WOLVES IN THE THRONE ROOM MAKE YOU WEATHER THE STORM ON BLACK CASCADE
The new millennium has signaled the transformation of American black metal. What was originally a subterranean scene mostly represented by obscure tape demos from Burzum-worshipping one-man bands (or the split releases they did with other sequestered basement dwellers) has now surfaced. With Nachtmystium’s major label hype machine in full swing last year USBM can finally claim a recognizable figurehead, something that had always separated them from their European cousins. Riding this new wave, Wolves in the Throne Room have emerged as another familiar name.
Their debut, Diadem of 12 Stars, was, unfortunately, a contrived and immature effort. It showcased riffs lifted from the cult band Weakling, blatantly surpassing even the liberal levels of plagiarism usually tolerated by the genre. The nod to Weakling’s sole album, Dead as Dreams was, however, enough to get Greg Anderson’s dick hard at Southern Lord records, who subsequently released WITTR’s sophomore effort, Two Hunters. Now, finally, WIITR had come into their own, releasing a post-rock tinged masterpiece that fulfilled their original tree-hugging hippy desires: to make a black metal soundtrack to the ancient pine forests of Washington.
Though they’ve come under the hipster radar, which has scared off some of the leather jackets and bullet-belts, the new album is more likely to appeal to the latter; Two Hunters was a wilderness hike and now you’re stranded in a raging storm.
This is quite the opposite direction one might have expected them to make after the vinyl only Malevolent Grain EP; right away Black Cascade disposes of the slow quiet-to-loud swelling progression that made the EP so boring and predictable.
The song composition now focuses more on textures, starting with fierce intros leading into subtle chord changes and with the more atmospheric content usually bridging two thematic blast-fests. While before you could follow a song off Two Hunters slowly to its climax and decay, the progressions are significantly more challenging on Black Cascade and likely to go right over your head on the first listen.
The most significant sonic change is their newfound aggression. There’s no majestic symphonic instrumentals or female vocals to soften the blows anymore. The rhythm section has stepped up to put the needle in the red this time around. New bass player Ross Sewage (Impaled, Ludicra) obviously stood his ground in the mixing process as there is more low-end, rumble than previous albums. Drummer Aaron Weaver supplements his usual blast-beats and double-bass rolls with some thrashy boom-taps as well, making certain sections just a little more metal than we might be used to.
Their production has slid comfortably into a “new-age necro” that privileges atmosphere over technical clarity. What I’ve always seen to be a large part of their accessibility is their subdued, low-volume mix that’s representative of black metal but without the corrosive highs that might turn away the uninitiated. The aggressive attitude of the album could have turned into hipster-repellant had they not kept the recognizable production of their previous efforts, allowing them to sound fantastic through your speakers and completely envelop you through headphones.
The repetitive composition through the dense production might not take hold of everyone. This album requires attention and patience but the repeat listener might find themselves enjoying some subtle musical gems: The acoustic interlude and thundering outro of “Crystal Ammunition” or recurring theme of “Ex Cathedra” that brings to mind early Satyricon. “Ahrimanic Trance” is likely to stick to your bones the most, but those expecting the anthemic grandeur of the previous album might be down-right bored by Black Cascade. Those with a little endurance however might eventually find themselves entranced by this pessimistic storm.
(3 ½ out of 5 horns)