Wolves in the Throne Room is without a doubt one of the leading black metal bands of the current US wave. Since the release of their 2006 debut album, A Diadem of 12 Stars, the band has been on a path towards completing the bitter, atmospheric black metal narrative. Record after record, brothers Nathan and Aaron Weaver have produced works of great depth in Two Hunters, Black Cascade and Celestial Lineage, pushing forwards towards a less expansive but still very potent style of atmospheric black metal.
Without overblowing the instrumentation or going heavy with the melodic synthesizers, a technique very frequently used by older atmospheric and melodic black metal acts, Wolves in the Throne Room takes its ambiance seriously and not as a gimmick. Through simple combinations of ritualistic drumming, long drones, female vocals and sparse synthesizers, the band creates a magnificent sonic illusion. The allure towards the ambient side even led Wolves in the Throne Room to its ambient record, Celestite, displaying a very different side that. Even though left unexplored until the album’s release, this influence was always present just beneath the surface.
The cosmic trip in Celestite was closer to Tangerine Dream works rather than black metal, but still, it produced some very intriguing explorations. Three years after however, the band is ready to return to form. The upcoming record, Thrice Woven, is a blazing black metal offering, containing the aggression and purpose found in all previous Wolves in the Throne Room releases. Starting off where Celestial Lineage ended, Thrice Woven feels like the natural continuation of the band’s vision.
Through the years a constant in Wolves in the Throne Room’s works was the presence of Randall Dunn at the production helm, and he has been able to get a very intricate sound for the band. Gritty and raw, the atmospheric black metal took on a primitive element, which makes records like Two Hunters and Black Cascade radiate with a very distinctive energy. Dunn also appears in Thrice Woven, but he shares the engineering duties with Jack Shirley, who is known for his works with Deafheaven, King Woman, and Oathbreaker. Shirley’s style is different from Dunn’s and provides a more pristine and clearer delivery, which is one of the new grounds that the album is breaking.
As a result of the production, the end product is more open and expressive, while still retaining a dark and mysterious element. It aids in bringing to the surface the influence of first wave black metal pioneers Bathory (in particular the Blood, Fire, Death era) in perspective. The opening of the track with the acoustic guitars breaking into the raw yet sorrowful black metal riffs, combining the aggressive with the emotional is a key element of Thrice Woven. It is also what aids the band in reaching moments of epic grandeur as in the ending of “Born From the Serpent’s Eye”. The synthesizers have also been promoted for that reason, cutting through more easily through the mix and becoming centric in songs like the opener and “Fire Roars in the Palace of the Moon”.
The epic perspective, however, is not only awakened through the acoustic guitars and raw riffs but through the ambient injections, another trademark of the Wolves in the Throne Room sound. That was the case with excellent moments like “The Cleansing” from Two Hunters, bringing the ritualistic drumming alongside the female vocals to enact a folk opus. In Thrice Woven this aspect is explored with two amazing collaborators in Anna von Hausswolff and Steve Von Till of Neurosis. The first lends her vocals in the sudden break from “Born in the Serpent’s Eye” providing a bridge to the devastating epic riffs that soon follow, and also appears in the mesmerizing interlude that is “Mother Owl, Father Ocean”. Von Till, on the other hand, brings a different touch, with a performance closer to a narration that comes with a chilling effect, apparent in all his solo works.
The characteristic element that remains, however, is the guitar layering. It is no coincidence that in their live performances Wolves in the Throne Room goes to stage with three guitarists. The thick wall of sound that this approach brings is encircling and asphyxiating. The first riffs in “The Old Ones Are With Us” feel like hammers coming down. Slight leads and synthesizers add to this majestic picture, and when the band goes for the more experimental adding fuzzy distortion in “Angrboda”, the music is simply taken over the edge.
It is the combination of elements and the bridges that Wolves in the Throne Room build to accommodate them that really works in Thrice Woven. The record balances between beauty and dissonance, providing moments that can be brutal and unyielding when they explode into full black metal mode, and then parts that are majestic and melodic, taking a cue from the sorrowful and epic influences. Apart from the obvious dark ambient and folk inductions, the band also binds elements of the ’90s Finnish death metal scene in “The Old Ones Are With Us”, acquiring the weight and doom-like mode of the bands during that time.
During a past interview, Wolves in the Throne Room suggested that Two Hunters, Black Cascade and Celestial Lineage represented a thematic trilogy, as the band worked towards an astral and ethereal sound, away from the Earthy tone of black metal. Having completed this mission it was not clear where the group would go from there. Hence the Celestite album came along and looked further into the starts. Thrice Woven however also shares this astral perspective of Celestial Lineage but also has one foot solidly placed on the ground. In a certain regard, it feels like a record of introspection, with the title itself suggesting towards the number three and the previous trilogy the band released. But there is also something familiar regarding the artwork of the record. Designed by Denis Forka, the painting features the son of “Angrboda”, known as Fenris, the entity of destruction in Norse mythology being tied by the dwarves, as the tales dictate. In the respect that Fenris is a wolf, and in the concept of Thrice Woven being tied imprisoned, I hope that there is going to be a continuation of his story when he eventually breaks free. In the same way, Wolves in the Throne Room has produced a record that might not break much new ground but is well composed and powerful, and it can act as the origin point for the band’s next fascinating chapter.