Black Metal, for all its years in the wildnerness as rock music's most despised and misunderstood subsection, actually seems to be drifting into mainstream favour at the moment - this week's NME actually ran a non-ironic essential BM albums feature without a hint of novelty to it and Deafheaven's blissfully abrasive 'Sunbather' LP has courted favour from fans across the musical spectrum. Clouds of ominous noise have crept across the landscape of 2013's release schedule with slabs of dark electronica from Fuck Buttons and Boards of Canada notching crossover success whilst the emergence of the first My Bloody Valentine LP in two decades reminded us all that indie doesn't need to be concessionary and subtle to connect to huge audiences. The nihilistic headspace of BM's more reflective moments has always held the potential to cross over to fans outside the genre partial to destabilising swathes of noise but the music's confrontational image and absolutist worldview has long alienated the more faint-hearted out there (this is probably no accident) and a major leap of faith still lies between you average indie fan and a wider appreciation of the Burzum back catalogue. The Deafheaven LP may well be the record to bridge that gap but the first port of call for new arrivals on the shores of Black Metal's craggy territory should be Watain's latest addition to their already sublime canon, one that provides a conveniently diverse range of flavours to entice the uninitiated. I got into these boys a couple of years back with their utterly stunning 'Lawless Darkness' album and the live document that followed it but sailing further into the murky sea of their back catalogue reveals a seam of equally disarming quality, recreating the illicit joy of those first adolescent encounters with the dark art of Metal with a spirited recreation of the genre's most seductive moments infused with a savage dose of venomous bile and aggression that commands nothing less than your undivided attention until the last note fades from the speakers. 'The Wild Hunt' won't disappoint fans of their earlier material in its raging intensity and harrowing stormblast but the band have widened their attack to take in subtler forms of siege, at times whipping their assault into maddening tornados of borderline chaos whilst then allowing the air to clear enough for more delicate elements of acoustic guitar, piano and even more distinctly melodic vocals to rise to the fore. The latter element in particular will surely prompt numerous tedious web debates over whether or not the band have sold out to the sucker - Black Metal's dedication to stylistic purity is both its sternest virtue and biggest weakness - but there's enough here to satiate both traditionalists and those curious to hear intriguing new twists on the band's dark foul art. It might prove one step too far for the purists but 'The Wild Hunt' has a palette broad enough to open up its appeal to audiences far outside the notoriously reclusive confines of modern BM and see them finally recognised as the brightest creative force in modern Metal.
Things kick off with the lugubrious BM atmospherics of opener 'Night Visions' which soon give way to the rampaging sonic shitblast of 'De Profundis' in a similar vein to the onset of Morbid Angel's 'Blessed are the Sick' opus, Black Metal infused with the elegance of Renaissance Art yet shot through with the anguished twists and turns of a 17th Century painter in the throws of an Absinthe blackout. Riffs tumble forth like insects devouring carrion, ruthlessly efficient yet somehow fascinating in their intricate barbarism as the band tangle the listener in labyrinthine twists of dark matter like spiders ensnaring their next meal. 'Sleepless Evil' bursts in upon a tidal wave of murky water before spiralling into paroxysms of garbled shrieking like mischievous succubi tormenting the demented and balances some of the record's most scorching guitar onslaught with graceful passages of solemn piano that sound like they're echoing from the bowels of a deserted mansion whilst the devilish narrative of 'The Child Must Die' revives King Diamond at his most theatrical infused with the raging pulse of battle-hardened BM fury. For every relentless barrage of venom there's a lucid sequence to fascinate and perplex the listener, the face-melting fury of 'Outlaw' supplanted by the sublime moonlit melody of 'Ignem Veni Mittere' which builds on the Forgotten Realms fantasy shtick of classic Morbid Angel to create something altogether more graceful and exquisite, epic passages of intricate guitarwork echoing across the landscape of some dark planet in the vein of Metallica at their 80s creative zenith. A cynic would cite the album's softer moments as Watain's own 'Black Album' style leap into the mainstream, the towering solemnity of 'They Rode On' breaking with tradition starkly enough to potentially become their own 'Nothing Else Matters' - in reality 'The Wild Hunt' is more likely to represent their 'And Justice For All', a deftly-crafted addition to their already peerless canon that owes its commercial potential more to a mainstream shift to darker tastes than to the band's own tempering of their chosen formula. To call the gentler tracks ballads would be stretching it a bit, frontman Erik Danielsen's habitual death gurgle supplanted by a surprisingly soothing croon that twists to the song's gentle melody line like ancient trees creaking in the wind as the band reign in their stormblast to perplex and confound with evocative soundtracks to a different kind of nightmare. The title track glides through six minutes of mournful finality like the night glide down river to your encroaching demise whilst the aforementioned 'They Rode On' would be a ludicrous statement for a fledgling BM outfit but for a creative force as peerless as Watain it represents a band at the composed summit of their art and deserves to carry a generation of new listeners into the darker realms of Heavy Metal as their forbearers did all those years before. I've said before on this blog that Watain are the only band in Metal that truly encapsulate the thrill I felt listening to my cassette of 'Ride the Lightning' as a curious 14 year old, hanging on every note in the darkness of my bedroom with an intense mix of fascination and fear as a dark tapestry unfolded in front of me for the first time. Watain's potency continues to strengthen with each release and 'The Wild Hunt' represents their genre at its most intoxicating and majestic - if you have even a passing interest in Metal then I urge you to seek this one out without further ado for an introduction to the band who still have the potential to pilot the genre through the years that lie ahead.