Review Summary: Bow to the Arcana. Hallowed be their name.
It’s almost a poignant moment when one realizes that Wolves In The Throne Room’s seventh full-length is to be released the same day as Deafheaven’s Infinite Granite
. While it’s of note that these two records will be (and are) comparatively different, the hype train will generally, inevitably
pull up to the same purveyors who garnered attention a world over for genre bending, earmarking a host of influences within the confines of a single pink adorned album
—and in turn only a few will turn up at the nine-fifteen, Primordial Arcana
platform; collecting the well deserved fruits of Wolves In The Throne Room’s meticulously crafted atmospheres.
I’m sure there’s probably a question as to why I am opening a Primordial Arcana
review by referencing another’s piece of work, but it largely comes down to the current culture of over enthused music fans who digest every piece of music that falls into their inboxes, over their streaming services or is dug out of the internet’s deeper rabbit holes. I may even be generalizing here, for I haven’t personally queried every music writer on the planet—but as jaded as some of us have become, there’s something to be said about how we can pick up and put down music, moving to the next ‘flavour of the week’. For better, and for worse. For Wolves In The Throne Room, (whose albums impacted the black metal scene well before Deafheaven’s Sunbather
or even their debut, Roads To Judah
) released a trio of defining records combining the folk-sy aesthetic of a group lost in the woods with their instruments, whimsical post metal atmospheres, and a black metal touch that simply feels
... In many ways, Wolves In The Throne Room quietly paved the way for others, reigniting passions and innovating new ideas within potentially stagnating scenes.
Fast forwards a few years and we come to WITTR’s more decisive cuts. Celestial Lineage
in itself wasn’t a bad record, but it did mark a dissection between the band’s more prolific, raw black metal wanderings and the current indulgent, atmospheric climates within the scene. WITTR wanted both; finding a safeness in the atmosphere and as a result, they lost some of their essence. Thrice Woven
eventually harnessed the band’s love for atmospherics, ambient sections and their Cascadian flair years later, directing their sound towards a revival of second wave black metal, folk and in some cases melodic doom. How does this relate to Primordial Arcana
? Put simply, all the earmarks of Wolves In The Throne Room’s larger soundscapes have come together—but here, all these years later WITTR’s seventh studio full-length is organic
, free-flowing and as completely unpretentious as this genre could be. No longer does this band resort to the natural contrast between its metal and ambient side, there’s no greater dichotomy between Primordial Arcana
’s elements. Instead, the Weaver brothers (who steer the ship) have come full circle, finding completion almost two decades into their illustrious career.
The aptly titled, “Mountain Magick'' isn't hyperbole. Ebbing ritualistic atmosphere bleeds into rambunctious riffery while the gentle pat of the band’s drums steadily lifts into trademark blasting all-the-while caressing the folk aesthetic. The tone this track sets within Primordial Arcana
’s opening moments is defining. Despite often being pigeon-holed into the realms of depressive music, “Mountain Magick'' and by extension, Primordial Arcana
is sonically optimistic and uplifting. Likewise, “Spirit of Lightning” and “Through Eternal Fields” bolster the growing sentiment, even as a brooding melody provides a sense of melancholia to close out the final few moments of “Spirit of Lightning” there’s an underlying measure of hope. The slower, melodic doom chord progressions (that wouldn’t be out of place on a Hanging Garden record) announce a heavy dirge, and yet “Through Eternal Fields” just breathes
life. Alcest-ian vocal harmonies provide a gentle edge, guiding the listener with a warm embrace, rather than a rough nudge. While we are now seven albums in (and this hardly needs mentioning) but it’s hard to envision just how ‘Washington-based’ Wolves In The Throne Room actually are. “Primal Chasm (Gift Of Fire)” continues the album’s magnificence, bridging the gaps between the second wave black metal they’re typically known for and something slightly more akin to the Darkthrone crowd, resulting in the most organic Behemoth (The Satanist
-era) meets WITTR take you’ll possibly hear ever
while even touching on a few fleeting Emperor nuances.
The largest one-two punch of the record continues well into the same vein, but in many ways “Underworld Aurora” and “Masters of Rain and Storm” exemplify the very style to which Wolves In The Throne Room have been working towards all these years. If there was any doubt (which there’s not) that WITTR could pull off a masterstroke at this point in their career it’s within these tracks that the naysayers will quieten, skulking back into the shadows. The melodious interplay and gently wash into the album’s uplifting grace. Climaxes in themselves are at a minimum here. Instead the group focus on mood, keeping their tracks fully immersed in a semblance of organic sounding ideas. Of the two tracks, “Masters of Rain and Storm” is the point of contrast. If you allow the simile to continue, the left hand jab of “Underworld Aurora'' is followed by the clean right hook, but the power of WITTR’s tracks aren’t in the energy they produce, or how hard they hit the listener—it’s in the immersion. “Masters of Rain and Storm” feels like you’re abandoned in the middle of a storm. It’s been a while since the skies greyed and chaos circles your vantage point. In the middle of this pandemonium comes the sting of the rain and the crack of lightning. Only by paving through could you hope to see its end. “Masters of Rain and Storm” is an epic tale within a gripping story, centred around a motif of harsh beauties...and these guys are from Washington state? This is the type of music WITTR have hinted at over the years, achieving finally on an ambition built from the second wave of black metal.
Personally I’m at a loss as to why Wolves In The Throne Room haven’t been able to grasp their own sound to the point of [almost] perfection. They’ve had their hiccups (as most bands do), but largely they’ve set the scene for a genre looking to explore past blast beats and tremolo riffs. Celestial Lineage
may indeed have been the band’s turning point, for they never quite achieved the same soaring successes in recreating their own identity, but we wouldn’t have had Primordial Arcana
without it. Thrice Woven
may be credited with returning this Olympian outfit on the right path but ultimately, Primordial Arcana
combines the band’s better features into one, defining release. Even as I play this for the nth time this week I can’t help but feel that I’ve felt this before. It’s the success, the build and the occult immersion and as such, I’m invested in this; feeling the same comparative gratification in the likes of Agalloch’s The Mantle
or Ashes Against The Grain
. Primordial Arcana
makes me feel a part of this experience, even in full sunlight or on a windswept night.