Review Summary: An album of muted progression and fading inspiration
It’s not entirely correct to say that Celestial Lineage
picks up where Black Cascade
left off, but then again that’s not such a far-fetched claim. Musically the album is a derivation of the Two Hunters
sound with spots of progression, but in spirit it is the same old Wolves in the Throne Room. Their sound has always been filled with a sort of elemental rawness and mystical dissonance that invokes a certain aura of mystery and wonder, but the stark similarities in tone between this album and their back catalogue is almost baffling. The feeling I get here is so close to what I had when Two Hunters
was released that it makes me think the only things left to find with this band are the two very introspective musicians looking out at the world with the same radical environmentalist perspective that inspired them with all kinds of creative fervor during their early days as a band. I have the deepest respect for what they stand for, far more than it may seem on the surface, but that thick veil of mist and freezing fog that their atmosphere is meant to conjure simply isn’t as potent as it was three albums ago, leaving Celestial Lineage
hanging in a place that should have been forsaken a while ago.
While Black Cascade
did have its moments, it was forever wandering about for a target it ultimately never found. Two Hunters
and Diadem of 12 Stars
were much more successful in locating the sound Wolves in the Throne Room were striving to achieve, but Celestial Lineage
is lost somewhere between the two. There are times when the album is so on-point it is almost startling, and during tracks like “Thuja Magus Imperium” or “Prayer of Transformation” the band’s powerful inspirations rear their head in full. Elsewhere, however, things seem distorted or muted in an almost frustrating way as songs attempt to get going but instead fall flat with the same rumbling, lifeless atmospheric black metal that comprised the majority of Black Cascade
, and was the reason it never rose to the height of its predecessors. The entire middle of the album is a block of atmospheric knots that cannot smooth themselves out into a presentable form, dragging the two supporting columns of “Thuja Magus Imperium” and “Astral Blood” farther down than they deserve. In the two instrumentals sandwiching “Subterranean Initiation” we are left hanging with senseless atmospheric droning that is so cliché in the genre that at this point the inclusion of such tracks is nothing above arbitrary. It doesn’t help that “Subterranean Initiation” isn’t a strong track to begin with, and when you place that in between two dull instrumentals and follow them with the shameless “Dea Artio” clone “Woodland Cathedral” you have 4 of the album’s 7 tracks dumped right into the gutter.
Thankfully, the remaining three tracks are more than worthwhile, if a bit uninspired at times. “Prayer of Transformation” is more prone to this than the other two songs, but all three at some point wade too far into the mud to easily escape back to safe ground without a noticeable bit of difficulty. That said, each of these tracks does quite a bit correctly, despite their atmospheric stagnation. The harsh, distant vocals are critical to keeping the album’s head above water, and are of such quality that I can say they are the most integral part of Celestial Lineage’s
core compositions. Indeed, they are almost agonizing in their emotion during the superb building of “Prayer of Transformation” and are ferocious during the final crescendo of “Astral Blood”, complimenting the tone of the music with perfection. Even amidst the typical tremolo-heavy riffing patterns of the album’s intense moments, Wolves in the Throne Room keep to their style of build-and-demolish instrumentation by constantly changing things up in a way that makes the pacing of the longer numbers on Celestial Lineage
smooth, with subtle keyboards adding a firm backbone to the elemental atmosphere of the album.
In the end, though, there are no tracks so breathtaking as “I Will Lay Down My Bones Among the Rocks and Roots” and there are no epics touching “(A Shimmering Radiance) Diadem of 12 Stars”. Celestial Lineage
tries and tries hard to do so, believe me, but you can tell the inspiration isn’t as pure and isn’t so desperate to escape into some creative medium. You can hear it in the atmosphere in its exhausting tiredness and stagnation; in the disjointed attempts at progression as the band tries something, anything to escape from its own atmosphere that is lurking closely behind. It is so reminiscent of Two Hunters
at times that you’d swear these were bonus tracks recorded during those sessions. For all that raises alarm in Celestial Lineage
, though, there is something worthwhile to hear on this record, something that Wolves in the Throne Room are hinting at but can’t quite grasp just yet in their current state: sincerity. It’s here in snippets, little blurbs that come rolling over you like a freight train but leave as stealthily as a ghost, but it is there all the same. I think Wolves in the Throne Room need to step back for a second and realize that maybe their fans are not looking for a continuation upon a sound they’ve already proven they can master, but instead an evolution of it. This evolution doesn’t have to be a complete overhaul of their sound or core aesthetics, but it needs to be the next logical step in the course. If they were to do that, then Wolves in the Throne Room will have something special on their hands.