Review Summary: While black metal continues to strive for nothing more than sounding exactly like the last album that just came out, Wolves in the Throne Room yearn for something more: a world where music is made for the sake of music, not for the sake of the genre.
Black metal is an odd, alienating genre of music. Almost like a gang war, factions seem to exist between bands. There’s the inner circle, the outliers and the outer-outliers way the f*ck out in Krallice/Liturgy boondocks. Wolves in the Throne Room, a sort of “cornerstone” to new American black metal, lies somewhere in between these circles, adhering to the genre’s customs, yet cultivating an excess of inspiration from synth artist Popol Vuh to post-metal band Neurosis.
, their fourth full-length album, is a culmination of a trilogy that began in 2007 with Two Hunters
and continued in 2009 with Black Cascade
. Like Two Hunters
, Celestial Lineage
features many ambient interludes--almost shoe-gaze--and like Black Cascade
, there are the traditional, stripped-down versions of black metal featuring only guitar, drums and shrieking vocals. Like a mash-up of the two previous albums, Celestial Lineage
is a composition of what made the other two so intriguing.
For those familiar with the basics of the black metal genre, there are quite a few surprises on this album. More than just the simple blast beats of drums and distortion of guitars, this album incorporates chimes, synths and what sounds like ambient noises from nature--rustling leaves, tree branches in the wind. And rather than bombarding their listeners with four lengthy tracks like the last two albums, this time around they give the listener a few breaks in between with some shorter ambient tracks, filled with a cappella choruses, harps and even organs.
Stylistically and thematically, Wolves in the Throne Room remain true to how you might expect them to act. Nature and mysticism are the 101 of their themes, as they often cite animals, weather, plants and ancient societies. In “Thuja Magus Imperium,” one of their longer more traditional black metal tracks, Nathan weaver cries out: “Night-born songs descend by moonlight / A rain of jewels, Calliope sings.” It’s a reference to Greek mythology’s muse of epic poetry--Calliope. And then on “Woodland Cathedral,” after chimes and synth introduce Jessika Kenney’s otherworldly voice, she softly lets the lyrics spill from her mouth, as if another force is channeling her. “In the place of abundant life and constant song / Through pores of trees, spoke ancient times,” she sings. It’s a testament to removing yourself from the modern world. It’s not too often that metal makes you contemplate your life.
Wolves in the Throne Room are definitely messing up the traditional black metal playbook. Refusing to stick to tropes in favor of creativity, this album can certainly rub you the wrong way--or the right way, depending on your objectivity and tolerance. The band’s sincerity and ambition comes through simply by the grand size of the album. No one goes into a project of this scale just to f*ck with the status quo. The band’s goal is to be gigantic and powerful in the ears of the listener. It’s interesting that their worldview is so organic and peaceful, even as a wall of sound from blast beats and tremolo picking asphyxiate you in static decibel after decibel.
While the concept of the album seems to merge Two Hunters
and Black Cascade
into a one-stop-shop, it does sometimes feel redundant. Many moments of the album will have long-time fans thinking that they’re just listening to one of the two previous albums, rather than a brand new one altogether. But by the end of the last track, as the layered and distorted guitars suddenly stop 48 seconds before the true end of the album and you hear nothing but a distant wind, you feel as though you’ve experienced something classic. A definitive end to a trilogy; a canon in its own right.