Watain's Erik Danielsson Talks Satanism, Pig's Blood, and Privacy
Few things pique my interest more than authentic, hardcore Satanic metal musicians. But at the same time, there's a part of me that is convinced that most satanic metallers are a bunch of prima donnas.
I do know that it's important to tread lightly when discussing the terms atheistic Satanism and thiestic Satanism with devil-worshipping musicians. If you confuse the two, you'll likely have to deal with some wrath; It's not like I'm getting huffy when someone calls me Catholic and I'm Episcopalian. The basics seem easy enough to distinguish -- atheistic Satanists don't believe in any higher power than oneself, and focus on surviving and indulging in the pleasures of flesh, while theistic Satanists actually believe Satan is "the master."
With Satanic bands, it's rare to get insightful interviews, and even then the musician's answers are vague and aloof. Then again, I'm a nosy journo, so it's instilled in my psyche to ask a bunch of questions and expect straight-up answers. When the chance arose to chat with notoriously arrogant frontman Erik Danielsson of Watain, a band with some of the trust theistic-Satanic metallers around, I jumped at it.
Erik Danielsson from Watain
Locally, it's slim pickins when it comes to finding a genuine satanic metal band to chat with. I'm talking blood-guzzling, church-burning, javelina-murdering dudes donning corpse paint and greasy long black hair. But in the depths of places like Norway, Sweden, England, and parts of Eastern Europe, you can't swing a dead cat without hitting a satanic metalhead. I wouldn't even call them a dying breed, with such awesome acts as Bathory, Sothis, Varg, Venom, Celtic Frost, or Eternal Decay who are playing satanic black metal in the midst of a Holy War in Israel.
Watain is releasing its fifth album, The Wild Hunt, on August 20, and it's already getting a lot of respect in the metal world -- the single "The Child Must Die" is an ultimate bitch-slap to the face.
So talking to Danielsson would be enlightening, if nothing else. Maybe I would even clarify on a 2010 interview where he was asked, "If you were deaf, what would you be doing instead of music?" and his reply was "The devil always wins in some way." Huh?
Danielsson called me from Sweden, where he was watching the sunrise, to talk about The Wild Hunt, his childhood, Satanic rituals, and what's in Sweden's soil that spawns so many black metal bands.
With the band's fifth full-length album, The Wild Hunt, is there anything you guys did differently that you haven't done on previous albums? It does seem to incorporate more clean vocals. Well, we did everything different, to be honest. We really made sure that we were taking into consideration that we weren't leaning towards what people were expecting from us. It was a very introspective process creating this album, now more than ever actually. That made it very close to the essence of the band. It was very interesting, making this one.
Stereogum compared Watain's music to Metallica's, and says that The Wild Hunt is like Metallica's Black Album. How do you feel about that? Wow. That's very big words. I love Metallica. If compared to Metallica I would rather say this album is closer to Master of Puppets in a way. Because to me the Black Album is a very celebrated album in a sense, with unity, like one long song but in a very good way. And the Wild Hunt has more diversity, and that's why I think it would be closer to Master of Puppets. In production it actually seems like we are always talking about Metallica mixed with a complete wild hair, that's what we're going for.
Watain practices theistic Satanism in the truest sense, with summoning rituals and majick. I'm trying to clarify some of these things. Can you let me know what it is about these types of practices that draw you? Well, many people are curious about that and I understand that. People are fascinating by extreme things or even things that are generally disturbing and backwards. That has always affected anyone in the culture. I understand, I do. But at the same time what I want people to understand is that the religious connections I have, which are very strong religious connections.
All of that is very much based upon our own private practice and our religion as Satanists. It's never been our intent to elaborate on that to a wide audience. Or to let people in on that. What we let people in on is the outcome of the practices. It's the practices themselves.
What we let people take part of is what we want them to understand, and the consequences . . . Our life of adversity. And to let people in more to show the servantry in which we work. That would be to -- well, it's hard to say. But it was never our intent to aim to let people know about our private practices. We have never been able to or willing to talk to people about our practices.
The consequence of them . . . In a very obvious way of putting it, is to allow them to hear and connect to what it is we represent. We provide a direct link in between something that is human -- in this case, it is us -- and between something that is very, very far from human. Something that people have been averting their eyes away from it. But they want to catch a glimpse of it, that's how the human mind works. That's how we are meant to react when facing something unnatural or disturbing in a sense.
But that thing, that something, is communicating through us and this band. What people hear and read and take a part of, that is the communication between high and low. It is a very eccentric thing, even in music. Most people have a much more mundane approach to their work as an artist. To me, art has always been about communication between high and low. Your job as an artist is to integrate and accept that.
That's where the inspiration comes from, somewhere else, from another place in the dark side of reality as we know it. If you realize that and you're open to communicating with that side, you can learn very interesting things. And in our case, we like other people to take part of it. And for me that's what Watain is about.
Does Watain identify with Satanic practices that some other bands have been involved in, like church burnings and sacrifices? We very much identify with that. And when you're working with these kind of anarchies in their primal forms, and you evolve with them, you are calling upon things that eventually will have to manifest physically. And that is why the history of black metal is filled with stories of big buildings being set on fire, of big mass suicides, of people who have been murdered, and people who have murdered. It is those things coming to life from the music. They are very natural outcomes.
Have you ever gotten into debates with people who practice such religions as Christianity, and if so, how do you explain your angle of spirituality? Well, my life is a constant debate. Not necessarily with them, but with what they represent. As a Satanist, you put yourself in a position to be an enemy in society, and an enemy against forces that are bold. That really creates friction as we know it. Debating with a Christian to me is . . . I can get something out of it once in awhile. You know, watching a movie or having a glass of wine and it's the right moment, but it's nothing that I really worry about in the grand scheme of things.
Christians are usually people who are quite out of touch with their religion, because they are allowing themselves to be swayed by the mundane in their human lives, and that's what Christianity encourages. It's an all-too-human religion.
But the forces the Christians repent and are at war with -- Satanism --that for me is a natural part of my life. I don't necessarily like that, but it's there for a reason and I know why.
Do you ever look down on other religions, or do you just keep to yourself about it? I can be quite open about what I think about other religions, but it doesn't really make a difference what I think. It's my own viewpoints. It isn't about forcing anything on to people, but I have a very sincere and decided view on most religions.
How do you think Watain has evolved over the past 15 years? Well, I think any band in their 30s, looking back on their life will find that the period between being an adolescent and the period before reaching adulthood is quite an interesting period. I mean, we formed this band since we were 16 years old.
Needless to say that the progression of another life would have been, well, retarded. But, uh, it's been a progressive that's been very explosive in nature. [laughs] Very wild, and dirty.
When you grow up touring, you grow up very fast and you grow old quite fast, I would say. Especially in the environment in which Watain works. You know, which is an environment that is somewhat hostile and filled with rich characters, I'll say. When you spend your years around such characters, and around people who disappear . . . You know, along the way, people die or end up in prison or end up falling into the blackness and are never to be seen from again.
You know, you're going to have a type of progression and emotions in life, and maturity that is unrivaled. I guess that's why I can say the history of Watain is older than something that can be counted by years. We have to keep up with the pace of the band itself, and so we had to evolve.
That's why if you compare our first album to this one, people will see a very, very big difference.
When it comes to your incredible stage shows, where do you obtain the things like pig's blood, maggots, carcasses, and other items that can't be toted around, like say, speakers? You really want to know, do you?
I do. [laughs] Well, I can understand you do. And curiosity is healthy; it's a good thing. Well, there are -- after 16 years of doing this -- a wide variety of ways to acquire things. And, let's just say the important thing is that we do, you know? I have to say especially when we are touring the States, people are very helpful, you know?
We always encourage people to bring stuff, particularly dried bones to the stage. We always add them to the stage show so by the end of the tour we have an entire stage of dried bones. It's quite a beautiful thing you know? I really appreciate that people bring things. There's something to appreciate for sure.
Why do you think so many dark metal bands come out of such places as Sweden and Norway? Yeah, that is an ever-asked question, and a good one too. I don't know. It's interesting, and I have my theories. I think that it has to do with a variety of things you see, but the concentration of dark and disturbing things here is quite breathtaking. You know?
So many people have made contact with something so backwards in nature and in oblivion. I personally feel that it has something to do with something very, very old and very, very sinister. It's in the soil here. When people are here, I think anyone can feel it. It is different and there is something at work here that is hard to put your finger on. But I think you can feel the right answers when you're here too. It's in the ground and very old.
What was your childhood like? It was good. It was very free, I would say, you know? Unproblematic, which allowed for my to be involved into many things. I was allowed to be very fixated about things, and I didn't really have anything to disturb me with my obsessions. I could let things consume. I wasn't necessarily rich or necessarily poor . . . It was easy, I guess.
It allowed me to seep deep into interests, like when I got my first music at age 6, I could sit there playing it over and over again for weeks in my playroom. And that, I think that led to maintaining that old passionate approach to everything that I am a part of. I want to be deeply a part of it, and that comes from my upbringing.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Phoenix, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.