Wolves in the Throne Room Give Black Metal a Good Name

Is that a lemur? Not enough lemurs on metal covers these days.As is bound to happen with any band whose personality is so manifest in their output, Olympia, WA‘s Wolves in the Throne Room have found themselves in the position where their music has almost taken a back seat to their character. Reports of tours scheduled around the harvest, living on a farm and playing shows in the dense Pacific Northwestern forests have abounded since their Diadem of 12 Stars (Vendlus) debut in 2006, but they took on a life all their own when Southern Lord put out Two Hunters to such widespread acclaim in 2007.

For their part in it, the four-piece has clarified their environmental extremist position on their blog and I don’t feel the need to repeat it here. What matters more when than the band’s opinion on human contributions to global warming when I listen to new album Black Cascade is the music. Quite a novelty, I know.

Like Two Hunters — since which the band has released Live at Roadburn 2008 and the Malevolent Grain EP, both vinyl-only — Black Cascade boasts four extended tracks that when put together reach upwards of 50 minutes. Where this record separates itself from the last, however, is in the songwriting. Not that they’re suddenly churning out three minute pop songs or anything like that, but the movements of opener “Wanderer above the Sea of Fog” flesh themselves out in a manner befitting a band who have worked hard to establish themselves as a unique entity. Wolves in the Throne Room are maturing and their sound is becoming very much their own.

Doubtless a big part of that is the touring they’ve done since releasing Two Hunters. Now with a new perspective on what works in songs and what doesn’t, Wolves in the Throne Room are considering the stage when “Ahrimanic Trance” shifts from ripping and tortured black metal into noise-laden psych soundscaping (still with blastbeats underneath) around four minutes in. As one of two tracks over 14 minutes long, its closing movement shoegazes Black Cascade to the end of what will most likely be the vinyl’s side A.

The 10:59 “Ex Cathedra” begins with a long fade in, clearly separating it from the first half of the record, and the mood is even darker and more purely black metal until the guitar-induced drama begins at 3:45 or so and leads to an extended ambient segment that finally opens back up at 7:30 to post-metallic carnage. If there is one song that distinguishes the songwriting on Black Cascade from Wolves in the Throne Room‘s past output, it’s this one. Not that they’re making any serious departures musically, but the approach is refined in a way that even Two Hunters‘ spectacular closer “I Will Lay Down My Bones Among the Rocks and Roots” only hinted was possible.

And if 14:21 “Crystal Ammunition” does anything as it rounds out Black Cascade, it confirms the bold statement the band has made leading up to it. Without gimmicks, without shtick, Wolves in the Throne Room showcase the kind of diversity that blew minds when Opeth so effectively brought it to death metal on their earliest works. The break at six minutes is neither corny nor out of place, but only serves to heighten the folkloric aura of the song. They are the champions of the New Wave of Granola Black Metal and the hypnotic showmanship they display on “Crystal Ammunition” helps to cement what we’ll be calling “their legacy” years from now when countless bands have ripped them off.

The booming cross-genre support shown Wolves in the Throne Room is evidence of their stepping out of the confines of the limiting black metal scene. I don’t care if guitarist/vocalist Nathan Weaver is talking about hugging trees or tying his shoes, it rocks. Where they’re headed is anyone’s guess, but on Black Cascade, these farm boys show they have the power and confidence to tread a path all their own.

They live in that tree over there; I read it in some magazine.

Wolves in the Throne Room on MySpace

Southern Lord Recordings

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One Response to “Wolves in the Throne Room Give Black Metal a Good Name”

  1. […] spare the wax poetry since the review of Black Cascade went up just a couple days ago. Certainly there’s enough of it there. In the meantime, after […]

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