Review : Wolves in the Throne Room - Celestial Lineage
PitchforkIn a 2009 Show No Mercy interview with Olympia "astral black metal" band Wolves in the Throne Room, I mentioned that, as a byproduct of their relative success outside of the underground, they'd inevitably be on the receiving end of plenty of scenester backlash. (Black metal can be a strange place: at times, it's more acceptable to remain boring and unknown than be ambitious and heard.) A couple of years later, United States black metal in general is at an interesting point. The scene, or lack thereof, is something I've been going on about for the last few years; now, on the backs of crossover "experimental black metal" acts like Krallice and Liturgy, it's nudging into even more mainstream corners. And this time, there's more at stake than the ire of a 16-year-old Darkthrone fan.
Sure, there are longtime USBM diehards like Inquisition, Absu, and Averse Sefira, groups who've been there for decades, and who will keep releasing strong albums without showing up on your non-metal friend's iPod. That said, even three years ago, nobody would've expected Liturgy to share the stage with Dirty Projectors at a New Yorker festival. (Or, earlier this year, to play MoMA on their own merits, and not as part of a Banks Violette black metal-themed installation.) There will always be an underground, but these days, once you are outside of it, the opportunities are bigger. More important than scene cred and these crossovers, though, is the fact that American black-metal bands-- no longer the punchline of Scandinavian lifers-- are making truly staggering music.
Wolves in the Throne Room sit somewhere between the crossovers and the kvlt. Since forming in 2004, brothers Aaron and Nathan Weaver (and the occasional rotating bandmate) have tied early-90s Northern European sounds (especially Burzum and Ulver) and the progressive reach of San Francisco forebears Weakling to the Pacific Northwest, pushing the genre into new places without sacrificing its core. (Outspoken environmentalists, they live on a self-sufficient farm in Washington state.) To the chagrin of many of the band's later fans, they followed their biggest moment, 2007's Two Hunters, with 2009's Black Cascade, a collection of less-penetrable, 10-plus minute, stripped back, droning, unrelenting time-stretchers. Despite the running time, it was a pure, concise collection-- the sound that remains after the last log turns to ash in your campfire. Celestial Lineage, on the other hand, gains power via accumulation. (Press materials reference Popul Vuh, the Grateful Dead, Neurosis, and "Theosophists, beatniks… the back-to-the-land movement, satanic hippies, tree-spiking anarchist punks.") It takes the blisteringly insistent, gorgeously rousing, hypnotic repetitions on Black Cascade and jams them back into the more sylvan earlier records, 2006's Diadem of 12 Stars and the aforementioned Two Hunters....full text
ThenewreviewWhat. Although I must say, the all-natural, Cascadian band Wolves In The Throne Room take their approach to music very seriously… no, I mean, very seriously. So when descriptions of albums are in the form of the aforementioned quote taken from Aaron Weaver (drummer and co-founding member), you can bank on the probability of wildly exaggerated, epic pieces of mountainous proportions. That’s where we find ourselves in Celestial Lineage. Aside from possessing probably the most badass album artwork ever (an original piece by photographic artist Alison Scarpula), Celestial Lineage is the fourth full length from this eccentric group and the third and final album of their trilogy started with sophomore album Two Hunters, followed up by Black Cascade. It’s business as usual for the overarching sound of the album, recorded over at Aleph Studio, responsible for class acts like Sunn O))), Boris and Earth. However don’t take the casual reference of the business of WITTR lightly; it might very well be your undoing while diving into Celestial Lineage…
To better understand this album, it’s helpful to reference a few beginner points for those unfamiliar. WITTR’s debut album, A Diadem of 12 Stars (which some kvlt basement dwellers still proclaim as their “best”), essentially put the band on the map. Sophomore album Two Hunters was more or less the album that has made their legacy to date, flourishing pieces of atmosphere and windswept tremolo fuzz galore. Their third album Black Cascade followed closely, featuring a fairly more aggressive sound that sacrificed a bit of the more atmospheric elements of Two Hunters. Not a bad decision by any stretch, but a difference that split critics and fans alike. Now we find ourselves holding our breath as Celestial Lineage completes the final, three part act that Wolves In The Throne Room have been striving for.
Within the first two minutes of the opening twelve minute epic “Thuja Magnus Imperium”, it’s clear that Celestial Lineage is going to be immense. Ominous wind-chimes, reverbed clean guitar, and a softly croning Jessika Kenney paints the majestic image of the indomitable Cascades before a tremolo lead signifies the beginning of the track. For a near eight minutes afterwards, we are treated to an onslaught of alternating blast-beats, uplifting guitar solos, and symphonic keys all tied together by the tortured screaming of Nathan Weaver. There’s a sonic element prevalent in Wolves In The Throne Room, and particularly on Celestial Lineage, that can seamlessly blends the aspects of Nature, in all Her beauty and decay, into a solidly achievable sound. Where one minute there might be an unmerciful sonic assault, before abruptly airing out the track with a more clean section, Celestial Lineage is an album that evolves and grows the further you delve into it.
What seemed to be a much more abrasive sound in Black Cascade has been trimmed down considerably on this album. Where the last album was a brute shot of four tracks and more than ten minutes apiece, on Celestial Lineage we are treated to seven tracks that range anywhere from eleven minutes (“Prayer of Transformation”) to just a measly minute and a half (“Rainbow Illness”). Wolves In The Throne Room have always had a knack for atmosphere in their music. Citing post-metal band Neurosis as a primary influence in their music, tracks like “Woodland Cathedral” and the ten minute track “Astral Blood” feature the narcotic leanings of heavily synthesized post-metal and marries it with a direct-to-the-face shot of funeral doom inspired choruses and organs. The end result is truly remarkable: a heavily atmospheric black metal band with all the niches and subtleties of the modern day fitted into an album dedicated to the planet we call home....full text
CvltnationThe tension worldwide is palpable as Wolves In The Throne Room prepare to release their fourth full length album Celestial Lineage (Southern Lord). Expectations for this album are high to say the least. WITTR quickly rose to prominence with their 2007 LP Two Hunters. The band toured rigorously behind the critically acclaimed album, and played a well documented show at Roadburn in Holland. Black Cascade was released in 2009 and was far more aggressive and visceral than it’s predecessor. This is the album everyone expected WITTR to make after Two Hunters, but fans were handed the violent, albeit still excellent, curveball that was Black Cascade. Now with Celestial Lineage, Wolves complete the trilogy started with Two Hunters.
Celestial Lineage takes the ethereal sound of Two Hunters and amplifies it. Each of the album’s 7 tracks are packed with lush sonic detail; keyboards, guest musicians, samples, and acoustic instrumentation all brought to life by recording engineer extraordinaire Randall Dunn. The album’s opener, the twelve minute ‘Thuja Magus Imperium,’ begins with what should now be the instantly recognizable voice of collaborator Jessika Kenney. Her incredible melodic vocals call to mind sun streams beaming through the tree tops of the Cascadian forests. This is one of the things that makes WITTR so special. They create a world for their music to exist in. Their artwork, press photos, lyrics and choice of collaborators all help to create an aura that is instantly recognizable and unique to them. ‘Thuja…’ sets the tone for the rest of the album. The instrumentation is aggressive, yet highly melodic. Guitar riffs are often backed by keyboard lines. The vocals are powerful rather than hateful.
Aaron Turner (formerly of Isis and currently of Mamiffer and House of Low Culture among many others) contributes vocals to two tracks, as well as art and design elements to the album packaging. His vocal contribution on ‘Permanent Changes In Consciousness’ is similar to his work on the last Twilight album Monument to Time End (Southern Lord). Turner’s voice calls to mind the chanting of monks. His clean baritone is duplicated, layered and reverberated to the point where it sounds like it’s emanating from a deep well. His addition to the album ads an extra layer of magic to an album already brimming with it. ‘Permanent Changes…,’ and ‘Rainbow Illness’ both fall under two minutes, and work as breathers between the album’s five proper tracks....full text
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