Review Summary: A USBM band that lives in the forest releases an album that's a lot better than it should be. Imagine Black Metal with the structure of Post-Rock, all with a folky touch reminiscent of Ulver's Bergtatt.
Wolves in the Throne Room are an American Black Metal band.
Now that we've got that out of the way, I'll give you all a minute to gather your thoughts, and another to take all the pre-conceived notions you have about the American Black Metal scene and throw them out the window. Wolves in the Throne Room, besides having a totally random name, do not play depressive, suicidal black metal like their American counterpart Xasthur
. They don't really play “ambient” black metal, they don't play primal, raw black metal and they certainly
don't play Dissection
-like melodic black metal.
No, Wolves in the Throne Room are, for lack of a better word, fairly unique.
They're also devoid of novelty.
In a recent interview with Metal Maniacs, the band is vying for a completely organic, back-to-their-roots sort of lifestyle. They live together in a house in the woods, grow their own food, cultivate their own livestock and scorn the consumer-based traditions of the modern world. While they aren't completely self-sufficient as of yet, they're nearing their goal.
Ok, besides that.
The members in Wolves in the Throne Room don't wear lame corpse paint. They don't adopt lame stage names like “Vordb Dreagvor Uezeerb” and they definitely don't base their entire musical careers around Lord of the Rings and hate crimes. So what is this band, a group consisting of members simply known as Rick, Nathan and Aaron, all about?
The music and the feelings behind it.
This is Black Metal that you have to feel; its sound is as captivating as it is intriguing, as tortured as it is beautiful. The first think you'll notice is that this album, their first real
album, consists of only four tracks, which is usually indicative of one of two things: it's either misleadingly long or short as hell. Well, let me save you the trouble, it's the former. Diadem of 12 Stars
is exactly one hour long. The first three tracks all clock in at around 13 minutes while the finale just hits the threateningly long 20 minute mark. The best part is that save for a few brief moments, it doesn't drag.
At its simplest, describing this album won't make it sound all that distinct, as, at its simplest, it follows many of the most common traits in Black Metal. A fairly Burzum
ic approach to the genre, Diadem of 12 Stars
carries itself along with tremolo picking, rapid drumming (though it's thankfully not blast happy) and tortured shrieks. The band avoids the “can't hear the bass” idiom that plagues the Black Metal world by avoiding the inclusion of a bassist altogether. But describing this album at its simplest is a feat left for less interesting acts like Krieg.
What saves this album from being just another basic Black Metal release is what these guys bring that stirs it up a little bit. Diadem of 12 Stars
is an album that pairs the ferocity and aggression of Black Metal with the expansive structures of post-rock. The strengths of this album rely on depth; it's not really something you can “get” on the first listen, though that's not to say you won't instantly like it, I certainly did. To add to the mix, Wolves in the Throne Room recruited singer Jamie Myers, who some of you may recognize from her stint with fellow Americans Hammers of Misfortune
, to lay down some female vocals. Though she's only credited with appearing on Face in a Night Time Mirror, Pt. 1
, on A Shimmering Radiance Diadem of 12 Stars
you definitely her. Either way, Jamie adds another dynamic with her oddly soothing clean vocals, which counteract the more ferocious shrieks.
The sound, as previously mentioned, is reminiscent of pre-ambient era Burzum
. The introductory track, Queen of the Borrowed Light
, begins sounding more like Explosions in the Sky
than, say for convenience, Burzum
, but once the rapidfire drums kick in you'll start to figure it out. The vocals start off with a violent shriek, but in the background you'll notice subtle touches of clean vocals humming along. Along with the occasional clean accentuations, you'll also hear the odd death growl scattered across the album, as well as the aforementioned female vocals.
At times the album seems just as comfortable exploring folkier territories, as the occasional acoustic break does an excellent job at breaking up the fairly long tracks. Another interesting touch on the album is the sludgy passages, the first of which you'll hear roughly 6 minutes into the first track. Dino Sommese of Doom/Sludge band Dystopia
provides guest vocals on Queen of the Borrowed Light
as well as Face in a Night Time Mirror, Pt. 2
, so it's safe to say his influence is not gone without notice. It's just interesting to me that a band devoid of any real low-end is capable of pulling off doomy/sludge sections so well, but to be honest they rarely last too long. There are a few moments where the music drags a little, most notably halfway through Face in a Night Time Mirror, Pt. 2
, but by then you're so engulfed by the atmosphere and overall execution of the music that you barely take notice. And even so, as it starts to drag ever-so-slightly during the third track, it's quickly saved by quite the punkish drum beat. In fact, the final track is without a doubt the best on the album. The opening segments are as sludgy as the rest of the song is frantic, and the last five minutes are the perfect climax to a wholly cathartic experience.
I could fill this little text box for days on end praising this album just as easily as one could find fault in it, but I think that's really the beauty of the album. Some may say the vocals aren't intrusive enough, I say the production chooses to have them accompany the music rather than overshadow it. Some may say it's too clear, some may even say it's too raw. Personally I think this is quite simply one of the best USBM I've heard, and it's definitely one of the greatest albums to come out in 2006, it's just a shame I didn't hear it sooner. Diadem of 12 Stars
isn't something everyone will like, but I sure as hell do. Sure it's a little long, but it's a solid release all around.
But hey, what do I know?