Wolves In The Throne Room
Just prior to the beginning of their set, a blonde girl in torn jeans was on stage lighting lanterns. Some illuminated the faces of the two guitars; others pulsated with the vibrations of the bass drums. Once the band appeared, two LED lights were placed on each of the tow guitars and shone through beams of fog. The mood was suspenseful as they eased into “Thuja Magus Imperium,” the opener from 2011’s Celestial Lineage. The song is impressive on the album, and even more impressive live. Behind the giant noise of the dual tremolo-picked guitars and relentless pummeling drums are emotional melodic changes, and interesting, shifting movements. Their long Nordic curls covered their faces, as lichen a tree branch, while the crowd was taken on a truly Cascadian metal-trip.
Wolves in the Throne Room–comprised of brothers, Nathan and Aaron Weaver–hail from Olympia, Washington and famously live on an organic farm growing vegetables, harvesting honey, and raising meat. Their first album, Diadem of 12 Stars (2006) debuted their expansive arrangements and spooky ethereal melodies, all deriving from a recognizably black metal influence. Four studio albums later, their sound is now more distinct. They have been adding more production value over the years (there are French horn and flute credits on their latest), while never straying too far from the rawness that black metal fans tend to believe integral to the genre’s sound. They are bending the aesthetics of metal, and arrived at a unique unified vision with Celestial Lineage, an album that incorporated synthesizers (as did their two previous, although to a lesser extent), as well as the soft operatic female voice of Jessika Kinney.
The newly released Celestite is a big leap stylistically, though I would argue not a complete departure, as some have. The melodies within the atmospheric synth-scapes are very similar to previous albums in mood, but the context on this new instrumental LP is more cinematic (think Celestial Lineage interpreted by John Carpenter, or Brian Eno’s Music for Films). Some of the synthesizer sounds on the opener, “Turning Ever Towards The Sun,” remind me of Eno’s work on tracks like “Warszawa,” from the second half of David Bowie’s 1977 effort, Low. It is also not a huge surprise that the brothers would be interested in exploring a tone-focused atmospheric album completely outside of any rock paradigm. In interviews, they seem to be dissatisfied with any strict classification, desiring to be seen as their own entity apart from other metal bands. This trait that separates them is an almost indefinable aura that I would describe as a Salish fog with the power to inspire reflection. On Celestite, they’ve managed to isolate it into a more essential form.
In many black metal bands, the vocal tone can seem a little contrived. Usually a horse, bellowing scream is employed, that fits people’s preconceived notions of what sounds “devilish” or “demonic.” Wolves‘ guitarist/vocalist, Nathan Weaver, on the other hand, sounds more like a pissed off owl. It is no surprise that his brother has described him as almost completely nocturnal. Even if the lyrics are unintelligible, his voice evidences passion and an real rawness beyond simple shock value. During their live show at The Crocodile, Nathan‘s vocal parts really drew the listener in.
At times, Aaron Weaver acted as frontman from behind his kit. While the guitars laid down a tremolo-picked and chorus-filtered chord progression, the drums would subtly shift to become the real focus of attention for the entirety of the song. The amount of variation in his drum work stood out as a highlight. Rounding out the trio was touring guitarist, Kody Keyworth of Portland-based Oakhelm, who showed precision in slightly varying his tone, punctuating the movements of each song. Wolves In The Throne Room are definitely a refined and engrossing live act.
One would assume that, if the tour was labeled the “Celestite Tour,” that they could expect a taste of the album that it was named after. Wrong. Two guitars, one drummer, no synths. There was a laptop that Aaron was triggering for interludes, which I felt tainted the beauty of the actual songs as much as the blue LED lights on the guitars tainted the warm light of the oil lanterns with kitsch metal cheese. In the end, however, I loved nearly every moment of this poetic metal experience. I was sent back to days as a child on a farm; a benevolent Satan was planting kale and collecting apples to make cider. I was visualizing the marching of trees, a la Ents from Lord of the Rings, and subconsciously closing my eyes at times, as though more visions would follow. I believe that if they had played a set more similar to the album, the crowd would have felt like they missed “the real” Wolves in The Throne Room, who upon seeing for the first time, are impressionable and seductive. The Weavers could benefit from finding a way to incorporate live aspects of Celestite, trashing those horribly equalized laptop interludes (every bit was jumbled to a low frequency) in favor of live soundscapes that worked dynamically with the hard hitting songs. I also think that this would be possible with the stripped down three person line-up–perhaps, without synthesizers–as the simplicity of the instrumentation added to the rawness and power of the music. It will be interesting to witness what they do with their next tour and album, as their relative fame is growing and, with it, their level of experimentation, as well.