In the mid-80s, Scandinavian black metal erupted with a filthy, guttural wail that tripped a fault line across Planet Metal. The boot print of Celtic Frost's rabid thrash sludge and Bathory's musically soaring Viking psalms was set ablaze in the early '90s by malevolent fiends Dark Throne and Emperor. This was the soundtrack to goat molestation and reducing churches to smoldering ash: cavernous, cheaply produced records with cacophonous blast beats, wretched guitars and vocals that sounded like Satan's wettest farts--all serving to polarize heads accustomed to merely adequate production, cleaner vocals and, surprisingly, melody. Through fusing the meanest styles of metal--black, thrash, death, grind, Viking--Lawless Darkness (Seasons of Mist), the fourth full-length from Swedish trio Watain, is a seriously badass record. All 74 devastating minutes of it.
Malignant brutality commences with "Death's Cold Dark," introducing the stunning musicianship of drummer Hakan Jonsson (drums), Pelle Forsberg (guitars), and Erik Danielsson (bass, vox). Forsberg's riffs rage as though mortared into a steel pit, each note ricocheting like inescapable shrapnel. The ferocious speed of Jonsson's blasts are directed and groove-rooted, giving Watain a consistently thunderous spine. And Danielsson's charging howls sound as though they're coming through a throat lined with razors.
"Malfeitor" shreds like Leprosy-era Death. "Reaping Death" relentlessly beats your brains into a viscous Sodom-like mash. The nine-minute-plus "Wolves Curse" plays out the terror of a body's flesh-ripping change beneath a full moon. "Lawless Darkness" is the sole instrumental here, soundscaping an ancient Viking bloodbath. "Hymn To Qayin" challenges the fiercest Amon Amarth. "The Waters of Ain," the 14-minute closer, encapsulates the best of Immortal and is worth the price of purchase alone.
Not only is Lawless Darkness an impeccably produced black metal masterpiece, it is, indeed, a straight-up metal masterpiece.