Review Summary: Rarely mentioned, this first release sets the pace for their later ones, while simultaneously driving the band through musical territory uncharted since.
Wolves in the Throne Room are at somewhat of a pivotal moment in terms of their future. They are quickly becoming one of the most recognized and popular American black metal acts, while simultaneously becoming increasingly criticized by the black metal scene for not being representative to traditional black metal values and sound (hell, just look at Leviathan’s last interview in Decibel). Whether or not this is deserved criticism is a point of individual judgment. Nevertheless, when discussing the band’s music, their first, self-titled release is all but absent from the conversation. This is a terrible disservice to the band, as the album is probably their most original, organic, and certainly their most explorative release. Strangely, it isn’t even listed under their discography on the official website.
This release is truly one where the band exposes their discursive roots. Influences of death, thrash, crust and southern rock , as with the melodically-driven black metal that has always been the cornerstone of Wolves in the Throne Room’s sound, all lurk amongst foreboding guitar parts, volatile drumming, and emotive vocals. Overall, it’s darker than their later albums, with a greater focus on guitar noodling than vast keyboard crescendos. The vocals tend to become more minimalistic as the songs progress, yielding to somber chord progressions that drag the listener through the shadows of the Cascadian mountains. Luckily, we are spared from the boring “atmospheric” filler tracks that are ubiquitous in their later releases. This is
a demo though, with the typical errors that always occur is said releases; the drums sometimes lose the guitars, there’s the occasional misplaced note and poorly executed chord progression, but unexpectedly, the recording quality is quite clear (perhaps to a fault).
A caveat to acute listeners: their later releases borrow heavily from this one. This is especially noticeable in “If This Dark Age Conquers We Will Leave This Echo”, whose last few minutes were copied almost verbatim in “Diadem” and “Two Hunters“. This, on the other hand, is not really enough to detract from the listening experience. Instead, it creates those “hey, I know that!” moments, that, in this reviewer’s opinion, contribute to a sense of nostalgia and completion from listening to Wolves in the Throne Room’s earliest release. In fact, the afore mentioned track is perhaps the strongest of this quintuplet release, regardless of this transgression.
As a whole, one would be amiss in recommending this to a new Wolves in the Throne Room fan, as this isn’t really representative of their current the sound. This may account for its relevantly low rating, but in terms of its musical prowess, one could put it right beside “Two Hunters“, as one of their best releases to date. Much to this vein, their self-titled is better suited for the later fans that may have missed it before, and have been disappointed be their latest (two) releases(s).