Back in 1999, Watain released an EP called The Essence of Black Purity. When I decided to review their latest full-length, Sworn to the Dark, the title of that EP stuck out in my head as a perfect descriptor of this album. Sworn to the Dark is essential black metal, as pure and authentic as it gets.
"Legions of the Black Light" opens the gates to the temple of Watain, a warm and terrifying introduction to everything that follows. It's a fury of soul crushing riffs, frantic speed picking and masterful occult lyrics laid to rest with breakdowns born in the pits of hell. The themes here will carry for the whole album; frantic, almost thrash-inspired pacing broken by sudden drops into the depths of blackened depravity.
I could go on at length about every song on this album. "Satan's Hunger" is a harrowed tale of horrific discovery. The title track is one of the most frightfully intense black metal songs I've ever heard. With lyrics like:
"The all-defying pendulum of radiant conviction,
so determined in it's pace,
pounding now through flesh and bone
like a hammer through a child."
Sworn to the Dark walks a razor's edge between deliberately minimal leads and utterly overwhelming percussive riffs that will shove Satan's fist so far up your ass you won't have a choice but to bang your head. "The Serpent's Chalice" embodies this perfectly with an opening that could be a demonic army's war march. E. spits his blasphemy with due reverence and a strong poetic meter rarely seen in black metal.
"Wings of Satan, orb my heart!
It burns with love for you.
And it is ready now, to receive thee.
Claws of darkness, tear my soul!
For I have chosen the night
and branded its seal into my flesh.
Lead me to the catacombs
where light of neither sun nor moon
disturbs the dark in vaults,
possessed by molten evil manifest.
There I shall kiss the goat and piss on god.
Sundering the molecules that bind
this world together with me."
The album closes with "Stellarvore", a slower paced pledge to the nether. Haunting choruses reverberate as Watain calls to a long dormant god to awaken. "Stellarvore" quickly becomes exactly the sort of black fury that the rest of the album channels, and it closes out the album well. Brevity forces me to only pick the stand-out tracks to discuss here, but Sworn to the Dark is insanity from beginning to end, make no mistake.
There is never a shred of doubt as to the fullness of Watain's devotion to occult Satanism or the methods that they have chosen to give it form. If the music lagged behind the message for even a moment on Sworn to the Dark, it would bring some imbalance to the album, but instead they seem perfectly matched. To find a band so fearlessly championing this kind of evil without a trace of irony is rare. For that band to be musically as charged as their message is even more so. Sworn to the Dark is a masterpiece of modern black metal, and should not be missed by anyone.
Verdict: Epic Win [10/10]