(Southern Lord, 2009)
I’m just gonna start out and state the obvious: I’m a total black metal newbie. It’s only been in the past two or three years that I’ve even given the genre a chance, and in the interim, those chances have not manifested themselves with frequency. So to say that I’ve never worn corpse paint or dress in black robes is pretty much a given. [Ed. note: Ugh, black metal cliches, eh?]
In fact, besides Wolves in the Throne Room, I’ve also given a good chance to Liturgy (Thrill Jockey’s Liturgy), and I’ve also come away impressed. Yes, that Liturgy, the purist-baiting, scene-divisive brainchild of Hunter Hunt-Hendrix, derided by the hardcore as “hipster black metal” in style while probably not giving too much of a second thought to the music (which is pretty awesome, actually). You know, the kind of argument that ends with “I know you are but what am I,” or “My dad can beat up your dad,” or “Just because.” The argument you have with a toddler.
So this isn’t for the seasoned black metal head – I’m clearly hitching to the bandwagon, and opting for the easy entry points. And you know what? Who cares. This is what I’m doing and I’m not worrying for a second if I should have started elsewhere. I have no interest in Scandinavian murderers (Varg Vikernes – that dude’s a psycho) or alleged sex offenders (Leviathan),* but I’m cool with West Coast naturalists and spiritualists. The less Satanic or violent imagery the better – I have a delicate disposition low tolerance for crap. At any rate, I’ve got a friend who’s a serious black metal head and a lengthy list to dig into, so I’m essentially hanging from the edge of the rabbit hole by my fingernails – I’ll plunge down it soon enough.
*I’ve since read this article. Sorry, Brandon Stosuy, and others, for propagating yesterday’s news.
But by all accounts, I’m still as green as they come. Hey, speaking of green (transition!), I wasn’t kidding about the West Coast naturalist/spiritualist thing above. Wolves in the Throne Room is the musical vehicle of two brothers, Aaron and Nathan Weaver, and features a rotating cast of session musicians. They’ve purchased a farm outside of Olympia, Washington, on which they live a self-sustaining and eco-friendly lifestyle away from urban/suburban trappings. This, instead of holing up beneath some craggy outcrop overlooking a Scandinavian waste.
That’s a pretty non-black metal lifestyle, don’t you think? And pretty cool. It’s a testament to the brothers’ vision that they’re able to ignore modern conveniences and kick it old school, and the standard of living to which they’ve held themselves directly influences their music. They don’t use samples and they record on vintage equipment (see nifty interview), and they’re predisposed toward a radical ecological worldview, wherein they promote a heavy reliance on self-sustainability and oneness with their natural surroundings. If that sounds a little hippie-dippy or power-crystally for you, you’ve got it wrong – it’s pretty powerful and heady stuff, and the intense mindset of the band has very little in common with half-assed hippie-isms. Besides, they play black metal, not jam-band nonsense.
So that worldview is just pounded straight home, then. The peace/love/bong hits crowd is not going to like having their throats throttled until they come around. And even then, with music as quote/unquote “brutal” as this is, it’s not violent. Which is kind of a breath of fresh air when you understand what this fanbase is capable of. Wolves in the Throne Room are actually kind of like Fugazi in a way, in that they’re much more interested in people having a good time at their shows (both bands are anti-pit) and walking away from them intact and satisfied. WitTR want their live experiences to have spiritual meaning as well, so that their fans leave having undergone a transformative experience from the positive communal atmosphere. (Um, that does sound kind of granola after all – screw it, we’re still talking about black metal, not the Grateful Dead.)
It helps, then, that the band is known for spacious breathers, more organically shifting passages within their marathon tunes that allow the listener time to breathe and collect themselves within the dynamics. The shrieks and shreds that open a track like “Ahrimanic Trance” are cut with a comedown period, featuring slower grooves and copious synthesizer. (And am I the only one who likes to picture himself strapping on silence-, darkness-, poison-, confuse-, curse-, and berserkproof armor and confidently taking on the flying one-eyed Ahriman in Final Fantasy X? I truly may be…) “Ex Cathedra” carries on that tradition, although it separates itself with a slower, more atmospheric groove to begin. (And did I hear an “I love you” lyric in there? Talk about bucking trends!) “Crystal Ammunition,” instead of dronier breaks, gives us a full-on acoustic anti-folk breakdown midway, a nice touch. Only “Wanderer above the Sea of Fog,” named after the painting by Caspar David Friedrich, refuses to let up as it blasts throughout its ten-minute-plus runtime.
So I am in. There’s a lot of exciting discoveries ahead for me, I think, as I navigate the many subgenres of metal, and Wolves in the Throne Room is a perfect entry point. And I’ve even read (and been told) that Black Cascade is not the easiest opening salvo in the oeuvre, but that didn’t matter in the slightest. I get it, and I appreaciate what the Weaver brothers are doing. And thank God they’re not hippies – I don’t think I’d be able to get beyond that.
RIYL: Liturgy, Asunder, Dystopia, Darkthrone
“AHRIMANIC TRANCE (live)”
“CRYSTAL AMMUNITION (live)”