Certain artists—and specifically, certain albums—withstand the test of time better than others. We all have these—the albums that, no matter how much exploring you’re doing musically, just hold a unique significance that sets them apart from the rest. The ones we can go back to time and again and still discover new levels of appreciation. In my book, Wolves in the Throne Room’s Celestial Lineage is undoubtedly one of them. Since this first found its way into my collection, it’s only increased in importance to me. This isn’t the first time I’ve discussed Celestial Lineage in depth, and it won’t be the last.
Where does one truly start when diving into the infinite depths of Wolves in the Throne Room’s music? Since 2003, Aaron and Nathan Weaver have been developing some of the most satisfying, pensive black metal in the world. And all through 2014’s Celestite (an album met with curiosity more than anything else), they’ve continued to prove that their music is about personal expression above all else. And it’s this uniquely raw sense of self-expression that makes their sound so mesmerizing. While each individual album seems to connect with a specific level of internal exploration, it’s 2011’s Celestial Lineage that’s most worthy of additional analysis.
For a little background, this album was the third in a trilogy that began with Two Hunters and Black Cascade, respectively. It is also, perhaps, the most experimental and fulfilling in sound. It’s raw ambiance done to perfection. Those adjectives may seem odd when paired together at first, but once you immerse yourself in “Thuja Magus Imperium”, you realize there’s no other way to put it. The bone-chilling opening moments sung by Jessika Kenney serve a foreboding message of what’s to come. And this is what’s so impressive about this opener. For over two minutes, we slide along delicately, only scraping the surface of what’s at work here. Once the guitars bring in the lead vocals and percussion, though, you start to recognize the diversity of sound within these tracks. These transitions, all built around a truly organic black metal sound, are the reasons why Celestial Lineage is not only considered one of the quintessential black metal albums of 2011…but of the past decade.
But Wolves has much more to offer still. Immediately following this ambitious opener, we effortlessly move to “Permanent Changes in Consciousness”, which is about as emotionally rattling as the name implies. For almost two full minutes, we are enveloped in the sound of flickering flames, a sharpening blade on stone, and haunting incantations. It’s a respite in the most pure of forms. The album continues to revisit these ambient elements on the likes of “Rainbow Illness” and “Woodland Cathedral”, the latter of which brings back Kenney’s brilliantly ominous vocals, offering enough fluidity and introspection to make this feel like a journey in isolation. But we never lose sight of the definitions on the genre. Immediately after Kenney’s ominously penetrating voice, we move into the most punishing track on the record in “Astral Blood.” This is the pinnacle. The beautifully crunching guitar duo combines with a purely galloping percussive cadence that just beats its listener into the ground. It’s the moment where you realize exactly how much has been done and just what Wolves in the Throne Room are capable of. It’s where the sound has shown its true range.
All told, this is everything I need in a black metal album. It defines the elements of the genre that make it so addicting, inspiring self-reflection and a need for isolation. The sound is pure, the production organic, and the lyrical theme is one of nature and mysticism. This, all combined with an exploratory take on black metal, means Celestial Lineage is an album one can go back to hundreds of times and still find new moments of focus and new levels of analysis. Wolves in the Throne Room is a band that just does things differently. From their live performances to their records, they make their listeners think. They want you to become overwhelmed by the dark, burdensome emotions found within their sound. Celestial Lineage delivers that intent to absolute perfection.
“Ein Bier… bitte.”