Wolves in the Throne Room
This arrived a couple of weeks back, and I was intending to get a review out fairly quick but I have been distracted by a veritable tidal wave of new material, however an opportunity to get this finished has emerged so here we go again.
And it’s a suitable soundtrack to the maudlin days of a damp September greyness in suburbian Greater Mancunia (boundary commissioners notwithstanding)……and you have to some degree understand the history of this band to grasp what it is all about.
Before we start looking at the latest waxing though I offer you the broad synopsis that this manages to merge black metal (of the doom variety) with folk, post-rock, ambient and a touch of psychedelia. So I thought I would wade through the back catalogue and do a sort of overview thingy.
Anyway, before we go any further here is the promotional history lesson for those of you not aware of this band….and I quote…..
“During the Summer of 2002 at an Earth First rendezvous in the Cascade mountains of Washington State, guitarist Nathan Weaver was inspired to create a band that merged a Cascadian eco-spiritual awareness with the misanthropic Norwegian eruptions of the 90’s. Themes of ancientness, apocalypse, connection to place and the struggle to find meaning and spirituality in a mechanical and materialistic world would be woven together in a singular alchemy.”
(…..a slight intejection here for those not grasping the exact meaning of this peroration….in essence the band is attempting to merge folk forms with black metal of the scandanavian ik…….)
“In the spring of 2004, Nathan and his brother, drummer Aaron Weaver, moved to a dilapidated farmstead on the outskirts of Olympia, WA. The creation of their farm-stronghold, called Calliope, would be intrinsically linked to the development of Wolves in the Throne Room. It was during the first long, dark winter living in the collapsed farmhouse at Calliope that the band developed their trance-inducing sound and solidified the burning intent that would animate the band’s music.”
“Since that time Wolves in the Throne Room have become one of the most important and highly regarded bands in extreme music. Over the course of 3 studio albums and hundreds of live performances the band has slowly boiled away the prima materia of Black Metal to distill a unique essence. The transmutation reaches a new level with the completion of Celestial Lineage the clans’ new Astral Black Metal document. In contrast to the bleakly hypnotic architecture of 2008’s Black Cascade, Celestial Lineage expands into a more expansive and visionary territory. The band’s trademark long-form approach to arrangement remains intact, but there is a stronger thread of Popul Vuh-inspired underworld synthscapes and star-lit pulse woven with the intertwining guitar figures.”
“Although it is obviously inspired by European Black Metal, Wolves in the Throne Room create music that is intensely local in its orientation. Certainly, Celestial Lineage is a manifestation of the northwestern landscape, but it also arises out of an underground West Coast tradition formed by successive generations of psychic crusaders: Theosophists, beatniks, the Grateful Dead, Neurosis, the back-to-the-land movement, satanic hippies, tree-spiking anarchist punks. Aaron and Nathan Weaver, the duo behind Wolves in the Throne Room, refract the transcendent and mythic aspects of Emperor and Burzum through this idiosyncratic Cascadian prism. The resulting music invokes a misty dream world. Rain drenched specters looming at the edge of the wood. Echoes from the Astral Plane. Ancient cedar deities robed in moss. A glimpse of a bronze-domed temple among the firs.”
“Celestial Lineage was written and recorded over the course of the first six months of 2011. The Weaver brothers worked with Producer/mystic Randall Dunn (Earth, Boris, SUNN 0))), Cave Singers, Bjork/Omar Souleyman), with whom the band has developed a close relationship since their first collaboration on 2007’s Two Hunters. 3 songs are bejeweled by Jessika Kenney’s liturgical choir and solo voice. Aaron Turner (ISIS) also contributes orations to the maelstrom.”
“The band has said that it is the final record in a trilogy that began with Two Hunters. Syncronistically, It is also the last record that will be recorded at Randall Dunn’s storied Aleph studio, which has been the birthplace of scores of groundbreaking records over the past 10 years.”
“For this release, the band enlisted photographer Ali Scarpulla to create dimension-bending images in the Olympic mountains and around band’s Olympia stronghold. In keeping with the band’s aesthetic, Scarpulla relies on unorthodox analog techniques.”
“The band will begin a series of tours on September 1st. In the US, they will travel with their own PA system thus enabling them to perform in warehouses, groves and collapsed barns rather than the well-worn circuit of clubs and bars. Tours of other continents will follow.”
The discography to date is……
- Demo (2004) – extreme in a very intense way – a mad mixture of wall of sound percussion and guitars drenched in riffs with scabrous vocalising – I guess what this sets this apart from the Norwegian lot is the vocals tend to be relatively easy to decipher – and the guitar work leans towards the more complex with some post-rock tropes creeping in once in a while between the scary stuff.
- Diadem of 12 stars (2006) – the first album proper and the one which got Southern Lord interested. The opening “Queen of the Borrowed Light” is a fascinating blend of wall of fuzz, near melodic riffing and vocal excess -as is the developing motif with the band it is long, one of only four tracks on the album, and it features relatively quieter break out sections where Rick Dahlin and Nathan get into some serious arpeggiating. There is real orchestral feel to this – noting it’s only two guitars and a drummer – implying the use of some pretty mean pedals given the density of the riff-age. The middle two tracks are parts 1 and 2 of the very excellent “Face in the Night Time Mirror” part 1 of which initially adopts a traditional vocal approach among a riot of fuzzed up wonderment juxtaposed with elegiac acoustic strumming, post-rock passages, and then eventually some serious throat damaging howling. There are elements of part 1 which become so intense as to be categorized as noise rather than metal. Part 2 is just as unforgiving and batters you senseless for the first three minutes before getting into a more complex structural development. The closing 2o minute epic title track lumbers along like a steam driven leviathan and then switches to a more ambient and relaxed section before descending once more into the maelstrom.
- Two Hunters (2007) the following year saw the first “proper” Southern Lord release – retaining the same line-up of the Weaver Brothers and Dahlin it also featured vocals from Jessika Kenney on tracks 3 and 4. There is definately a more ambient feel to the opening “Dia Arto” which would not be out of place on a post-rock/shoegaze album with its’ layered symphonic guitars – it is also relatively short for a WITT tune at just under six minutes. After that we are back into the tense, dynamic and laminal world of the band. It moves on as an album from “Diadem” as evidenced by the reflective ambience at the opening of “Cleansing” which has echoes of religious music/plainsong at its heart. The closing track “I will lay down my bones among the rocks and roots” also commences in a relaxed fashion with sparse chords before moving quickly into an all out assault on the senses.
- Live at Roadburn 2008 (2009) adds Will Lindsay on bass (who would later replace Dahlin for studio work) for a live recording featuring tracks from “Diadem” and “Two Hunters” – a good album to reflect upon how the band deliver the studio recordings in a live session.
- Malevolent Grain (2009) – A two track vinyl release which acted as an hors d’ouevre for the “Black Cascade” album – consisting of the martial “A looming resonance” with guest vocals from Jamie Myers (of Hammers of Misfortune) which is relatively melodic for WITT. A lengthy tune which descends into a cacophony of white noise and ambient replication in the last three minutes. As a complete contrast the menacing “Hate Crystal” is brutal and unforgiving.
- Black Cascade (2009) – Nathan’s screams are more to the fore on this recording which is as unforgiving and intense as the groups previous outings. There is definately a developing dynamic with the band which delivers a trancey slow beat under the howling Weaver.
- Thuja Magus Imperium – orchestral waves of sound, choral vocalising and modal guitar noodling lull one into a false sense of security – after about 3 minutes the aural assault starts with a gloriously scabrous vocal and then oft repeated guitar figures over manic bubbling drums…..god help the bass drum as it is getting a serious hammering on this track – the wah-wah pedal comes into its own as this beast of a thing lumbers forward like some huge siege engine attacking the walls of your consciousness. What is fascinating is the pink/white noise coming in around the percussion and its distance from the guitars. Seven minutes in the angelic voices and ambient tinkling returns albeit with a brooding menace underlying it…..Fripp like guitar tones descend venomously over this sound-scape to create a post-rock type section which is soon interfered with by the return of the scorched earth vox. The extended coda takes the drums down into a seaside reverie.
- Permanent Changes in Consciousness – -one of two short (for WITTR) pieces (less than three minutes) on the album. Almost like an outtake from some strange chanting ritual at a monastery…… a repeated sample of something scraped across metal nestles amongst layers of overlapping sound…
- Subterranean Initiation – dense, unforgiving, claustrophobic and utterly marvellous – just over seven minutes of unrelenting guitar distress and percussive maltreatment.
- Rainbow Illness – the other short piece which is packed with ambient layers and a throbbing insistent bass pulse and a series of emerging sounds….
- Woodland Cathedral – the birds sing and the guitars roll in over tinkling bells – the album is characterised by big chords making orchestral statements and this is perhaps the most obvious rendition. Jessika adds the “liturgical” vocal presence as towers of guitars teeter precariously over something almost like a church organ but not quite. There is something almost Stockhausen-esque about this – it reminds me of the “Licht” operas in parts, but a touch of Rose Kemp comes through as well.
- Astral Blood – probably the most “rock” thing on the album, or the closest thing to what might be perceived as mainstream rock, in that there is a riff of sorts and the drums take a mid-tempo pace – searing second guitar lines add more flavour until the “dark lord” vocals roll in creating another fascinating listening experience. The closing three minutes are a glorious evocation of the power of rock music to create a sense of wonder with glorious and triumphal riffs leading to an almost GSYBE conclusion.
- Prayer of Transformation- a church bell tolls, heavily fuzzed guitars surge, there is a lot of sustain being applied here and I wondered if an E-Bow was bring utilised. The album concludes as it began with a slow, almost painfully so, paced one beat per two bar march which then develops into another cinematic wall of vibrating guitars and vocals. There is some intent to make the drums a little more coherent in the mix and drive the track. Not sure what is being transformed into what but you definitely get a sense of some sort of metamorphosis.
If you like doom/drone and post-rock then you will love this album. It does seem to form a logical conclusion to the string of previous releases an begs the question where the Weaver brothers are going next.