Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Wolves in the Throne Room - "Celestial Lineage" (2011) [Southern Lord Records]

I told myself I wasn't going to review this, but...screw it. Those of you who know me (or have read into my clues in various reviews) know that I absolutely loathe this band. Yeah, yeah, I've heard it all before. I've been accused of "trolling" or "being contrarian" whenever I air my thoughts on this "Cascadian" (*gag*) black metal duo, but there was a time when I actually enjoyed Wolves in the Throne Room. I still have fond memories of listening to Diadem of Twelve Stars and Two Hunters, which are two albums that definitely solidified my thoughts on black metal, but things always change. Being the nerd I am, I found myself coming across new bands on a daily basis, and, suddenly, I found myself thinking that the band I once loved was just...another black metal band. I still listened to them from time to time, but I never felt the same way about them I once did.

Then drummer (and now synth player) Aaron Weaver opened his mouth...and that really was the last nail in the coffin. It is very difficult to hear new players in the game of black metal to go about trying to redefine what the genre has been for the past almost-30 years so that only they would be the "true black metal band." It was ...it was really crappy. I mean, I myself am in a few black metal bands, but I do not know what wildflowers are in bloom or what phase the moon is in like Aaron Weaver does, but does that mean I've failed, like he so blatantly put it? No, that's silly. This outspoken ideology surrounding music suddenly permeated the normally quiet, locally established "Cascadian" scene and, being the stubborn ass I am, I found myself being rather...outspoken against that scene. Who are they to say what is acceptable overall and what isn't? It seemed all too similar to the "No Girls Allowed" sign comic book characters Calvin and Hobbes brandished oh so proudly on their treehouse door. Now, of course, what sort of journalist would I be if I ignored the "clubhouse" mentality found throughout black metal? Yes, the whole of that phenomena is rather obnoxious, but was never a part of my personal life, making it impossible to really get annoyed with. No, out here in suburban Chicago you see more people turning towards the more "aggro" philosophy spouted by Wolves in the Throne Room. At first I catered to that sort of thought, too, but as the years went by I found myself becoming increasingly...distant to that sort of thought, but instead of dwindling, people became more outspoken. In the end, maybe I "grew up," but in the end I found it kind of stupid that a bunch of twentysomethings who all moved to downtown Chicago would still go on and on about trees, mountains and the like. Maybe all my frustrations concerning their fans ended up being taken out on the band, but that frustration was real to me, like the clash between punks and nazi punks or the Westboro Baptist Church and...everyone else. I hated Wolves in the Throne Room because of what they had done to the new metal population. It would have been entirely different if the music they had released could back up people's hero worship, but, in the end, what they had produced was just more of the same.

THAT BEING SAID, Celestial Lineage is probably one of the most enjoyable Wolves in the Throne Room listens I've had in the past few years. Of course, this listen comes with a mixed bag of feelings. Remember my review of Masakari's The Prophet Feeds, in which I discussed how I was going to try and listen to music as objectively as I could? Well, I tried it out with this album, and I didn't end up hating it.

What we have here is Wolves in the Throne Room experimenting with the sound with which they found themselves comfortable on Two Hunters, ending up much more atmospheric and arguably personal than before. Back when I was a fanboy of sorts, I found myself very disappointed with Black Cascade, hoping that they had instead gone forward with the sound that everyone fell in love with on the album before. This is what should have been their first album, at least in my eyes.

So let's start off with the good. First things first, I like the synthesizers on this album quite a bit. They are prominent without getting too far in the way and do create an atmosphere that could bring up comparisons to Locrian, Popol Vuh or Tangerine Dream. Aaron Weaver's decision to utilize the synthesizer on this album was definitely a smart one. The Dea Artio track that opened Two Hunters is still, in my opinion, the best thing this band has done, but with these lush synthesizers they are able to reach such heights yet again.

Along with the synthesizers, I found myself enjoying the more tribal, ambient "instrumental" tracks (there are voices on these songs, so it's difficult to call them instrumentals) found on this album. I, personally, am a sucker for the voices of Jessica Kinney and Faith Coloccia (of Mamiffer), who are both featured on Celestial Lineage. Again, these tracks can be likened to krautrock, which is fine by me. I would much rather see Wolves in the Throne Room stick with music more like this rather than black metal for future albums.

Now, what didn't I like? The black metal. Though we have the new elements, which I admit to enjoying, Wolves in the Throne Room still haven't grown as a metal band. No matter how many times you embed jewels into a rough, unfinished piece of wood, people are still going to comment that you wasted your time adorning a board, and that's what we have here. If you were to take the synthesizers and pretty voices from these songs and left Nathan and Aaron's initial black metal compositions, you wouldn't really hear any sort of change from their previous styles, which is a little disheartening from a band who is being hailed as one of the great innovators of modern black metal. We still have the long bouts of unchanged blasting with melodies which end up obscured with awkward harmonies that ultimately end up a not-very-memorable blur that moves a rather linear path, going into halftime, "rocky" parts right when one would expect it before picking up right when the listener snaps his or her fingers. Sadly, but as I had expected, the meat of these songs isn't really anything new.

Ultimately, after sitting through this album a bit, I can definitely say I enjoyed some of Wolves in the Throne Room's additions to their music, but, in the end, the music itself is still lackluster, with the bad ultimately outweighing the good. Don't get me wrong, people will still love this, as they have for the past five years or so, but I probably won't listen to this album any further. Celestial Lineage will be available from Southern Lord on September 13th.



  1. Wouldn't it be awesome if we had mountains in Chicago???

  2. I dunno, man...I lived in the mountains of PA when I was younger. We got so much snow one winter that the governor declared a state of emergency. Not fun, bro. Not fun.

  3. I still love WitTR, but I agree with your sentiments on Aaron's statements. As if most black metal fans even care about wildflowers and phases of the moon? Those subjects have been (and still are) very irrelevant to black metal.

    And I love your comparison to something in Calvin and Hobbes. Never thought I'd read that in a review on here :).

    I am very much looking forward to hearing Celestial Lineage. You sold me on the krautrock and Dea Artio references, and the synths use.


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