[Editor's Note: I'm an idiot and didn't take any pictures of the show last night. Fortunately, Noisey Editor-In-Chief Fred Pessaro took pictures of Watain when they played New York four years ago. You'll get the gist of it, trust me.]
Last night, I decided to see Watain, a Swedish black metal band about Satan, at Brooklyn Night Bazaar, a performance space that also doubles as a weird flea market thing. For those of you who don’t know, Watain’s live show is famous for a few things. Well, one thing really—being as gross as humanly fucking possible, but in a bunch of different ways. They’ve been known to perform next to rotting goat carcasses, throw pig blood on the audience, soak their clothes in blood and bury them in graveyards between gigs, and practice something called “Theistic Satanism,” which is basically a nice way of saying they are active devil-worshippers. They seem designed to micturate in the face of the few remaining cultural taboos, which has elevated them from a sorta run-of-the-mill metal band to one of the most prominent touring extreme music acts around. Because of this, it's rare that they bring their "full stage show" (i.e., blood, animal carcases, etc.) to New York. But last night, they did—for the first time in four years, in fact. In other words, Watain’s decision to be actively crazy as fuck is the reason I, a non true metal head, know that they exist, and as an extension, the reason that I felt compelled to see them.
As far as I could tell, the actual music of Watain plays second banana to the “Watain experience.” Before the band took the stage, a mist rose, and the crowd—made up of metalheads, punks, biker dudes, an uncomfortable amount of crusties, and, uh, me—went silent. Torches were lit, giving the room a nice earthy smell, and I wondered how they cleared that with a fire marshal. The band took the stage in this chanted procession thingamajig, like a deadly serious Druid-era Spinal Tap. For twenty minutes or so, the band played straight-ahead black metal, the players whipping their hair around in unison in a way that they’d definitely stab me for comparing to KISS, but, hey, in their corpsepaint and unison hair-whipping, they kinda looked like KISS if they actually meant it.
Shit started to get weird around the time Watain frontman Erik Danielsson brought out this (I assume) Satanic talisman thingy, which from my vantage point looked kind of like a human skull with ram horns jammed into it, held it aloft, then waved it around like he was casting a spell onto the crowd.
That’s around the time people started leaving the mosh pit with blood on them. Shortly after that, it started to smell ungodly, like human flesh was actively putrefying in the room. And that, believe it or not, was when people started throwing up.
It’s probably not a coincidence that this is when people started getting really into the show. People, mainly already-creepy biker and crust dudes, started stumbling around the venue as if they were under a spell, possessed by the unholy, or at least the overwhelming, cacophonic symphony of the crushing live show. Even a cursory look into Watain reveals they’re active Satanists, and in interviews they frequently refer to their live shows as “rituals,” as in “church for people who people who worship the devil.” Which begs the question—had Watain actually managed to hypnotize some of the audience?
The answer to this question, improbably enough, is “yes.” Even though I’d say 95% of the crowd was there for the spectacle of it all—watching a very loud, visually stimulating band throw blood on people is ridiculously entertaining, I must say—there was a very clear, very vocal minority at the show who were buying into it. There was a deadness in their eyes, as if Danielsson’s guttural grunts and moans had forced them to succumb to powers greater than themselves, his calls for a “HOLOCAUST… OF GODDDDD!!!” being more to them than an absurd parody of an evil thing to say; instead, an actual rallying cry. It’s not like these dudes left the show and went and burned a church or whatever—for them, I think, the possibility of Watain putting them under is reward in and of itself.
Drew Millard is the not-particularly-kvlt Features Editor of Noisey. He's on Twitter - @drewmillard