Wolves in the Throne Room – Black Cascade

January 01, 1970

(Southern Lord)




Writing substantively about metal can be difficult since
so much of it is genre music — it’s
rock’s B movie, the musical equivalent of a one-dimensional, formulaic western
or comedy. And that’s by no means a dismissal of metal. Far from it. Its
greatness resides in its simplicity. Metal’s never been centrally concerned
with artistic innovation, heterogeneity or nuance: for the most part, it’s all
about The Riff and the time-honored pursuit of headbanging, the aesthetic
requirements for which are gloriously uncomplicated. That said, with Sunn O)))
and others broaching avant-garde territory, it’s also increasingly true that
defining some bands as metal, with the limited expectations the tag carries,
can make it easy to overlook ways in which they transcend the genre.


Olympia, Washington’s Wolves in the Throne Room are a case
in point. Touted as interpreters of black metal in the vein of scary Norwegians
like Burzum, Mayhem, Immortal, Emperor and Darkthrone, WITTR certainly mine a
’90s Nordic seam of influence, rehearsing many of that tradition’s leitmotifs:
its bombastic synthesis of dark, icy austerity and white hot intensity; tremolo-picked
riffs; portentous, entombed melodies; hyperkinetic drumbeats; and, of course,
primordial howling and gargling. Nevertheless, while they’ve clearly mastered
black metal’s ominous grammar and vocabulary, WITTR are conversant with wider
traditions and their musical language is considerably more adventurous. They
infuse their sound with a greater sense of space and atmosphere, a broader set
of dynamics, a more engaging melodic sensibility and a more developed emotional


Black Cascade signals a departure from 2007’s Two
. It scales back some of that album’s expansive ambient orientation
and takes a more direct approach; largely unrelenting in its assaultiveness, it
emphasizes the band’s harsher, heavier side.


WITTR’s deep ecological and environmental consciousness
and their ambivalent relationship with modernity have been well documented
(core members Nathan and Aaron Weaver live in rural, basically self-sufficient
isolation and embrace a geocentric spirituality). Their worldview resonates throughout
this record as it conjures up the immensity and power of a timeless,
ever-evolving natural world in which humans are small, ephemeral blots on the


The album’s four monumental tracks lead listeners on
journeys through awe-inspiring, sublime sonic topographies, the music’s diverse
phases and movements conveying a richly varied experience along the way. Some
of the more fraught, hard-driving passages suggest rugged, challenging terrain,
whereas occasional atmospheric interludes evoke the stillness of plateaux and
valleys: at its midpoint, after an intense, claustrophobic build, “Ex
Cathedra,” for instance, pauses for breath in a spacious ambient clearing;
a semi-acoustic interlude on “Crystal Ammunition” offers another
fleeting moment of light and tranquility before plunging listeners back into
dark sonic forest.


WITTR’s epic odysseys map territory akin to that charted
by the likes of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Explosions in the Sky and Nadja,
different as they may sound. Their music has a similarly apocalyptic, cathartic
feel, offering an almost ritualistic sense of purification and renewal — in
stark contrast with orthodox black metal’s nihilistic self-immolation. Indeed,
while black metal progenitor Varg Vikernes (Burzum) quite literally burned down
churches, Wolves in the Throne Room raise up metaphorical cathedrals of sound.


Standout Tracks:
“Ahrimanic Trance,” “Ex



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