Some black metal bands command immediate respect at the mere mention of their name, the consensus being that the act in question is part of an elite group. Sweden's WATAIN is just such a band, one that has long been known as a stellar black metal unit. The wait for "Sworn to the Dark" has been one of eager anticipation, as most fans just knew that they would not be disappointed. And those fans were right to think that way, as "Sworn to the Dark" is a beast. Released on Season of Mist in Europe earlier in the year and more recently available stateside through The Ajna Offensive, "Sworn to the Dark" is easily one of the year's best black metal releases.
The trio's skill at structuring songs that hit with dangerous force, yet also stick to the ribs from a tunefulness standpoint is matched by few. Coupled with a first rate production that brings out the power of the riffs, vocals, and drums, the album ends up being 57 minutes of blazing hatred and compositional excellence. That the disc comes up just short of an hour and captivates from start to finish with every spin says a lot about the group's songwriting acumen. And that includes a firm grasp of arrangement dynamics. The mid-tempo material is as engaging as the faster fare, whether running for the full length of the track or through the smart incorporation of tempo changes within a song. "Sworn to the Dark" is also an album of highlights, whether it is the title track, "Legions of the Black Light" or "Satans Hunger". Some songs will even swerve into an almost melancholic, albeit dread filled, delivery that serves to break up the album nicely, "The Serpents Chalice" one such example. Traditional black metal minor chord harmonies exist hand in hand with muscular riffs, helping each of these lengthy songs to keep the listener's attention, often revealing a killer riff or section of monster groove that may have escaped one's attention the last time through. Also integrated into the sonic tapestry is the occasional blackened thrash riff that is given even more of a boost from some absolutely punishing drumming. Of course, the degree to which a tune is memorable is greatly enhanced with vocals that are intelligible, yet bold and abrasive.
If it is quality black metal that you seek, it is impossible to go wrong with "Sworn to the Dark". WATAIN is a band concerned not with experimentation or genre-bending, just the creation of ripping black metal songs that burn a hole in the soul and leave a lasting impact on the psyche. It doesn't get much better.