Wolves In The Throne Room

Celestial Lineage

1. Thuja Magus Imperium
2. Permanent Changes In Consciousness
3. Subterranean Initiation
4. Rainbow Illness
5. Woodland Cathedral
6. Astral Blood
7. Prayer of Transformation

[09/13/11]
[Southern Lord]

I’m pretty late to the Wolves In The Throne Room party. Or should I say I’m pretty late to the Wolves In The Throne Room ancient pagan ritual in the woods? The peyote trip on the mountain? The sniffing glue in my back yard? Which one is it? I don’t know a whole lot about them and have only heard bits and pieces of their music, never enough to really gauge an opinion of the band.  I know that some people really like them, but others dismiss them as false, bastard hipster pretenders to the black metal “throne room”, if you will.  But I’m going into this review entirely unbiased. Their fourth album Celestial Lineage closes a trilogy that began back in 2007 with Two Hunters and continued with 2009’s Black Cascade.

From what I understand, this Olympia, Washington based atmospheric black metal duo (comprised of brothers Nathan and Aaron Weaver) take the majority of their inspiration from nature and old pagan philosophy as opposed to the more common Satanic imagery of their contemporaries.  The also appear to practice their earthly preachings by spending lots of time in the woods and mountains of their home state with minimal technology, living off the land, espousing an eco-friendly agenda, and generally taking themselves and their music pretty seriously. Maybe too seriously. Check out this quote from drummer Aaron Weaver on the songwriting process for the album:

“An ornate constellation of imagery is what that guides the songwriting process. Cedar temples crowned with burnished bronze domes glimpsed in a remote valley. Wild Midsummer bonfires and feasting on roasted flesh. All of the sounds serve to evoke the images that exist in our minds eye. With this record we’re going to explore an entirely new palette of sound. We want the instruments to sound like the liturgical music of a cedar cult.”

As pretentious as that sounds, it’s actually a fairly accurate description of what they have accomplished on Celestial Lineage.  The album is full of broad, deep soundscapes that are carefully crafted and meditated on for long stretches. Orchestral and choral elements(“Thuja Magus Imperium”), tremolo-picked guitars of all sizes and tones (“Subterranean Initiation”, “Woodland Chapel”), synths (“Rainbow Illness”), dynamic drums, traditional BM screeching vocals, and some old pagan instrumentation create immersive, hypnotic, and compelling masses of sound. At times the arrangements are incredibly sparse, yet haunting and beautiful (“Permanent Changes In Consciousness”, “Prayer of Transformation”). Other times they crescendo to a blasphemous, blast-beated roar (“Astral Blood”).

The arrangements are colored with all manner of light and shade along the way, creating a spacey elemental voyage of sorts that may actually live up to (at least in part) that ridiculous statement from Weaver above.  It’s the kind of cinematic music that you can really lose yourself in while you space out/relax/think/meditate/hallucinate/sit in the woods, etc.

Some listeners might lose patience with the long track lengths and meandering nature of the album though. Additionally, it lacks any real bite or burn due to the rounded, easy-on-the-ears production, and the simple lack of  heaviness or focus on traditional riffing of any kind. Black metal purists will cry foul, but these elements are actually very refreshing. Instead of throwing together a clunky collection of stock Norwegian riffs and recording to a 4-track in their parent’s cellar for maximum lo-fi shittiness, WITTR have chosen to attempt a pleasing, expansive, and interesting listening experience. And I think they have succeeded, elitists be damned.

After listening to it a few times, it’s clear that while Celestial Lineage is a very nice piece of work when taken as a whole, the individual tracks run together a bit and lack some of the memorability that more traditional songwriting affords bands in a similar vein. Portland, Oregon’s Agalloch are a great example, whose 2010 opus Marrow of the Spirit is just as adventurous as Lineage, but has many parts that stick with you long after the album is over. I don’t get quite the same feeling from Wolves In The Throne Room.  But I definitely dig it, and I’m pretty sure it will grow on me even more in the near future.

Wolves In The Throne Room – Celestial Lineage gets…

4/5

– JB

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