Black metal, as a subgenre of heavy and extreme metal, has celebrated a longwinded history within the realm of underground music for at least the last three decades or so. Representing an aesthetic and culture that has spawned countless followers, enthusiasts and musicians worldwide; whom are affiliated with dedicated communities spanning many different nations and walks of life; and leading to hundreds upon thousands of bands and releases, this genre has definitely made a name for itself over the ages (even spawning subgenres of its own, ranging from atmospheric to depressive, symphonic and more). Everything from the appearance of corpse paint and gothic accessories, to the flaunting of medieval folk themes, sporting of anti-religious symbolism and even allegations of supposed connections to Satanism, have been linked to this movement.
Considering the aforementioned notion related to the existence of countless artists performing and writing music in the vein of black metal, one may ask themselves what makes this particular act so special. Hailing from the not-so-Nordic land of Olympia, Washington in the US of A, Wolves in the Throne Room consists of a band of brothers (Aaron & Nathan Weaver) who have been contently and ambitiously adding their own personal variety to the genre since 2003. To date, the group has so far released six full-length albums and a few more live records since their conception, giving a somewhat "American" spin to the Scandinavian-rooted musical genre...and contributing to the genre's popularity within their own homeland as well. Notably, the artists utilize Pacific and Northwestern American landscape scenery and relevant themes into their art and musical endeavors.
The album at hand, titled Thrice Woven, was released on the 22nd of September, 2017 through both the band itself and their label, Artemisia Records. In addition, it is interesting to note that this is the first and only release thus far by Wolves in the Throne Room to be recorded primarily at their home studio, Owl Lodge, in Washington. Thrice Woven was also produced by the Weavers along with their latest member, guitar player and new vocalist Kody Keyworth, in collaboration with record producer and sound engineer Randall Dunn. The band has stated that this new album has no relation to their previous works, and can be called their "first true black metal album" since 2011, taking on a more traditional and eclectic genre route.
Clocking in at only 42 minutes, this recent release is apparently on the shorter side in comparison to the typically long and heavily drawn-out duration of most standard black metal releases. However, this is not necessarily your standard, average, or typical black metal album by any means. Thrice Woven succeeds at having a little more to it; a certain spark of integrity and ingenuity that gives the album a certain appeal for the most part. The presence of several additional musicians doing guest spots throughout the album, notably in the means of performing added choir or narration vocals, mellow acoustic guitar riffs, percussion duties and a harp tune that comes in later on during the fourth track. Oh yeah, and this album, following the traditional structure of the genre, has only five tracks, four of which are each around ten minutes long. However, the musicians involved manage to maintain their composure and a consistent energy throughout. Even the artwork deserves some praise for its dark, yet folk-like quality. The album is competently mixed and mastered in its entirety, with only a few minor cons here and there.
Perhaps the greatest thing about Thrice Woven is the inclusion of that instrumental as well as vocal cornucopia of variety, in addition to the composition structuring, with which the band attempts to tell a long story to the audience when it does not resort to bombarding the hearing senses with the continuous presence of blast-beat drumming, tremolo guitar picking, and high-pitched shrieking. The transitioning of the songs, paired with the narration of black metal-esque themes and lyricism along with combined aesthetics, is truly what makes this album an innovative experience within its own right.
For instance, the album commences with an acoustic folk riff at the start of the initial composition (i.e. the first song), which stays for a brief minute before drowning out amidst the amplified feedback. The entire band then enters strong, consisting of tremolo picking mainstay riffs, blast-beat drumming patterns, atmospheric dissonance, and black metal vocalizations that eventually join the instrumentals. This goes on for a while until the track's interlude, which features a female chanting/singing voice. The chanting goes on for about another two minutes before the song goes into its conclusionary state: a somewhat balladic ending in which the tremolo riff makes a comeback, sidetracked by some power chords, double bass drumming and an outro that fades out and back into the female singing. About ten minutes into the album (or, following the end of the first song), a male voice narrates some kind of old folk tale, his narration accompanied by acoustic guitar notes in the background. This all happens until the music abruptly goes into a sort-of atmospheric trance. Then, the staple blast-beat drumming and black metal tremolo riffing makes a return.
The above analysis provides the formula for Wolves in the Throne Room's playing style and structure in Thrice Woven. Basically, the songs start off with something new, something innovative such as the guest choir vocals, the narration or the harp instrumentals, and then they go into the traditional, angry, in-your-face black metal sound. The style goes back and forth throughout this release, with the band taking breaks in between the interludes, atmospheric, and droning sections. This formula may get tiring for some, but it is still something that feels like a breath of fresh air for the genre. These musicians have done a great job at keeping the atmosphere dark and gloomy for the duration of the album, and everything in between feels authentic, well thought out and brilliantly executed.
In conclusion, if you're a black metal buff like myself, then you're surely not going to want to miss out on this one. Your tastes will benefit from this brief dive into somber folk storytelling, dark aesthetics, traditional black metal instrumentals and the various other elements that comprise the very essence of what makes this new record tick. Their other releases have held up well over time, and I am confident that this one, given its innovative feel and composition that marks the band's return to form, won't be any different in that aspect.
-Black metal coffee
Review by: Dave Raffy
Metal reviewer, enthusiast, & musician
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