The Nine Circles ov… Wolves in the Throne Room

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Since the mid-2000’s, Nathan and Aaron Weaver have been creating some of the most important music in my collection. As one who appreciates black metal for its introspective or meditative qualities, Wolves in the Throne Room have consistently delivered something memorable from one album to the next in both musicianship and lyrical content. It becomes a very personal listening experience and one I take rather seriously. Over five studio albums spanning the past decade, their organically complex take on music resonates with an audience long after the sounds have ended. 

It would be easy to spend hours discussing all the complexities of each Wolves’ song, which makes generating an efficient list of nine tracks rather difficult. While their style and influences may appear consistent on the surface, it is only after you’ve stopped and focused on these tracks in isolation that their truest forms begin to take shape. And frankly, since it’s been half a decade since Celestial Lineage was released, it’s as good a time as any to revisit some of my personal highlights from their history. Worth noting, 2014’s Celestite does not have a spot in this list. The supplement to the aforementioned Celestial Lineage should not be picked apart or treated as a standalone album. As such, it doesn’t belong in my list. All that covered, let’s being.

“Thuja Magus Imperium” (Celestial Lineage, 2011)

This is the first time this album will come up, but it certainly won’t be the last. Perhaps the most ambitious album in their discography, the opening track begins with a sobering melodic section sung by Jessika Kenney before exploring various forms of pain and darkness. This single track covers virtually every element that makes this album, and this band, so definitive.

“If This Dark Age Conquers, We Will Leave This Echo” (Wolves in the Throne Room,  2004)

The debut demo deserves a spot on my list simply for the foundation it laid for the work to come. While the Wolves in the Throne Room sound was less cohesive on this debut, the complexities of their structure was no less captivating. The intricacies of the leads on the third track from this demo, combined with a powerful message in the lyrics, earn this track a spot in my list.

“Ex Cathedra” (Black Cascade, 2009)

By 2009, Wolves in the Throne Room had fully implemented the synthetic elements brought into play on the preceding Two Hunters. An incredibly dark album start to finish, it is the latter half of this four track album where the sound begins to take new forms. This is the first of those two tracks. The patient atmospheric buildup slides into a galloping tempo that only halters momentarily in the middle stages to allow the natural ambiance of their sound to emerge.

“Face in a Night Time Mirror (Part 1)” (Diadem of 12 Stars, 2006)

The first Wolves in the Throne Room studio album lacked some of the atmosphere of the later albums. But there’s something about Jamie Myers’ guest vocals on this track that work so well with the furious undertones of the instrumentals and Nathan Weaver’s cries. Coupled with a brief acoustic interlude, the first section of a two part track leaves a weighted haunting quality in its wake.

“Woodland Cathedral” (Celestial Lineage, 2011)

It is difficult to express just what Jessika Kenney brings to Celestial Lineage. But the fifth track, devoted entirely to her entrancing voice, showcases exactly how far Wolves are willing to stray from the black metal definitions that confine so many. An incredibly depressing tale, “Woodland Cathedral” still offers a welcomed reflective calm in Celestial Lineage and, subsequently, my list as well.

 “Crystal Ammunition” (Black Cascade, 2009)

The closing track to Black Cascade might be the most impressive. Straightforward yet powerful in the beginning, Nathan Weaver’s guitar leads couple with Aaron’s blast beats and gallops in an incredibly resonating fashion. Sometimes the most memorable moments aren’t the most complicated. Yet, at 15 minutes, there is still plenty of time for the track to explore a wide variety of tempos and emotions. And this, of course, is what makes the sound most captivating.

“Cleansing” (Two Hunters, 2007)

The next two tracks I chose were the closing two tracks from The Hunter. The first of these is “Cleansing”. This track slowly envelopes you with a faraway drum cadence the supplements Kenney’s once again intoxicating aura. Somehow, this track just resonates with a bit more solemnity, as if part of a funeral. It eventually explodes in barrage of ferocity and torment, but it’s the opening minutes that leave the biggest impression.

“I Will Lay Down My Bones Among The Rocks And Roots” (Two Hunters, 2007)

The 18 minute closing track to Two Hunters held such an incredible finality to it given everything that had preceded it. It’s not a triumphant finality, however. Rather, it is one of acceptance. Covering well over a third of the album, this track sweeps over vast landscapes of sound through seemingly unending tempo changes and rhythmic styles. It’s plenty to absorb, leaving a listener emotionally paralyzed once the album does come to a close.

“Astral Blood” (Celestial Lineage, 2011)

Perhaps offering one of the more traditional sections of music in their discography, Wolves opens with a punishing display of high intensity cadences, tremolo picking, and Nathan’s daringly organized barks. But, before you can get comfortable with this energy, they bring everything to a grinding halt, keeping everything in perspective. It does rise and fall once again before closing, but the deceptive nature of this track allows it to stand out from the others.

That’s my list, but I assure you the proper way to experience Wolves in the Throne Room is to listen to each of the referenced albums as continuous listens. These are complex works that need to be fully absorbed. They are meant to influence a listener’s emotions and no list I generate will have the intended effect. Regardless, links to each track can be found in the songs titles above. Enjoy.

“Ein Bier… bitte.”
– Corey

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