What to do if you’re a well-established black metal act (let’s pretend there is such a thing), having garnered a significant amount of praise for your early work, getting signed to a major metal label, and then releasing something that attempts to expand the sonic palate you’ve established but doesn’t get the same notice or acclaim as those earlier records? If you’re Watain, you regroup, wait five years, then return to the sound you had eight years ago and launch the blistering black attack of Trident Wolf Eclipse.
I don’t have a lot of ill-will toward 2013’s The Wild Hunt. I think the album’s a little too long and some of it doesn’t quite work (“They Rode On” is kind of a slog, and some of the others could use some riff trimming, if that makes sense), but the mix was rich and full, and when they fired on all cylinders, like on “Black Flame March” and the closer “Holocaust Dawn” the band displayed the same cold fire they did on 2007’s breakout Sworn to the Dark and its follow-up, Lawless Darkness. Lawless Darkness in particular feels like a temple for Trident Wolf Eclipse with its distinct high-end push in the guitars, the shades of blackened punk that color the 2nd wave influences on tracks like Death’s Cold Dark” find a parallel on new opener “Nuclear Alchemy,” particularly in the crazy lead up to Erik Danielsson’s barking “ATTACK!” refrain. It’s a blast of a track, furious and bellowing with rage, and a direct slap in the face to the “expansiveness” of the previous album.
Danielsson spoke about the meaning of Trident Wolf Eclipse as representing the symbols the band has used over the course of its career, and how the words simultaneously conjure both violent and contemplative imagery, but listening to the album it’s hard to find any of the latter quality. Moving from “Nuclear Alchemy” through tracks like “Sacred Damnation,” “Furor Diabolicus,” and “Ultra (Pandemoniac)” there’s nothing but punishing riffs, screeching vocals and blasting drums – the band hasn’t lost a step in terms of ferociousness. The issue is, with so many black metal bands coming out of the woodwork in the last five years, does this relentless speed set itself apart from the pack? I’ve no doubt seeing this stuff live at one of Watain’s legendary blood-splattered shows would be amazing, but on record it doesn’t leave anything that sticks so much you want to put it on again and again. The moments that really highlight the record for me came in the more nuanced moments in songs like “Teufelsreich” which uses a lurching 3/4 time signature and a repeating picked melody that shifts and mutates under different attacks. Later “The Fire of Power” embodies a host of different styles and gives enough space to each section to really stand out as a kickass song.
And if that were the last track on the album I might even think higher of it, but unfortunately I made the mistake of sitting through the seven minute dud of “Antikrists Mirakel” that does nothing except meander for a while with one monotonous riff before slowing fading out on another one. It’s supposed to be a bonus tracks, but it’s there on the promo and on streaming sites and I wound up listening in the hopes it would at least be decent, I’m taking it as the closer of the album, which is a damn shame.
So it’s not really whether or not Trident Wolf Eclipse is good or not – it’s fine. Maybe it could lose that last track, but otherwise Watain have put out a good, solid slab of black metal bereft of the slower moments folks didn’t seem to care for the last time. The question is does a well established band putting out a solid album in 2018 mean anything when we have so many bands pushing the envelope and fighting for a piece of recognition in an increasingly splintered space?
Kind of like Watain did over a decade ago.