From the Gates of Hell
On an unseasonably balmy February night in downtown Detroit, a warmth of a much more sinister kind emanated from the stage of Saint Andrew’s Hall. Watain appeared onstage like a phantasm amidst a shroud of fog and darkness to the sound of an ominous synth track. Candles adorned the massive tridents that peppered the stage, and gas lights flickered behind their pointed prongs. The nearly full house appeared to be a mix bag of diehard fans, and those made curious by the band’s nefarious reputation. Not a soul was to be spared.
With the pallor of white walkers, the Swedish black metal titans took their time getting to the music as lead vocalist Erik Danielsson engaged in a sort of mini ritual involving blood being poured in a chalice complete with ram horns, more candles being lit, and a sage stick being waved about. Once finished with the opening sacrament, the band quickly pivoted to assault mode and launched into Devil’s Blood, which was a fitting omen for those standing in the front row.
Next up was Black Flames March. As the band thundered through the song, Danielsson raised his chalice high with the look of a man in a in a state, then hurled its content onto the fans in the first few rows. Even with blood trickling down their faces, they didn’t budge. Call me old fashioned, but the second I saw him raise that cup, I ran out of the camera pit like a bat out of Hell.
The ninety-minute set spanned Watain’s six-album career, fortified with several tracks from the band’s newest release Wolf Trident Eclipse, which has been hailed as a return to the intensity of earlier albums like Lawless Darkness and Casus Luciferi. The band’s creatively ambitious 2013 LP The Wild Hunt was also well-represented with the aforementioned Devil’s Blood, as well as Outlaw, which was one of the set’s shining moments. The guitars were razor sharp, the drums thunderous and steady, and Danielsson’s grinding, guttural vocals were forceful and articulate.
The 90-minute set ended as it began. The band left the stage, save for Danielsson, who took up where he left off at the tiny altar, lighting another sage stick and dwelling in front of the audience for a few minutes. The crowd took this the sign of an encore, but it wasn’t to be. Danielsson lingered a little longer, then bid the crowd farewell.