Review Summary: A beautiful album with countless layers of emotional depth.
In the United States black metal scene there is a band that formed in 2003 that hail from Olympia, Washington. They refuse the typical aesthetics of traditional black metal such as satanic lyrics and imagery for shock value as well as the corpse paint used by many second-wave artists within the genre. They have a raw and earthy feel to their music which thrives off of their many interesting influences.
They are Wolves in the Throne Room and they consist mainly of the brothers Aaron and Nathan Weaver.
Their first full length, “Diadem of 12 Stars”, was released in 2006 on Vendlus Records and re-released on Greg Andersons Southern Lords Records on vinyl. It is a 60 minute journey into the soundscapes created to reflect the image of the beautiful nature that thrives in the Pacific Northwest region they call home. They grace us with four tracks on their debut, three of which average 13 minutes in length and the closing track running on for 20 minutes.
It all begins with the opening track "Queen of the Borrowed Light". A tremolo picked lead seemingly off in the distance plays along until drummer Rick Dahlin throws a mid-tempo European blast beat on top of it. The bands ambient influences shine through in the form of a slight hum behind Nathans shrieks giving a majestic feel to his lyrics of nature and serenity. The riff changes are both subtle and seamless while maintaining beauty through simplicity. A solo-esqe lead appears and disappears before they enter a soft folk inspired musical movement accented by an occasional death growl.
Part one of “Face in a Night Time Mirror” opens with a doom riff that turns to sludgy feel until Jamie Myers soothing vocals enter and the tremolo picking ensues. The drumming on this track is more varied and involves more tempo changes and accent pieces before fading out completely to make way for another folk guitar movement. The folk sections are reminiscent of Ulver's 1995 release “Bergtatt - Et eeventyr i 5 capitler” and allow the album to cover more musical ground. The metallic guitar work is showcased well with more unique riffs, including a few more that are doom inspired, and a few more flowing guitar movements. Part two wastes no time and starts blasting away with intensity as one the more powerful doom riffs on the record enters, accompanied by Nathans death growl. His growl gives the feel of old-school death metal vocalists but it usually doesn’t stick around long before the screams return. They dabble in a movement based on a loud / soft exchange before the song slows down progressively until it reaches a drone. The powerful doom riff returns and the song cycles through a long slow tempo increase that highlights some of the records interesting drumming. Both parts collectively give a strong sense of atmosphere and beautiful imagery and bring to mind pieces Burzum created in his era.
The albums 20 minute long epic "(A Shimmering Radiance) Diadem of 12 Stars" showcases excellently all the elements used previously but in a way that is in no way rushed. The song builds ever so slowly and layers thicken until they fade into a minimalist movement using folk guitars and accent pieces, it brings to mind "To Bid You Farewell" from Opeth’s 1995 release “Morningrise”. The song pounds away before a more technical riff emerges, bringing a sense of dread with its heavy overtones. The song enters doom territory once again as the tempo fades into a tribal-esqe beat driven section using the toms more prevalently. More technical riffs shine through driven by interesting drum beats before the band returns to the tremolo picking and shrieks side by side with more female vocals. The album closes out with Jamie Myers vocals and the fuzzy guitars fading away.
Overall this isn’t their magnum opus, but still a masterpiece of powerful and deep atmospheric black metal. It helps define the United States black metal scene in a different way without using the typically depressive lyrics and pseudonyms found amongst their peers. Their influences shine along with their instrumental musicianship to create an album that can be felt along with being heard.