Although they put out two demo albums beforehand, the career of Wolves In The Throne Room begins in earnest in 2006, with the release of atmospheric black metal triumph Diadem of 12 Stars. To say this record “invented” the atmoblack style would be inaccurate; the genre was begat in the mid ’90s by Scandinavian acts like Burzum, Ulver, and Summoning. However, it wasn’t until around the turn of the millennium, with Agalloch‘s Pale Folklore and Weakling‘s Dead As Dreams, that the genre took root here in the United States.
While Agalloch and Weakling followed fairly close to the trappings of their Norwegian progenitors, Wolves In The Throne Room took the sound in a different direction: with the inclusion of plenty of post-rock style meandering clean passages, overwhelming walls of guitar absolutely drenched in shimmering reverb, and a complete disregard for the genre’s typical theatrics (none of the members wear corpse paint or go by stage names), Wolves In The Throne Room could be said to have been the first truly American atmospheric black metal band.
Diadem, along with its direct followup, Two Hunters, are institutions in atmospheric black metal. Consistently, they are recognized both for being integral to the genre’s evolution and being two of the best albums that atmoblack has spawned thus far. They are classics in the purest form that can be, pillars of their genre. Following these two comes Black Cascade, another record that, while excellent by any standard, is not one capable of matching the intense demand of the band’s previous output (it is still, however, a great release in its own right, don’t mistake that for any sort of condemnation).
And then, in 2011, we have Celestial Lineage. Faced with the daunting task of having to diversify their sound to maintain relevance while also holding on to what made them so compelling in the first place, the band returned after two years with this record. It’s a good record, but definitely missing some of the raw spark that held together their previous albums. Its companion piece, Celestite, saw the light of day in 2014. Although it’s an interesting experiment (the record consists of practically nothing other than synthesizers), it’s certainly not going to scratch the itch fans have for the black metal for which Wolves In The Throne Room is known and loved.
The stage, then, has been set for Thrice Woven. A full three years after Celestite – six years after their last black metal album – Wolves In The Throne Room is ready to put out a new atmospheric black metal record. Their most condensed release yet, clocking in at around 42 minutes, the Washington state trio continues here down the path set on Celestial Lineage. It may not be at the level of their classics, but Thrice Woven is undoubtedly a success and a fantastic entry to this second phase of their discography.
Right from the get-go, it’s clear what the game plan is for Thrice Woven. Opener “Born from the Serpent’s Eye” begins with warm acoustic instrumentation before developing a half-minute into the track into a full-on folky black metal ripper, taut and bursting with melody as icy keys mingle with acoustic and electric guitars and pounding drums. The melodies of Thrice Woven are, perhaps, the most defined and present that the band has put forth in quite some time, leading the way ever further into the darkened, foggy woods the band calls home as blast beats and throat-shredding growls tear into the listener’s ears.
The juxtaposition of the “atmospheric” and “black metal” parts of atmospheric black metal is stronger here than it’s ever been before on a Wolves In The Throne Room release; the aggression is more straightforward and down-to-earth than on previous records while the atmospheric side pulls ever stronger towards celestial bodies and dense, god-like nebulae. It’s the increased presence of both that allows Thrice Woven to succeed at diversifying, as well. When they integrate entrancing dirges inspired by Finnish doom metal or pagan psalms read aloud by Steve Von Till of sludge monolith Neurosis, it all feels completely natural, as though there’s no chance that anything on this record could have ended up differently. This is undoubtedly, through-and-through, a Wolves In The Throne Room record.
When the two sides do cohere, then, the power that comes from the combination hits with all the more impact for it. Moments of soaring beauty aren’t uncommon in the genre, but Thrice Woven sees them pulled off with an aplomb that brings to mind the absolute best of the best within atmospheric black metal. The real kicker, though, is that it does so in a way that doesn’t seem reminiscent of or sentimental towards the best moments of the Wolves In The Throne Room discography. No, this is a new beast, a band reborn by their decision to embark on a different path than that of just rehashing their best albums time and again.
Other metal bands that clearly have their best albums behind them should look towards Thrice Woven as the proper way to start the next phase of their career. Everything that personifies the Wolves In The Throne Room thus far is still clearly present, but the formula has been changed in a way that allows for a familiar core to interact with a wholly new set of influences and tendencies. Fans of both this group’s new and old output take note: just because they’re not releasing back-to-back classics anymore doesn’t mean they aren’t still putting out absolutely kickass albums. Do not miss this one.