Review Summary: There's nothing quite like seeing Wolves in person, but Live at Roadburn is highly recommended for fans of metal that strives to be something more.
Ever since Deathcrush
was first swept beyond the Nordic forests on icy winds of hand-traded cassette tapes, black metal has been famous for the bleak, empty feelings that permeate its very being. While the cell-phone recording quality of early black metal was a combination of do-it-yourself philosophy and an anti-industry approach (as well as anti-Christianity, anti-social, and anti-everything, really), these traits have become a hallmark that many modern bands seek to recapture. American act Wolves in the Throne Room have come under some fire for shunning these cult roots of the genre, but really, their brand of American black metal – played by firelight on vintage amps – isn’t so different from Emperor and Ulver’s pagan aesthetics. In fact, Wolves’ 2008 DVD Live at Roadburn
is about as black metal as it gets, as they blast and shriek through a selection of ten-minute epics about returning to nature, occult mythos, and stories of post-apocalyptic landscapes.
At Wolves in the Throne Room’s core are brothers Nathan Weaver (guitar, vocals) and Aaron Weaver (drums). Living on a self-sustaining farm in Olympia, Washington, they formed Wolves in 2003 and wrote the band’s first two songs in a forest. Since then, Wolves in the Throne Room have become one of the leading US black metal acts, releasing four well-received LP’s, including 2007’s seminal Two Hunters
In the middle of these came their first live album, Live at Roadburn 2008
. Recorded at the eponymous festival in Tilburg, Netherlands, Live
focuses on the Two Hunters
material which Wolves were touring to support. In typical Wolves fashion, there are four songs here comprising almost an hour, leading up to closing tour de force, “I Will Lay Down My Bones Among the Rocks and Roots”. The actual recording sounds remarkably similar to the album versions, even without the band’s trademark analog synthesizers supporting the sound. Nathan Weaver’s vocals remain as intense as in the studio, hardly a surprise considering their minimalistic approach to recording. The eerie blue lights illuminating the stage may not be from a full moon, but they certainly feel like it as he cries out, “BEHOLD THE VASTNESS…AND SORROOOOW!” to open the set.
Wolves’ performances are all about channeling emotions and luring the audience into a meditative state; Aaron has gone so far as to say he wants people to “lay on the floor and cry” during the shows. The songs each contain several parts, from the soaring climax of “Vastness and Sorrow” to the trance-like introduction of “Cleansing”, making the album feel like an epic journey through desolate worlds and beautiful landscapes. Indeed, the band cites post-metal giants Neurosis as an inspiration for how their music “operates on a deep and intense mythical level”. Wolves’ music is a very personal experience; there is no fist-pumping, there are no mosh pits, only your mind and the places – majestic, bleak, burned and reborn, that the music takes it. Seeing the band live is an experience that can’t be recreated anywhere else, but Live at Roadburn
is a suitably fierce and meditative addition to Wolves’ excellent catalogue.