Words About Music
Wolves in the Throne Room “Celestite”
Wolves in the Throne Room is, or used to be, one of the groups at the vanguard of the American black metal movement. Before “Sunbather,” before transcendental black metal, and, yes, even before Varg Vikernes’ release from prison, there were other bands looking to change the scope of black metal by incorporating entirely different philosophies and ideologies. A genre once associated with pain, suicide, and darkness became a more uplifting, Cascadian experience. Groups like Weakling and Agalloch came about, incorporating progressive rock and even folksy instrumentation. Thus came Wolves in the Throne Room, two brothers from Olympia, Washington that sought to recreate Washington’s beautiful landscape into the sonic dimension. They received considerable acclaim for albums like their 2007 breakout LP “Two Hunters” and their most recent album “Celestial Lineage,” with critics praising them as one of black metal’s most significant current acts. And then they decided to change their genre entirely.
Their fifth album, “Celestite,” has been sort of marketed as a companion album to “Celestial Lineage,” and it makes sense. Both albums share approximately the same run time, implying that the two could be played simultaneously, though I’ve not done that. It’s also an ambient-electronic-progressive-drone-soundtrack album with no drums and no vocals. Just guitars, synthesizers, and horns. It sounds like a Sunn O))) album that got lost in space. It simultaneously sounds like the score for a creepy 80s kids movie, like the lost sequel to “Labyrinth” or something. It’s a dynamic and fascinating series of tracks that comes completely out of left field. Very rarely does a band completely change their entire genre and actually make it work, but Wolves in the Throne Room managed to do just that. It doesn’t sound even remotely gimmicky. It feels like an evolution in the band’s career, and whether they keep it that way is entirely up to them.
I must admit, I was surprised. I went into this thing expecting a soul-lifting cathartic black metal album that the Wolves have faithfully delivered for the past decade or so. What I got was what I will daringly call the world’s first vaporwave-metal record. The 80s synth textures, the droning guitars; it sounds like if Boris got remixed by Macintosh Plus. It’s an eerie experience that you should probably try in the middle of the night. Just shut out the world and listen to what these dudes have created. It’s creative, incredibly risky, and kind of soul-crushing rather than soul-lifting.
What I would like to hear is these guys do another ambient album, but to also make it more cathartic. While there’s some sick crescendos on this thing, there are points where it feels uneventful and it gets sort of easy to space out. This album isn’t easy to digest, but it could be easier if the Wolves added some more dynamic switch-ups. Other than that, “Celestite” is a beast that totally reinvents and redefines the band as a whole. While they were once at risk for producing similar sounding albums over and over again ad nauseam, they instead raised the stakes by dropping any shreds of black metal. There’s not a blast beat to be found here, folks. A decision that would make any self-respecting black metal fan proud.
SCORE – 8.2
FAVORITE TRACKS – Initiation at Neudeg Alm, Bridge of Leaves, Celestite Mirror, Sleeping Golden Storm
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