Review Summary: WITTR forsake the monotonous qualities that plagued their recent efforts, unashamedly reverting to the more atmospheric black metal that they're so damn good at making.
In the summer after my sophomore year of high school, I spent a week backpacking in the wilderness of western Washington with a couple of my friends. In this immense temperate rainforest, awash with green and capped with the immeasurably huge Cascade volcanoes, we bonded with each other and with nature. I have to admit that the initial allure of this prospect was partially due to my love for Two Hunters
, the sophomore album by Wolves In the Throne Room
. Filled with haunting vocals, magnificent soundscapes, and driving black metal riffs, the album was, according to the band, inspired by the beauty of the Cascadian wilderness in which their self-sustaining farm was located. Now, it may have been a pretty ridiculous shtick, but when it inspired them to make such great music, how could I complain?
My two friends and I began our epic journey early in the morning of June 24th, 2010. With our 50-pound packs, our water filters, and our Power Bars™, we set off into this magnificent wilderness that served as the lifeblood of the music I loved. Out of our 7 days of hiking, the first day seemed the longest. This could either have been caused by a deceptive mentality similar to how Mondays seem to never end, or it could have been that the day was literally longer due to our earlier start. It didn’t matter, though, because Day #1 was easily one of our most interesting days. The morning began with incredibly beautiful birdsong ringing through the trees. It didn’t last long, though: as soon as we reached the edge of the first cliff that we were due to hike down, the avian music ended and our minds were filled with a cacophony of anticipation and fear. This feeling was only excited after lunch, when we experienced our first anomaly of the trip. A strange creature, like a cross between a wolf and a mystical forest elf, emerged from the brush. It introduced itself as a “Thuja.” Now, we did not and we still have no idea what in Mother Nature’s name a Thuja is. We also have no idea why it was magical or what it ruled over, as it kept calling itself a magical emperor. It was, however, a pretty chill dude: it accompanied us for the rest of our first day, which consisted of breathtaking peaks, valleys, and landscapes. The atmosphere of this day was, possibly because of the freshness of the experience in our minds, more powerful than any that would follow.
After camping out that night, we woke in the morning to realize that the Thuja had left us. Due to this lack of guidance, we resolved to spend this day in more or less the same location, taking an opportunity to explore the natural beauty that was all around us. It was a short and peaceful day, filled with mystical groans from elven nature spirits and a whole lot of ganja. We smoked so much that it permanently altered our collective consciousness for the rest of the trip, allowing us even more enjoyment of the Cascadian wilderness that we would have gotten otherwise.
Our third day may have been the most harrowing of our epic Cascadian nature adventure. We woke up later than we’d wanted to, and our day was a bit short because of it, but its intensity more than made up for its questionable length. In the late morning, we noticed a strange cavern in a rock face, and decided against our better judgment to venture into its depths. It was dark, brooding, and exciting, but it also had a very epic vibe. Even in our subterranean adventure’s most harrowing moments, we could look up to the ceiling of this magnificent cavern and feel comfort in its incredible magnitude. The ceiling seemed miles away, and the cavern’s walls were more spectacular than any manmade structure ever could have been. In our amazement, we almost didn’t notice the strange creatures that surrounded us. Rivaling the previously encountered Thuja in utter strangeness, they were like man-bear-warthogs with wings. They performed a magical pagan ritual with us, initiating us into their mystical cult of evergreen worship. After this strange experience, we ventured out of the cavern, armed with a newfound nature-sense and a whole lot more ganja that the man-bear-warthogs had grown and given to us.
After this incredibly memorable day, we were expecting our fourth day to rival or even exceed it, but this was not to be. The most interesting thing that happened over the course of day #4 was when we saw a random rainbow on the horizon. It seemed to cause my two buddies some sort of illness, prompting them to spout an incomprehensible discourse about a “double rainbow, all the way!” It also involved a lot of weeping. Now, I’m pretty sure about two things. The first is that it was not a double rainbow (which would have made that day much more interesting), and the second is that the ganja obtained from the magical cave creatures was laced with some strange organic pagan biochemical that altered my friends’ minds in a weird way. I guess that I was fortunate not to have smoked that day. However, it might have made this disappointing day at least a bit more interesting.
Possibly the strangest day of the week, our fifth day of backpacking was mostly spent exploring one area rather than moving forward and covering distance in our journey. We happened to come across a random cathedral in these mystical woodlands; one that had once been a Christian church but seemed to have been taken over by the rocks and the roots. When we ventured inside, the sight of 66 total Thujas (including our good imperial mage friend from the first day), winged man-bear-warthogs, and magical songbirds greeted us. These songbirds were the same ones who serenaded us for the first section of the first day, and their return was more than welcome. After getting over an initial sense of déjá-vu (we were pretty sure that we had seen and experienced something similar on a parallel backpacking adventure a few years back), we sat down and enjoyed a wonderful pagan forest service paying respect to Mother Nature. The preacher, who was basically a moose who had developed the ability to stand on two legs, implored us to enjoy the serenity of the woodland cathedral, warning us that our final two days would be intense journeys of harrowing hikes and powerful-self discovery. We then smoked the cave herb with the magical forest creatures and relaxed for the rest of this short day.
Our second-to-last day may have been the most epic out of all the days in our journey. The power of the Cascadian forests beckoned us to adventure, harkening back to days one and three. Here, we had more rock faces to traverse, more magnificent views to survey, and more physically trying hikes to attempt than ever before. We hiked into the night, when the stars themselves seemed to flow with astral blood. Over the course of this longer-than-average day, we witnessed the beauty, power, and epicness of nature in a way that is difficult to put into words. If there was a single day that we were to remember after our trip was finished, this was it. We, of course, took a few scattered breaks in which we relaxed and smoked more herb. One of my friends had even managed to locate an actual harp in the middle of one glade, and we gently strummed away on this golden instrument to our 16-year-old hearts’ content. But this interlude did not last for long, and we soon thereafter returned to doing really epic and manly things in the Cascadian Mountains. We, in fact, smashed the harp, wishing that we had a super metal electric guitar with which we could jam some tremolo riffs. We didn’t need an amp, however: we could simply plug it into a majestic spiritual evergreen using a root as a cord, and it could run off the mystical spirituality of the glorious Pacific Northwestern wilderness. Seeing as how we didn’t have access to a guitar, though, we settled for simply doing more really epic things. It was a good day.
Our final day was a fascinating one. After six straight days of traversing the Cascadian wilderness, taking in hella nature along the way, we were expecting something pretty awesome. The final leg of our journey consisted of a very long hike up a very steep mountain, and was set to end with a completely epic view of the entire landscape as a grand finale. As such, we were prepared for a large part of this day to be tedious, but we were driven by the hope of an absolutely spectacular payoff. Luckily for us, the journey up the mountain was, while difficult, droning, and tedious, relatively interesting. There was something powerful about watching the ground fall back from behind us as we ascended higher and higher. As we climbed, our anticipation, tension, and excitement grew. By the time we were near the top, our emotions were hard to contain. We crested the final ridge, pulled ourselves up to gaze over the edge in glorious wonder, and then…
it! One of my friends with whom I had embarked on this epic journey lost his footing and tumbled hundreds of feet down the mountain face. We had to go down and rescue him, and when we noticed that his leg was broken, our hearts broke as well: not because of his plight, but because we never were able to get a satisfying look at the climactic view that was all but promised to us. I felt bad for the guy with his shattered leg and all, but part of me wanted to punch him in the face. Our epic Cascadian nature backpacking adventure had been a thoroughly memorable and enjoyable experience, but without that final payoff, it seemed incomplete. Couldn’t the dude have waited another 3 minutes to go and fall off a cliff? But don’t take me for a whiner, for even with this huge disappointment, that week in the summer of 2010 was truly a powerful and rewarding experience. I finally understood the source of inspiration for black metal bands like Wolves in the Throne Room
, and I would treasure this knowledge for the rest of my life.