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Watain - interview with Erik Danielsson + photo gallery by Fernando Serani

Updated: Apr 2

all photos (c) by Fernando Serani / MetalEyeWitness, taken in Buenos Aires, January 2019.

ViaOmega: While the world had been shut down & tours cancelled Watain had released the raw “Corona Mortis” sessions and bundle in 2020. What else have you found yourself up to during this time?

Erik Danielsson: It was actually a very good time for Watain. While the winds of pestilence swept in over the world we were just finalizing the chapter of “Trident Wolf Eclipse”, shifting focus from the present into the darkness of the future. Touring is a very time consuming endeavour, especially for a band like Watain since we are involved on a personal level in every single detail of the stage production, building of materials, designing merch, keeping the crew busy, rehearsing and so on. So when we realized that no shows were going to happen for a while, we took full advantage of the situation and made some other important moves and finalized some other important plans that we have had for a long time. One of those was to move the entire band out into a village in the woods north of our hometown Uppsala. Another was the writing of what was to become the new album.

VO: Each full-length release up until “Trident Wolf Eclipse” offers a distinct group of themes, feelings, and reflection of the time. What can you comment on, more or less, about the mood and the approach of “The Agony & Ecstasy”?

E: I am not sure I see it as using "a distinct group of themes" for every album... What you will find on every Watain album are expressions of things we consider important, sacred, worthy of contemplation and reverence. That is what I write about. And over the years I've done so with increased self-awareness, experience and of course skill. The new album is not an exception, but rather a direct continuation of that very same artistic path, I would say. But I am facing these things now more fearlessly and with a stronger intention, which in turn represents my artistic life as a whole. My wish of course is that this also translates through the material that is on the album.

VO: The core trident of Watain includes Håkan, Pelle, & yourself. It has been revealed that live session members A. Lillo, E. Forcas, and H. Eriksson are part of the recording line-up. How did this dynamic of additional musicians help with the direction of “The Agony & Ecstasy”?

E: We do not refer to Alvaro and Emil and Hampus as "live session members"; they are an integral part of what Watain is now and the fact that they are performing on the album is just a natural development of that. It was fantastic to work as a full band in the studio and record the way we did, together in one room at the same time as opposed to the much more rigid and rational way of recording instrument by instrument separately. It had a huge impact on the final result, as did the way the songs were completed on the rehearsals leading up to the recording. Håkans contribution is not to be underestimated here though, he will always be an integral part of the creative process and the work in the studio, and this album was no exception. He will always remain a part of the ever-progressing legacy of Watain. So will everyone who has made a profound and everlasting contribution to it, regardless of how the weaves of our individual fates are spun, twisted, cut, or frayed.

VO: The work of Watain is best nourished in obscurity rather than clarity, for you would rather have it up to the listener to interpret and experience the album on their own. With an album title such as “The Agony & Ecstasy”, what may be the significance of the two words of choice?

E: The title is a kind of reaction against what could be refered to as an uneccesary kind of "over-mystifying" of what we do. I wanted to try to express in plain and clear words what people will hear when they put the album on. Of course you can not summarize a dynamic and organic entity with just two words, but they are what I consider to be the two poles of emotional extremes that we navigate by and express ourselves within. Both Bataille and Baudelaire talked about the value of the thunderous colliding of high and low, of the sacred and the profane. Bataille meant that divine ecstasy and extreme horror were in fact identical, and only by pursuing that which is insane, irrational and chaotic will we become one with our passions and their holy source. Perhaps he was right? I can certainly relate much of Watain's being to such notions. The dissolution of logic, prudence and order, an explosion of piss and shit in the clean white halls of shame and submission.

VO: Album art and its presentation are crucial to you, envisioning something to properly reflect the music. T. Ketola, Zbigniew M. Bielak, and recently Oik Wasfuk have all done work for you. What resonates with their work that attracts you to them? Do you allow total creative freedom? How much direction do you give in this process?

E: My main collaborator with artwork has always been Timo Ketola. Timo had been involved in the making of every single Watain album layout, including doing the cover artworks for “Casus Luciferi” and “Sworn to the Dark”. Even if we worked with other artists, I always turned to Timo for guidance, sharp critique, and creative input. He had a severe, urgent, and above all genuine approach to art that I now have come to understand is quite rare. He was like an old monk working in a monastery in a way.

The new album was the first one I did entirely without Timo's guidance. But I could still somehow hear his voice throughout the entire process of making the artwork and layout for this album. I am not saying he would have approved of everything - he was very stern and uncompromising when it came to these kind of things - but I will certainly say that all what I learned from him guided me through the process.

I think Timo is one of the greatest artists that emerged out of the black and death metal scenes and his work will continue to be referred to as long as people have a sense for great and otherworldly things.

As for Oik and Bielak, they have both also played a very important role in fulfilling our detailed visions, under our quite strict direction of course, but still with their own flare and ingenuity.

VO: Regarding special guest features, The Mouth of Satan (Farida Lemouchi), herself contributes to the album. You have had a profound relationship with S.L. (Selim Lemouchi) from touring, performing, and collaborating together. Will her contribution in any way be a touching tribute to a fallen brother? How did it come about? Another guest feature includes a close friend who has filled in for Watain and toured with you, Gottfrid Åhman of In Solitude and PÅGÅ. How did they contribute to the album and what can we expect from this contribution?

E: I have always wanted to do something with Farida. She is such a primal musical force, such an inspiring person and more than anything a dear friend. The song that she sings on is special in many ways and it made perfect sense both musically and thematically to have her sing on it. On the same song there is also a guest solo by Gottfrid Åhman who played in In Solitude. Gottfrid has also been on stage with Watain as a live guitarist for a few shows in the past. There was a very strong connection between Watain, The Devil's Blood and In Solitude. I actually started writing “We Remain” when we were on tour with those bands in 2012. So to have them both contributing to the final version of this song is also a tribute to our kinship and our common past, present, and future.

As far as Selim goes, his spirit will always be a part of Watain, and I will always consider my work as a tribute to him as well as to all those in our vicinity who have contributed to Watain's fire burning as strongly as it does today.

VO: As you gear up for the Sanguine Sodomy of North America Tour, Watain Disciples will congregate and provide offerings before the shows. An integral part, and just as much a part of Watain, going above and beyond as a group worldwide. How did they come into fruition?

E: The Disciples were born organically out of a group of core supporters of Watain, and has since then made a winding journey to where it is today. The Watain Disciples role in our universe has been different from album to album. It is an ever-changing organization with something like 2000 members, some of which see it as a central thing in their lives while others are a part of it just to show their support for the band and be a part of that community of more die-hard maniac fans . But what has always remained is an undying sense of loyalty, passion, and dedication for which we could not be more grateful. On tours it has been massively important to have these people supplying us with the things that we require to do the concerts and other favours as well.

VO: Your stage setup and props are reminiscent and come across as beautiful shrines, a veneration of death and your connection to the source. As you’ve traveled around the world, have you come across any regions or cultures in particular that fascinate you the most? If so, which ones?

E: Many! I would say that almost any historical cultures and religious traditions have interesting sides to them. Some more than others of course. Lately I've been deeply inspired by our visits to Asia. There are a lot of things there that resonate with me. And of course the first part of our bands name - WAT- is Thai for temple/shrine. The second part -AIN- is a Hebrew term for the primordial nothingness before creation.

VO: Blood and death are powerful symbols, repurposing something that was once living into a focal point to your expression of art onstage. Indigenous/native cultures have incorporated these for centuries worldwide in their daily praxis and life. How is blood and decay significant to you?

W: Blood and fire are very central in Watain, yes, just like in ceremony and in war. There are many reasons for this and I can not explain them all. Blood has mediating, liminal qualities and can be used to transgress and communicate between the material and spiritual world. Just like bone, it is a key to the in-between, being within but not of the flesh. Fire is primal force, a Satanic element, which can be used to evoke strong and violent but also solemn and profound energy currents to aid our work. At a concert, the audience will stand before a scene that is quite uncommon in most modern life; loud ecstatic music, the smell of blood, great burning fires, a feeling of arousal, chanting, sweat, drunkness, and a nameless presence of something ancient and terrible. The whole scenario seems as if designed to induce an ecstatic experience - if you are able and willing to let go.

E: If you connect it to the album title, blood can be said to represented by the Agony as in existential darkness and struggle-  and fire by Ecstasy as in the euphoric madness of the divine.

VO: You’ve mentioned that the stage is a ceremonial warzone, also a celebration. With restrictions usually in place that vary from venue to venue, what would be the ideal scenario for your setup if these weren’t an issue?

W: As long as we can set the things we are bringing with us on the stage and do our bidding without censorship we are fine. We make a point of being able to perform anywhere and to not make ourselves "victims" of compromising situations but ideally it's somewhere that you can have fire in the building, which is very uncommon in The States since the Great White fire (2/20/2003 onstage during a performance).

VO: On the note of death, and decay, you’ve mentioned that people leer and laugh at things they cannot understand, or are afraid of. People are generally afraid of their mortality and have lost a connection to it. What can you comment about the importance of acknowledging our borrowed vessels?

E: Many of the lyrics on the new album deal with various approaches and attitudes towards finitude and mortality, and the disembodying of the spirit. Instead of spilling my guts about it here, I would simply refer people who are interested in my views on those things to read those lyrics. This time, I think they handle these things in a quite direct and clear manner.

VO: In “Music, Blood, & Spirit”, you’ve mentioned in your upbringings that you’ve spent a lot of time in the mountainsides and prefer to live a solitary life. Spiritually inclined cultures and people usually embrace nature and the earth. Do you hold a significant relationship to nature?

E: Yes, I do. I find the wilderness to be a sanctuary from the rationally structured world of man. It's where I've come to encounter some of my most meaningful experiences, spiritual insights, and creative ideas. Impressions are often too sublime to properly account for by way of words and music.

VO: Creating art and work is never easy. It takes a lot of mental vigor and should be challenging. How do you challenge yourself and approach each record? What do you feel like you have learned after each release?

E: It's always hard to do something artistic that is meaningful and strong. It should be! But I love the challenge and however maddening and disheartening it can be to fully submerge oneself in artistic endeavors of Watainian magnitude I still consider writing and composing two of my greatest passions. The challenge they present is probably one of the reasons why I like it. The hardest things in life are often the most important.

I'm not sure what exactly it is that I come to learn from each album but there is certainly a sense of ongoing escalation in spirit, in wisdom, in being. As long as it feels like that I know we're doing something right.

VO: After The North American tours you have been scheduled to perform at a few festivals- Hellfest, Alcatraz, and Psycho Las Vegas, to name a few. Are you planning or scheduled for any European tours soon?

E: Yes, we have a European headlining tour for the new album starting in early September. It will be good to warm up a bit with a few festival shows because what we have in mind for the tour and the tours to follow will certainly require a bit of that.

VO: Upon reflecting upon the history of Watain and all that you have accomplished to date, what are some of your thoughts and feelings about what has led up to this point in your life? And do you plan to do anything special for 25 year-anniversary of Watain?

E: Well as some of you might have gathered, especially those of you who have heard and seen the video for “We Remain” as an example, I do think a fair bit about these things from time to time, haha. I often look at Watain and our common history through a poetic, almost mythical perspective. Sometimes it is the only way to grasp what the fuck has been going on. I am humbled by the immensity of the journey we have made so far. I am proud to think of the many hardships that we have overcome. I am honored by the fact that people consider our work as something powerful and meaningful. Watain is where I've come to express and explore the most frenetic, diabolical urges, my spiritual hellfire, my connection to the dark and the sinister. And although these noble traits do not identify my entire person, they certainly identify Watain. Should I one day find my role as a creative vessel forfeit and thus be free of my duties, I would still commit my life to the exploration of The Abyss in one way or another. I often look at my life in Watain as a pilgrimage. To where, only my heart knows. But as it stands now Watain is the roaring fire that encircles us and many great and terrible things lay ahead! A mighty fucking salute to all the maniacs who stand ready to join us!

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