been the channelling of external powers that I have been blessed to correspond with. The shaman will always acknowledge the external powers to the extent that they are able to enter in. I see Watain as an interpreter of these powers, I see ourselves as translators of these powers. It’s a point that tends to get lost whenever I do interviews, because its not a thought of the modern day man that there are powers that transcend the human being. This is what religion has always dealt with and this is what defines religion, and that man himself is not the utmost being. He can however be a channel for a greater power and that is when he reaches Godhood. Because the second that an external power takes charge of you, because of an intention that you yourself as a human being have had to correspond with that power, the second that power in turn corresponds with you, that’s when magic is created, that is when real art is created. I think that this is maybe something that is more important to the artist than to the listener. It is important to the listener in the sense that someone who is genuinely interested in music will always appreciate this kind of art. The kind of art that is permeated by something greater than an artist that is just inspired by other artists. Real art that survives the course of history will always be the kind of art that is blessed, that has external influence by something that is not human and to me this is where the point I’m expressing often clashes, but to me this is a very natural thought. I have had this all my life. This is something that is part of my reality. While to some I might sound like a crazy person. The wellspring of my artistry doesn’t necessarily have to do with me as a human being but rather with the powers that I have come to correspond with in my course of life. This is the very foundation of Watain.”

You worked with Tore (Necromorbus Studios) again, does he help to channel this ethos through his production?
E: “Tore has no relation to the fundamental powers whatsoever. But what he has is a genuine feeling for music, although he perhaps doesn’t acknowledge the wellspring of the music to be the same wellspring that I see it as. But he is a very artistic person and we have always worked with him, so for me it is like the last step will always be through him somehow and I’m completely confident with that because what we bring to the studio is something that we consider is finished, while Tore is able to bring it to another level when it comes to this fine-tuned music, which is just what you need in a studio environment. The important things as an artist to bring to the studio is the essence of the work and how it is delivered is very much up to the producer. That is why people are saying ‘if you want to develop why don’t you go with another guy’, the other guy is not the one who should be responsible for the development of the relevant part of the music, that is us as artists. We will always develop, but I like to have to rehearse the final filter of work for the production, he has this genuine understanding of what we are trying to do, although he’s an atheist and he doesn’t believe in anything of what we believe in as Satanists but as a creative person he is very rewarding to work with.”

The work you’ve done with Tore and the work he’s done with your allies from Necrophobic to Dissection gives a feeling of consistency between all the band’s within your inner circle, is it deliberate that there are similar elements in sound and feeling throughout these bands?
E: “It’s definitely not conscious. I wouldn’t say its Tore either. Maybe it resides in the air around here. We’re all interpreters of the same source of power, and of course we influence each other to a certain extent. Just as the Russian minimalists influenced each other back in the day, we’re contemporaries, so to me its not that strange. We have never meant to limit ourselves within a certain musical context, we never meant to aim to a very small audience, we have always done what we felt for, and to us its natural. I don’t know if Rainbow aimed to reach out to a wide audience, or it was just in their nature that their music turned out to be something a lot of people could relate to. The album is not about specific rites of Tibetan monks, its about the dark side as a whole, which is something that a lot of people can relate to. I mean so is Dio and so is Iron Maiden. It is a broad concept that we are influenced by and that we are trying to express, to me its not strange that a broad audience can relate to it. To me it is just something that is great and rewarding. It’s not minimalistic art in that sense, its meant to be broad. No one of us has ever been shy of what we are doing, and bringing it to the masses. I mean why not? It’s always been like that. It’s never been a question of ‘lets try to stay more like controversial musically’ that’s never been the case.”

Is Watain still a unholy trinity?
E: “The album is purely written by us but Alvaro (bass) and Set (guitars) were present during the whole recording, they contribute when we finally sit down to record the stuff. They play their own version of the songs, so we’re all in the same room. It’s a common effort. But the main structure of the album is built on us three (E plus drummer H and guitarist P). What you have to understand about the other members is that the only reason we still go on as a trinity is that we swore an oath always to do that, and we have gained a lot from it. When we recruited Set and Alvaro and Johan, he’s been with us even longer, he’s the one that is in charge of all our stage set, Its always been a brotherhood thing, we’ve always been the same group. So for us, it’s six persons but the three of us are the primal source of everything. And that’s the way it will always be because that’s the way we swore for it to be.”

Why did you work with Pete Helmkamp on some of the lyrical aspects of ‘Lawless Darkness’?
E: “First of all, since I was young I always loved his work in Order From Chaos and Angel Corpse and he’s been a huge influence when it comes to lyricists. To me he is the Shakespeare of black metal. His lyrical abilities are over the top. And I always wanted him to do something for Watain, and we got in touch around the year 2000 and we started to correspond, and then we went on tour with Angel Corpse when they reformed in the USA and we realised that we had a lot in common. So then I went to visit him in the summer in San Francisco and stayed with him for a few days, and I brought up the subject that i would really like to have him do something for the album and two months later he delivered the lyric. It feels great to have a person that I always wanted for the album.”

More surprisingly you invited Carl McCoy from Fields Of The Nephilim to sing on the album, I know you’re a fan – was this down to a touch of hero worship?
E: “I wouldn’t use that term, it feels too… if I felt like that I would’ve bought in Axl Rose. Carl McCoy is one of the main reasons why I became a vocalist in the first place, his was one of the voices that made me want to sing. To have him specifically on that part of the track, which is the track that I wrote for my own funeral. His lyric lines are ending the whole piece, and to have the first vocalist who inspired me to sing the final lyrics of the song that I will one day have played at my funeral.”

Funeral? You’re not planning…
E: “There is no dates set I just wanted to make a couple of things sure and to have him there means a lot. Apart from that, his view on music, his perfectualistic view, his magical view on how music works, is something that I built a lot of my own view of music on because Fields Of The Nephilim were one of the first bands that really went straight into my heart. And that has always been with me through my whole musical life. It was of course a big thing but [not] in a hero worship kind of thing, I wouldn’t want to do it in that way. What I did was I wrote him a sincere letter that said ‘this is why we want you on the album, we don’t want you to do it unless you feel you can relate to what we’re doing’. And he said ‘yeah I know, I need to read your lyrics, I need to know your idea behind the song’, because he’s never done guest vocals before. I sent him the lyrics, I explained to him what it was about, but its not as simple as ‘hey it’s my funeral’, it’s one of the most personal and strong lyrics that I wrote for the whole album. To have Carl on the album brings another dimension that I’ve always wanted on the album and I also want to point out the fact that ‘don’t put us in a corner, don’t put us in a place where we can only use Fenriz as a guest drummer because we’ve never been limited in that way. We will always use whoever feels necessary to bring forth what we want to bring forth; in this case with Carl McCoy, the part of the song was written for him.”

You also worked with Selim from The Devil’s Blood, a very different band musically from Watain, but a band you’ve championed none the less and as a band named after a Watain song one that obviously takes strong cues from you.
E: “Selim was brought in because after we heard The Devil’s Blood we pretty much got in touch right away and we’re of the same age and we have so much similar outlooks on music. And to me, it’s not about him looking up to us, that’s never really been the case. It’s a mutual respect that we always had. Its just a matter that he formed a band later and it just happened to be named after a Watain song. But it has nothing to do with him looking up to us more than we look after him. He’s a genuine artist and one of the few persons of our contempararies that I would even imagine working with.”

‘Lawless Darkness’ is out June 7 through Season Of Mist

About Miranda Yardley

I'm Miranda. Bite me.

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