Wolves In The Throne Room don’t recycle the rote conventions and aesthetics of black metal, they take foundational elements of the genre and elevate them to a realm of magick. Not that their music doesn’t integrate the characteristic blast beats and wicked sounding riffs, but the band have side stepped much of black metal’s lo-fi savagery, instead opting for a catharsis that feels more spiritual in nature.
The group’s subject matter often pertains to pagan concepts, nature and mysticism. Their latest album Primordial Arcana is no different in this sense, but the instrumentation provides a depth that musically elevates these concepts, offering a meditative, transportive power. The instrumental component of Wolves in the Throne Room has always created an atmosphere that is inviting in its mystery, as well as thrilling in its presentation. With Primordial Arcana, this level of technical immersion is present throughout, even if it struggles at times with a meandering middle ground.
Opener “Mountain Magik” is a rush, fully encapsulating Wolves in the Throne Room’s sound, with thunderous drums beating down over and under an ominous sounding guitar rhythm. That guitar tone carries a mesmerizing, almost drone-like quality. There’s so much force being driven forward, and yet, everything sounds majestic—serene even. The following song, “Spirit of Lightning,” begins with a wavy distortion and fluttering sequences of string plucking; the guitar performance giving off a lo-fi hum, transitioning from its meditative rhythm to faster aggression.
At times, it can sound as if the guitar performance is buried in the mix, but this is not necessarily a bad thing. Where other black metal projects might blend guitars, drums and vocals together to push forward an abrasive energy, Wolves’ guitars are a major component in establishing an ethereal atmosphere. From the band’s droning ambiance to the thrashier moments, those guitars stir a sense of calm or adventure within the listener. The band’s performances can feel transformative; listening deeper into each song can feel like being among the woods, cold, alive, soaking in the ancient energies of the land.
Brothers Nathan (guitar, lead vocals) and Aaron Weaver (drums, bass, synthesizer), along with Kody Keyworth (guitar, vocals) are stellar musicians. Keyworth is relatively new to the band but a full participant in the sound and songwriting, everyone’s contributions instrumentally integrated seamlessly with one another. Nathan Weavers’s vocal cadence can help draw more emotion out of guitar tones; the weight of drums and bass can raise a track’s intense energy, playing off the lightness coming from the guitar. It’s as if all three are working together to conjure a spell.
Which makes it somewhat disappointing that Primordial Arcana feels unfortunately monotonous at times. It’s a longer record than 2017’s Thrice Woven, and such an expansion isn’t necessarily a big deal, until that overall atmospheric vibe begins to weigh over time. It’s a strange issue, because for as good as everything sounds, parts of the album overstay their welcome. Still, the band does a solid job in keeping the listening experience engaging for most of its duration, as on “Primal Chasm (Gift of Fire)” with its triumphant pounce, and “Masters of Rain and Storm” delivering a riveting display of sound.
In all that heaviness, there is an awe and calm. As if a brutal thunderstorm just came down upon the woodlands—lightning striking, rain pummeling with the winds—and then it all begins to settle. It’s a quality that Wolves In The Throne Room have strengthened with each record. Even if there’s room to edit, Primordial Arcana has the means to guide the listener into a surreal and mystical experience—one that thrives on venturing into mystery.
A graduate of Columbia College Chicago's Creative Writing Program, Michael Pementel is a published music journalist, specializing in metal and its numerous subgenres. Along with his work for Treble and Bloody Disgusting, he has also written for Consequence of Sound, Metal Injection, Dread Central, Electronic Gaming Monthly and the Funimation blog.