Four years and some turbulence since Trident Wolf Eclipse, the most commercially successful black metal band of our time returns with a new installment to their discography, transparently called The Agony & Ecstasy of Watain just as a characterization of their lifestyle and music career up to this day. Once again recorded at Necromorbus Studio at their hometown, Watain's body of work has always been catered from start to finish by its own people and similar-minded disciples, and at the end of the day, even if you can have any studio you want on the planet, why change a winning team...
For starters, I prefer this artwork to the previous album. While The Wild Hunt had to me the best visuals Watain have ever done, there are times that I have not understood their choices in that district. A rework of their mid 00's logo, infused with an Impetigo / Merciless kind of chaotic font filling, in vivid red color above a chock-full design makes a good case of presenting the record along with the way the title is written on it. At the same time, I'm not sure how I feel about the title itself, and this extends to some track titles in the record. For a band that is quite capable of writing great lyrics, I imagine they spent too much time touring with Profanatica before coming up with "Black Cunt", and also, what is a funeral winter? Strictly speaking, that means nothing.
Sound wise, The Agony & Ecstasy of Watain has a crystal clear production and a bombastic sound that won't let down fans of the band. The record is full of the quintessential, melodic structures Watain are known for, and shows a more distinct experimentation with different tempos within compositions, while at times being totally chaotic in high speed moments. I found Trident Wolf Eclipse to be a more direct album, as The Agony... shows a stronger propensity towards clearer melodies without missing thunderous turns of pumped energy that as a fan, you should be really eager to see live. For example, "Leper's Grace" is one of the most straightforward and heaviest tracks I have heard from Watain the last few years, it doesn't hold back for a second, and the same goes for the blasting opener "Ecstasies In Night Infinite" which serves as a great introduction to the album.
One of the singles put out prior to the full release, is a track that I feel can be the next big hit of the band and played around as frequently as a piece like "Malfeitor" or "Reaping Death". Built as the clearest example of what this band is, "The Howling" is what you should suggest to someone new to Watain if you want to show them the most typical sample of what they are about, and it's a pretty enjoyable banger as a whole, even though I don't like the very first two seconds, where that tiny opening riff should have been skipped completely. In some of its longer pieces, The Agony... showcases Watain's competency with creating impassioned guitar lines when they're not too busy playing fast and destructive, and "Before the Cataclysm" depicts exactly that.
Two guest appearances are featured in the record's 8th track "We Remain" (another title at the same level like "They Rode On"), specifically In Solitude's bassist Gottfrid Åhman and the frontman of The Devil's Blood, Farida Lemouchi. Watain have been in very good relations with both these bands and have paid their respect to The Devil's Blood in the past, which makes this collaboration totally reasonable, and it's the time when the band leaves the space open for these amazing female vocals to define this epic slow paced track, which has much stronger and better substance than the previous time when they tried clean vocals in The Wild Hunt. It is not a track I will be listening to that much, but I can tell its evocative nature and finally doesn't feel forced, and it fits well with the rest of the album.
With that being said, there is no point for the short piano piece "Nor sun nor man nor god" to be here, as it's overly simplistic and even includes some guitar playing. Why not make this the introduction of the next track for example? These choices of metal bands always baffle me. Weak moments also lie in the tracks "Serimosa" and the aforementioned "Black Cunt", with the latter being the most boring piece in the album, especially for this compositional pattern of abrupt starting and stopping of the guitars that is frequently used in it, which made it skippable for me. Luckily, it is just one track, and while "Serimosa" seemingly has nice melodies, I would have liked less repetition there too, and its timidness made it a bit unimpressive to me.
The Agony... concludes its piece well, with two really well written black metal pieces, "Funeral Winter" (... ok) and "Serpentrion". The glorious days of the past, when a whole Watain album was a hellish masterpiece, are gone. Nevertheless, it's pretty clear that the flame is still burning for this band and they have not strayed that much from their path, they are extremely skilled and capable of creating their own sound in black metal despite being so honorary towards their influences, and they have not been afraid to experiment. This album represents a fine next step to what they have been doing, and it has several really acute and potent moments, as well as some clear missteps for me. However, even the more fragile moments of the band are still very high in my preferences list, so...
"A cross has been carved in the place where we go to die
There they await, to draw every secret from you
And the blood of thy heart"
Label: Nuclear Blast
Release date: April 29th, 2022
DAMAGE: 4/5 [Excellent]