Australians often think of Europe as metal Mecca because of the concentration of talent, inconceivable line-ups and short travel distances. Well, sorry Europeans but the tables are turning soon – at least for black metal. That’s because Sweden’s Watain play their first headline tour of Australia in February and shit is going to get intimate. “I know some of them are super small; the one in Brisbane I think is like, 300 cap,” says vocalist Erik Danielsson. “That’s perfect. I really look forward to that. We’ve been touring for most of 2018 headlining Europe and the US, so you sort of get a bit spoiled with having your stage production all the time and huge venues. For me, it’s a way of keeping touring interesting instead of doing the same thing over again. It’s impossible to bring what we have in Europe, but at the same time, I know a lot of European fans who are pretty envious of the people who will come to see these shows because they will be in such an intimate setting. So a lot of people will probably get a lot out of that fact as well.”
The road to this Southern Hell Siege tour has been long, considering the band formed in 1998 and didn’t play to Aussie audiences until Soundwave 2012. Joining forces with perhaps the most disturbing black metal band of all time, Mayhem, further helped their cause in 2014. Then in 2015, the Swedes supported giants Behemoth. The idea of a headline tour was certainly gaining traction, and with the help of Soundworks, who have worked with them the past five years, the trigger was pulled. “For me that’s a really hard thing for you to determine – whether you’re ready to do a headliner or not. Those three tours obviously helped. We’ve only worked with the same agent all the time – Brad and Dysie at Soundworks – and they have been really supportive of us, it’s been a really good collaboration. Actually, the longest standing collaboration with any concert promoters I think, anywhere.”
Watain have connections to Down Under that go back before the promoter or even Soundwave. Their support for the tour, who hail from Melbourne, actually helped with the first album. “Nocturnal Graves are doing the whole tour and I’m super glad about that because most of the band are old friends of ours. J I think is the main driving force behind the band from what I gather. He put out our first album on picture disc format way back; I think it was 2001. It’s old friends, people that we know that we have a mutual respect for. Plus it’s a really fucking good live band. It’s a good match for sure.”
Watain’s latest album, ‘Wolf Trident Eclipse’, is just over a year old now, but the shows have not been solely in support of it. Danielsson, Pelle Forsberg and Håkan Jonsson, plus touring members Emil Svensson, Hampus Eriksson and Alvaro Lillo, plan on exhuming each of their releases for a well-rounded experience. “We’ve never been a band that’s been focusing a lot on our latest album when we’ve been playing. We always try to even it out. Have equally as much material from every record that we’ve made. We also change the setlist night after night to keep things a bit more interesting for ourselves of course and for those people who see more than one show on the tour. It’s a very live oriented album – I wouldn’t say it was made for being performed live but it was made for a live context in mind. The chaos and the violence of the live show, I think that was something that we focused on when we wrote the album.”
Danielsson, a theistic Satanist, doesn’t like to talk about their use of animal blood at shows because he doesn’t want it, or any part of the shows for that matter, to be a gimmick. “It’s not really about the show; it’s ingredients we need in order to deliver what we want to deliver. We need to surround ourselves with certain things that emphasise a certain set of energies instead of just relying on the music. I think a lot of people these days have heard of how Watain is live and a lot of media tend to focus on the controversial aspects of the show. I’m a little bit cautious about giving that too much attention. I think it’s something that should be reserved for those who come and actually experience the shows. When you talk about it in interviews, it tends to be a bit tongue in cheek somehow, but that’s the last thing it is.”
He is aware of Australia’s strict border security and knows that blood and bones will not be getting through customs, but that’s not going to stop them. “After 20 years of using things on stage that are of a somewhat controversial nature, we’ve figured out ways of working around that. We have a lot of local contacts.” He is not aware, however, that the country regularly bans people of ‘bad character’ from entering. The no-go list ranges from people with convictions for terrorism, drugs, guns or assault, to far-right politicians and rappers. So why haven’t Watain been banned? “I think any of the people who are in charge of this censorship, if they would examine Watain with a magnifying glass, I think they would still have a hard time trying to find anything. They’d probably find a lot of things they’d consider disturbing, but nothing too out of line.” With that said, he thinks metal has become too soft and yearns for the days when it was 1990s Norway repulsive. “I think it’s good when controversial things face proper opposition. I think that’s a part of heavy metal culture. Normal people should hate it. I encourage that to be honest. I don’t like that normalisation of it, especially of black metal. I think there should always been an aspect which people feel uncomfortable about, because there’s something in the nature of black metal that simply should represent such things.”
Tickets to Watain’s Southern Hell Siege shows can be purchased here.