Review Summary: A triumphant return to black metal after a six year hiatus into ambient bliss, with homages to second wave black metal and the original Cascadian scene in addition to pushing the boundaries of the sound they dipped out on.
If Cultes Des Ghoules represent the evolution of black metal in its purest form, all the way from the blueprints laid by Bathory and Mayhem in the 80s, then Wolves in the Throne Room represent all that is great about the divergence of modern black metal to me. When Cultes Des Ghoules play their hand of bassy, thundering riffs and a good old-fashioned obsession with the occult, Wolves in the Throne Room raise them some nature worship and twenty minute long tremolo picking exercises. And I eat up every second of it in each case. Some days I want something that unnerves me, that gets my blood pumping, and on others I want something with a little more melody and a little more calm. Where Cultes Des Ghoules is vile and disturbing, Wolves in the Throne Room are a grand spectacle. While black metal has a history of being raw and sometimes altogether messy (in a good way often enough), the creations of the Weaver brothers feel thought out and planned, the hand of an artist behind the sounds and not that of a rebel. With Thrice Woven
, the band’s sixth album to date, Wolves in the Throne Room make an exciting return to black metal after the ambient diversions of 2014’s Celestite
, directing classic Cascadian movements in between homages to second wave black metal and forays into haunting European doom.
I’m not sure that Wolves in the Throne Room have ever made the same album twice, though some may cough loudly and mumble something about Celestial Lineage
. I maintain that it has its own flavor to that of their other records, but in any case the Weavers tend to do something new with every album. Celestite
dropped the metal in favor of ambience and Black Cascade
dropped the ambience in favor of metal, with other albums falling somewhere in the middle of these extremes. Thrice Woven
on the other hand culminates the band’s career into one recording, retreats back into the reaches of 80s and 90s black metal, and dips into entirely new territory all at once, making it their most varied record by a mile. The question then is, if it has this many things it’s trying to do, is the result focused? The answer is more than a “yes” or a “no”. Thrice Woven
is far more focused than it has any right to be with its stated goals, the tracks feel like they fit next to each other and the ride is a smooth one for the most part from start to finish. On the other hand, when you take a step back and look at it, it’s obvious that there isn’t the level of cohesiveness that past WITTR albums have had. Jumping from thrashing black metal to soulful crooning to calm ambience to Finnish doom isn’t what anyone would consider a smooth journey, but the Weavers do an exceptional job of coming as close as can be expected of them.
“Born from the Serpent’s Eye” makes sense as an opener, as it’s the most dynamic (or schizophrenic depending on your disposition) track by a fair margin. An intro comprised of decidedly medieval esque guitar strumming transitions into rising tremolo passages and then into tense synths before dashing headlong into a whirlwind of thrashy black metal riffs, and that’s all in the first four minutes. Not so long ago it was expected of WITTR tracks to build and build with the patience of a post rock epic, sliding smoothly but slowly through a bare handful of unique sections. Now the Weavers are giving us five or six different components in anywhere between a quarter and a third of the time. What tied those old songs together was a sense of rising and falling action, builds and climaxes, all done with an elegance unmatched, but with Thrice Woven
we get something altogether more immediately exciting, but certainly not as graceful. The second half of the track is more textbook Wolves in the Throne Room though, a stripped down bridge smattered with Anna von Hausswolff’s voice before a wash of somber melodic trems ease us out of the track over about the same amount of time it took to get through those five or six unique components I mentioned.
Thematically “The Old Ones Are With Us” is more bonafide WITTR than the Lovecraftian title suggests. Steve Von Till of Neurosis fame offers a lament for winter and a welcoming of spring in his guest performance, all before the doom inspired dirge crawls sluggishly through to completion. The track is an exciting bit of experimentation, though not precisely a head turner stylistically. It still has a great deal in common with WITTR’s brand of black metal, but Von Till’s vocals lend it an immense amount of personality and tension for the subject matter. “Angrboda” meanwhile ties into the album artwork, courtesy of Russian occult artist Denis Forkas’ depiction of Fenris Wolf out of Norse mythology. Out of the four main tracks, “Angrboda” is the least technically impressive. It anchors around repetitious melodic riffs, driving drums beats, and extensive ambient passages, but despite the familiarity here it remains up to par with the rest of the material. “Mother Owl, Father Ocean” is more of a moodsetter than anything substantial, a throwaway in many a sense, but it sets up closer “Fires Roar in the Palace of the Moon” nicely. The final track steals the show with its rousing homages to the classic Cascadian ethos. Melodic tones dance in between spurts of ambience and carries that primal energy and feeling that old school Wolves in the Throne Room tracks had. As would be fitting for no one but the Weavers, the album closes with nearly two minutes of the sound of a rushing waterfall. Is it pretentious and not really all that necessary? Yes. Would I have it any other way? Hell. No.
I don’t think Thrice Woven
has it in itself to challenge for title of the greatest Wolves in the Throne Room record in the future. It doesn’t have that special something that Two Hunters
has, that primal, mysterious spirit and energy. What it does have is an exciting immediacy. It’s the most instantly listenable WITTR record by far, full of twists and turns no one would ever expect out of the forest dwelling brothers. It carries homages to both classic second wave black metal and the Cascadian scene they helped trailblaze, as well as dipping into interesting new territory, hopefully to be expanded upon further in the future. I can easily see it lacking the longevity of their other albums, but for now it’s damn good to see the Weavers doing what they do best...screaming about natural nonsense and making some excellent black metal.