Wolves In The Throne Room – Primordial Arcana (Album Review)

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Pondering metaphysics from the forest gloom.

Often times the nature of a given craft will be determined by its surroundings, and this is doubly so in the case of the atmospheric school of black metal that arose within said sub-genre’s 3rd wave. Generally the colder and greyer the landscape, the more amendable to a dreary and abstract character of sound the artist taking notice will be, and the tree-covered landscape of the Pacific Northwest of the United States is fertile territory for such an eventuality. Thus stands the near 20 years veteran act of Olympia, Washington dubbed Wolves In The Throne Room, a band that puts the aforementioned tendency of creating based on what surrounds them in as their very mission statement. Yet in contrast to their slightly elder and more progressively bent forerunners from Portland in Agalloch, they are more focused upon a measured evolution away from the older traditions of the 90s Scandinavian sound, as underscored by their 7th studio LP “Primordial Arcana.”

Following a period of quirky experimentation in the instrumental side of the style that yielded mixed results with 2014’s “Celestite,” the path became a bit clearer for this outfit when guitarist Kody Keyworth joined the Weaver brothers on their artistic journey, yielding an impressive display of elongated blackened meditations with a balance of atmosphere and bite. This time around the aesthetic and stylistic direction has remained largely the same, albeit with a more measured and concise approach to songwriting that proves more accessible to the average extreme metal enthusiasts that might not be expecting nearly every song to break the nine minute mark. Nevertheless, the resulting body of work is very much a commitment for the listener that accentuates nuance and slow, measured development that is dynamic enough to keep the average black metal fan’s attention, but still tends to draw things out and retains the ambient tendencies that the current scene inherited from Burzum and the symphonic bluster of Emperor.

In more direct terms, this is an album that takes a well-rounded approach and will likely be more amendable to those wanting the smoothness of the present, yet some noticeable echoes of the grim and frostbitten sounds of yore. The opening surge of nostalgic, blackened rage “Mountain Magick” does a masterful job of entering on a serene, ambient note and transitioning into a flood of darkness, with Nathan Weaver’s vocals expressing a textbook sepulchral shriek that hits quite close to the 90s Norwegian standard. It’s not quite to the same degree of majestic grime that typified In “The Nightside Eclipse,” but there are times where it’s pretty clear that the instrumentation and Nathan’s vocals are channeling that very sound. “Spirit Of Lightning” follows suit on a similarly colossal wall of sound with a blur of tremolo guitar work and blasting drums, but also reminisces upon some of the folksy drones of Hvis Lyset Tar Oss during the slower parts.

“Primordial Arcana” Album Artwork

As the rest of this ambitious opus unfolds, it becomes fairly clear that WITTR has distilled their massive sound into a fairly predictable songwriting formula, almost to the point of being catchy. In much the same fashion as the aforementioned songs, “Through Eternal Fields” is a dense sonic affair, tending a bit more towards the slower and ambient side of the coin but exuding a sense of agitation in the pounding character of the guitars and the recurring minimalist lead guitar passages. “Primal Chasm (Gift Of Fire)” leans into more chaotic territory with a healthy degree of symphonic bombast, bringing a slight helping of Dimmu Borgir into their otherwise more contemplative approach. The Burzum and Drudkh influences make a notable impression on the introduction of the longer winded “Underworld Aurora”, while the album’s apex and 10 minutes plus epic “Masters Of Rain And Storm” walks a tight rope between sounding dreary and triumphant, ultimately wearing its 90s Emperor influences on its shirtsleeve from one moment to the next.

While this album is a highly impact-based musical presentation that would suggest a highly expressionist affair, it is perhaps better understood as an exercise in impressionist ideals packaged in an outwardly emotional exterior. The songs first approach the ears as a maddened fit of cold blackness that would suggest a more orthodox emulation of the early 90s Norwegian sound, and specifically Emperor, but a more careful assessment reveals a group of songs that convey a sense of mystique within the natural world. The seemingly contradictory themes of primitivism and virtuosity achieve a sort of synchronicity that is similar to the earlier ideals of the style, yet uniquely American in demeanor. Despite this band’s somewhat polarizing relationship with the older guard of Northern European black metal, this album might appeal to more to said crowd than any of this outfit’s prior works. It’s lone flaw is that it’s a tad predictable and formulaic, yet that very same trait will likely see it appealing to a broader audience that might not associate the dank landscapes of Washington with their preferred brand of metal.

Released By: Century Media Records / Relapse Records (North America)
Released On: August 20th, 2021
Genre: Black Metal

Musicians:

  • Nathan Weaver / Vocals, guitars
  • Aaron Weaver / Drums, synths
  • Kody Keyworth / Vocals, guitar

with:

  • Galen Baudhuin / Bass guitar and melodic vocals on “Through Eternal Fields”
  • Yianna Bekris / Acoustic guitar on “Masters of Rain and Storm”

“Primordial Arcana” track listing:

1. Mountain Magick
2. Spirit of Lightning
3. Through Eternal Fields
4. Primal Chasm (Gift of Fire)
5. Underworld Aurora
6. Masters of Rain and Storm
7. Eostre

8.6 Excellent

3rd wave of black metal darlings and trustees of American Pacific Northwestern Shamanism WITTR unleash yet another solid, measured slab of densely atmospheric ponderings of the archaic from their forest realm

  • Songwriting 9
  • Musicianship 8.5
  • Originality 8.5
  • Production 8.5
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