Toby Cook of The Quietus recently conducted an interview with Erik Danielsson of Swedish black metallers WATAIN. A couple of excerpts from the chat follow below.
The Quietus: So the new album is due out next month. To say that it's a radical departure is perhaps overstating it, but certainly even compared to "Lawless Darkness", there is certainly, I think, a marked progression. Was it always the intention to create something that was so much more expansive and what were some of the challenges?
Erik Danielsson: I never really compare album to album like that — we never have — and I think that one of the most common things that people say when we release a new album is, "Oh yeah, it sounds very different." So with that being said, progression has always been an inevitable part of this band. The whole idea of WATAIN and our artistic journey, so to speak, has been to go into the unknown, to explore the unknown within yourself, to go deeper and deeper into yourself, and that is something that we are getting better and better at and it's happening perhaps more radically the older we get and the more we progress as artists. So that's why I assume that the leaps between the albums are maybe getting bigger somehow, y'know? I mean, it's really not something that we think a lot about when we are composing, but now I have to try to analyze it a bit when I'm doing interviews about and I'm doing it interview-to-interview so you'll have to excuse me if I sound a bit abstract sometimes — but it's a very interesting journey, going deeper and deeper.
The Quietus: I'd like to move away from the album a little bit now. I think that despite WATAIN's increasingly varied sound, you are inarguably still a black metal band. What does the "idea" of black metal mean to you and to WATAIN these days? To me, it seems the scene is in an interesting state of flux right now where you still have these "true cult" black metal bands as well as people like THE BOTANIST and WARDRUNA.
Erik Danielsson: I don't know a lot about these "new" bands, to be honest — I don't really keep track of things like that — but to me, it's quite obvious that black metal is more than just a "sound." It's more than just a way of playing music. And, to put it very simply, I think that WATAIN is a very, very good definition of a black metal band. Meaning that our whole anatomy, our bones and our spine all relate to one same source: the Satanic ideal. It is diabolical music with a magikal and transcendental intent. And that to me is very much what defines a black metal band. I am really pleased that after almost two years of black metal being (on a larger scale) quite misrepresented by the media and by the bands that the media uses to represent black metal with, WATAIN is in an important position. We are one of the first bands through which many people will actually find out about and start to explore the word of black metal. I can't say that that is particularly something that we have been striving to do, but it is certainly pleasing to me as someone who is deeply, deeply connected to that art form.
The Quietus: It's interesting that you say that – and I couldn't agree more when you call it an art form — there is something very unique about black metal, something profound that goes far beyond the music itself. How much does it annoy you that despite this a lot of people are still concerned with the murders, suicides and church burnings in Norway that happened over 20 years ago?
Erik Danielsson: Well, I mean, it was a very important period; it was, and there's no escaping that. But, I think that for people who want to find out about black metal just on the surface and read a little bit about it, I'm fine with the fact that the first thing they will find out is that it's an art form where very big buildings were set in fire; where a lot of people went to prison; and where a lot of people died. I think that's a very good introduction to black metal, and if people dare to dig a little deeper after that they will of course realise pretty quickly that it is far more than that. But I still think that that early period is a good first step to be introduced to black metal; I really do.
The Quietus: One of the things with WATAIN is that the live show has always appeared to be such an important aspect of what you are about. I mean, I saw you at the Underworld in London several years ago and there is incredibly transcendental aspect to your performance; otherworldly almost doesn't seem strong enough a phrase. As your popularity is steadily increasing, however, how much are you concerned about being able to maintain that atmosphere in bigger venues, without it just becoming a spectacle?
Erik Danielsson: Y'know, I like to think of our live shows as being a mystical experience, as a celebration of things not of this world. This might sound a bit closed-minded, but if an underground video director makes a documentary about shamans in the Amazonian jungle and he releases that on a VHS and a small number of people see it, they will be amazed and maybe take it to a few others. If the same documentary gets shown some years later on the National Geographic channel and a million people see it that will still not change what the documentary is about, it will still be that same holy source. And that's how I like to look at it, that's how I think I have to look at it order not to allow for peoples misconceptions to taint it, because that's what it is, it's a mystical experience in essence and nothing can really change that.
Read the entire interview at The Quietus.