WOLVES IN THE THRONE ROOM - PRIMORDIAL ARCANA
US BLACK METALLERS NO LONGER LEADING THE PACK INTO NEW TERRITORY BUT STILL DOMINATE THEIR OWN.
Purveyors of a unique and influential form of meditative black-gaze, Wolves in the Throne Room gained widespread kudos for creating expansive and dramatic blackened post-metal. Not only were their early albums like Two Hunters (2006) and Celestial Lineage (2011) truly immersive and original, their sound developed a credible alternative to the dominancy of Scandinavian black metal. While the latter was inextricably associated with nature, particularly cerebral and existential connotations of arcane harshness and frostbitten nihilism, WITTR took inspiration from their own continent and the previously unexplored theme of the immense sylvan vastness of North America. WITTR’s mythic aesthetic was cascading, brooding, and inscrutable. They were one of the first to play black metal without playing black metal, extreme music that was really lost in the woods.
It seemed there was, however, only so far WITTR could run with this style and the band latterly reverted to more primitive, caustic and fairly conventional black metal with choked rasped vocals and rickety percussion. It was a change that attracted decidedly mixed criticism but that did not deter the band from continuing as they seemingly evolved decisively away from their signature hypnotizing twilight ambience.
With Primordial Arcana, WITTR continue making a fast, draconian blackened din that borrows from some of the shadowy recondite mood of their earlier work but little in the way of their former style. This is fairly straightforward black metal with wistful bucolic atmospherics and is an attempt to meld savagery with melancholy through a low-fi, misted optic. Mountain Magic pounds away in a fairly traditional BM rattle with frantic hyper-active percussion, slaloming time changes, and sweeping maudlin leads that is not too far removed from the soaring dark ages aesthetic of Winterfylleth.
Much of Primordial Arcana inter-changes between the snare abuse of rabid, high-octane blackened snarl and ambient spectral passages, celestial synths and folk-tinged reflectiveness. The sorrowful Spirit of Lightning and baleful Through Eternal Fields aim, for example, at building a slow-burn melodrama. In fact, large sections of the record are settled in a slower to mid-paced setting relying on meditative, transportive mood. Occasionally this can drag the record slightly, particularly during the mid-period, which is hard of avoid with this form of music and especially so when the songs average at about seven minutes. Having said that Masters of Rain and Storm is a 10 minute epic piece of atmospheric metal before the records signs out in ambient melancholia. The songs build and trail into wistfulness before charging into thrash episodes and back again. It is a meandering wilderness rather than a summit
The delivery has a muted grandiosity with a sepulchral echoed production. The hissing, choked BM vocals and hyper-active drum patterns are low-key in the mix, half-submerged in a dusky, unsettling half-light. As the album title suggests, WITTR evoke a sense of place, even if it is one that is broodingly intangible. Ironically, there is much about Primordial Arcana that has stylistic similarities to the Nordic style to which the band once offered an alternative. The windswept harshness can be redolent of the freezing Nordic aesthetic at times, with arguably comparisons to Emperor’s Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk. Yet more ironically, this occasionally sounds like a black metal band that were inspired by WITTR as this is fairly straight down the line black metal that haunts and snarls through a shadowy, wide-screen, foreboding atmosphere. With this record, WITTR no longer lead in innovation or pushing artistic boundaries but are content with a more conventional form of black metal. That is not to say this is lacklustre or predictable because the album is busy with ideas, energy, deft riffing and intelligent interplay that stalk in the unlit places. Despite drawing criticism for their latter-day direction, WITTR know about to pen a powerfully plaintive hookline and demonstrate focussed musicianship throughout. WITTR seem happy in their otherworldly habitat and fair play; as the Scottish poet Norman McCaig wrote: ‘Such comfortless places comfort me.”
Primordial Arcana: Relapse Records - US & Canada / Century Media - global / August 2021