The essence of the landscape of the Pacific Northwest has always been one that is deeply romantic, in the traditional sense. Intense emotions and deep wonder often leave one changed after visiting those wilds, and that is exactly why we fell in love with both the place and the musical scene that emerged from the area. We adore the folky, atmospheric and entrancing black metal of Cascadia, and fortunately the masters of the style are back with another choice offering. Grab your cleansing herbs and bottle of red wine, it is time to ready the stage for Wolves in the Throne Room and their latest release Primordial Arcana.
It has been four years since the last Wolves in the Throne Room release, Thrice Woven,and the album left a strong impression with us. Entrenched in pure black metal sound—though the band has always had chameleon-like skills with the way they drift in and out of styles—it had a lot of songs that went for broke with aggression and punch, and to good effect. The question that stayed with us was “Where do they go from here?” The answer is more than just faster or louder or heavier. Primordial Arcana is more diverse and robust through the variety and use of instrumentation, which makes for more emotive compositions, but it also reaches deeper into the lore and landscape that they draw inspiration from. Haunting synths, folk instruments and ambient passages create feelings of ethereal beauty, calling to mind images and energies of a long-forgotten place, while the traditional ripping guitars are retooled to be more methodical and crushing, an influence brought about by guitarist Kody Keyworth. Primordial Arcana marks the first time the brothers Weaver invited someone else to be a part of the writing process, and Keyworth’s background in funeral doom shines through in the slower and foggier parts. This is also the first album that the trio have had complete control over from start to finish, not only writing and recording but also mixing and producing.
Primordial Arcana is the band’s best encapsulation of the Pacific Northwest wilderness. The entire album features the band’s trademark blend of esoteric mysticism and romantic aesthetics, but there is a deeply primitive feel to these songs that is the strongest it has ever been. This is especially true for “Masters of Rain and Storm,” the near-11 minute opus that shifts through a variety of tempos like phases of a storm. The pounding drums mimic the sound of thunder, delicate synths and acoustic guitars provide much needed calm in the eye of the storm before things take off again. “Primal Chasm” showcases the band’s newfound doomier side, with gigantic riffs that plod and march implacably under Nathan Weaver’s trademark retch. “Mountain Magick” opens the album with the classic WITTR bombast of roaring guitars and furious drumming, but the synths are again one of the most prominent features of the album. More so than any of their other works, WITTR utilize a huge array of instruments to tap into a striking depth of sound, from hammered dulcimer and brass to woodwinds and finger cymbals. The end effect is an album that feels like a progression and a callback to an ancient time all at once.
If you haven’t had the pleasure of seeing Wolves in the Throne room perform live, let us tell you that it is exactly the mystical experience you want it to be. Herbal cleansings, bonfires, smoke, wild sculptures and, yes, drinking straight from a bottle of red wine where others would opt for a simple stage beer; all of that energy is perfectly captured in Primordial Arcana. It is definitely their most diverse album, as well as their most personal thanks to the DIY spirit they employed in the making of it. Pick your libation of choice and dig in deep.
-Angela and Ian