Wolves In The Throne Room came to define the progressive wave of American black metal when they release Celestial Lineage in 2011. The duo from Olympia, Washington, became the poster boys for one of the most dramatic rebrandings in music history. The violence, intolerance and corpse paint of old was jettisoned. The natural world was brought to the fore. Their dark and imposing music captured the majesty of creation and the ceaseless momentum of a rolling breeze sweeping through an overgrown thicket.
Where to next? Why the stars of course. Wolves In The Throne Room always felt like creatures of the forest, but if their pummeling guitar work and introspective tones spoke to dank dens and savage hunts, then 2014’s Celestite is the work of band who spend night after night gazing skyward. Credit to Aaron and Nathan Weaver, they take their work seriously, in an effort to create a more ethereal and illusive sound the drums have been removed (almost) entirely.
“Celestite Mirror” flickers between grand synthetic slabs that ooze from an ice-cold void and slight Arabic/Asian illusions. Guitars sway gently and keys shimmer only to be rebuffed by alien wails and synthetic pulses. In their quest to capture the encompassing expanse of the night sky, Wolves In The Throne Room drift between 70s Eno and the jarring strangeness of Jonathan Glazer’s “alien eye” in Under The Skin. Understatement is the key. “Turning Ever Towards The Sun” is too unerring to ever be described as ambient; it possesses a dormant, lingering, menace.
Wolves In The Throne Room might be demonstrating new levels of delicacy, but they cannot hide their metal roots. The melodramatic strains of “Initiation At Neudeg Alm” and the conclusion of “Celestite Mirror” both recall church organs and decaying bell towers; displaying the kind of cloaked pomposity that usually signposts the arrival of Bela Lugosi.
For all this wide-eyed-wonder and naval gazing there is still a base heaviness to the band’s sound, but it is largely repressed. Synths and guitars are so slickly intertwined they become almost indistinguishable. Celestite is awe-inspiring; a refined work that pulls the listener deeper down the rabbit hole the longer they stare. However, at times, it all feels a touch too reverential.
Wolves In The Throne Room might be stretching their aesthetic to its widest possible remit in an attempt to capture the galactic expanse, but, truthfully, these sounds are not new or revolutionary. When the 70s and 80s pioneers first stumbled upon the idea of marrying icy synths to strained guitars they sounded like were having a whale of time – Celestite feels like a speechless stupor by comparison. Wolves In The Throne Room do not lack for beauty on their fifth album, but they are desperately lacking in personality.
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