Wolves in the Throne Room - Primordial Arcana (Album Review)

Aug. 23, 2021


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Chances are if you’ve dabbled in the atmospheric variants of black metal that you’ve spent time listening to Wolves in the Throne Room.  Formed in 2002 by the Weaver brothers, the band’s first two albums Diadem of 12 Stars and Two Hunters went on to define this type of black metal in the United States, offering tense blasting and strategic shifts that allowed the atmosphere to build and build over time.  In the years that followed Wolves in the Throne Room would continue to tweak their sound, in part due to the addition of different members on guitars besides the core duo.  2017’s Thrice Woven introduced Kody Keyworth (Aldebaran) into the mix, but this year’s Primordial Arcana marks the first album where he’s been involved in the writing process from the very beginning.  It once again merges traditional black metal with elements of folk and atmospheric black metal that recall Wolves in the Throne Room’s earlier efforts, feeling like a culmination of their past achievements while still pushing forward towards new territory.

What’s always been interesting to me about this band is how much of their work felt shaped by collaborators.  The Weavers certainly came up with the core elements and structures, but their discography had numerous guest musicians, vocalists, and well-known recording studios helping to put the final product together.  For Primordial Arcana Wolves in the Throne Room has opted to do everything themselves, with no guests and all three members handling aspects of the mixing and mastering.  This makes the material immediately sound different than its predecessors, as rather than the abrasive and dense walls of sound that defined their earlier discography here there is space between guitar, bass keyboards, and drums as well as a warmer tonality.  It’s well suited to the songwriting, which still offers up some harsher passages and blasting but also spends just as much time with mystical sounding melodies and slower, doomier sections that create that same sense of wonder.  Songs like “Spirit of Lightning” even bring in some medieval sounding melodies similar to Obsequiae, and there are more moments that channel a darker folk aesthetic than I remember from some of Wolves in the Throne Room’s prior material.  There are stunning peaks that balance that warm and inviting sense of mystery with the chaotic and abrasive moments, and I love how the band continues to branch out from their established sound.  Admittedly the final quarter of Primordial Arcana doesn’t stick with me quite as much as the rest of the album, as “Masters of Rain and Storm” is consistent but does start to feel just a bit too close to the earlier tracks.   I found myself returning to the likes of “Spirit of Lightning”, “Through Eternal Fields”, and “Underworld Aurora” the most.

All three members of Wolves in the Throne Room contribute vocals throughout Primordial Arcana, giving the performance just as much diversity as the instrumentation.  The primary focus is on harsher screams and growls, where the highs and lows trade off regularly in a way that keeps the intensity at a high.  There are a few chants and cleaner ranges during some of the softer passages, but for the majority of the album the vocals remain on the aggressive side.  Where a lot of other bands that have gone for atmospheric black metal in the past have stumbled is with vocal work that quickly falls into repetition thanks to a focus on a singular pitch, but the performance changes so frequently here that this never becomes the case on Primordial Arcana.

Kody Keyworth has been with Wolves in the Throne Room for close to five years now, and this latest full length feels like the culmination of what the current incarnation has been working towards.  The raging black metal and mystical atmosphere is still there, but everything sounds more organic and incorporates a bit more doom and folk than before.  It has a lot to offer listeners looking for that balance of entrancing melodies and torrents of aggressive riffing, and while the end does start to fall into a pattern I still really like the direction these guys are heading in.  Primordial Arcana is available from Relapse Records and Century Media Records.

-Review by Chris Dahlberg

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