Black Metal Essentials: Wolves in the Throne Room, “Two Hunters”

The problem with much of the black metal being produced today is that many bands sacrifice thought and substance on the altar of style.

Take Dimmu Borgir. While Dimmu is certainly a good, theatrical metal band, they’re not what I could honestly call black metal. They’re more of a black metalesque Kiss – with intricate songs and style out the wazoo, but with nothing to say and no ideas beyond presenting an “evil” veneer for the fans. While I actually enjoy listening to some of Dimmu Borgir’s albums and compositions, I don’t think they’re a band that requires the listener to think much or to do anything other than raise the horns and rock out.

But I can rock out with my you-know-what out with any number of thrash, death and classic NWOBHM albums … but from black metal I expect something a little more substantive. In the U.S. black metal scene, there are few bands quite as substantive and intellectually heavy as Wolves in the Throne Room.

WITTR hail from Washington State and are serious about the transformative, emotional power of black metal (you can read the band’s philosophy about black metal from a Noise Pollution interview with drummer Aaron Weaver here). Perhaps the best place for listeners new to the band to experience the Wolve’s ambitious goals is with their landmark 2007 release “Two Hunters.”

 “Dea Artio,” which is really a prolonged intro, starts with the sound of insects whirring quietly in the evening. A treble-picked wall of psychedelic fuzz overwhelms the woodland noises while heavily echoing drums beat slowly and solemnly. It’s melancholy and beautiful, yet filled with a deep-forest loneliness that envelopes the rest of the disc.

“Vastness and Sorrow” starts as traditional black metal, with treble-picked guitars slashing over a double-bass attack. Nathan Weaver’s vocals – shrieks, really – rage with an inhuman intensity. Then, the band begins adding undercurrents of melody to the mix. The song abruptly slows down and Nathan Weaver’s guitar lines etch out a separate composition on top of the overall distortion drone.

Yes, there are lyrics here, but the vocals are buried in the mix so most of the words are indistinguishable. But the actual lyrics are unimportant. The band’s goal is not to preach, but to elicit an emotional reaction — with the dominant emotions being sorrow and awe. Near the end, the song increases in tempo before collapsing into a fade.

“The Cleansing” shifts the mood back to the quiet, with soft waves of ambient keyboards, tribal drumming, a background of distortion fuzz and female vocals. The mood is mournful and quiet for several minutes, until a rumble of thunder brings on a barrage of black metal. Nathan Weaver’s shrieks are pure pain and the chord progressions are works of terrible beauty. The guitar lines mount melody over the bass and the final moments are obliterating, yet psychedelic.

“I will Lay Down My Bones Among The Rocks and Roots” begins with a few quiet notes of acoustic guitar before the band unleashes a wave of raw black metal. After perhaps 70 seconds, the band shifts into a dramatic, heavily reverbed riff and slow drumming. Nathan Weaver’s scream is chilling and hair-raising; it’s a fright — yet the atmosphere is one of solitary beauty. At 18 minutes long, “I Will Lay Down My Bones …” is challenging, terrifyingly sad and transcendental. If you’re looking for party music, keep searching. If you’re looking for a larger-than-life experience, you’ve found it.

In an excellent interview at Invisible Oranges (which you can read here) Aaron Weaver said black metal is “attempt to destroy the modern world … It means not a physical destruction, but it means stripping down your psyche to something very primal, very pure.” That’s about as ambitious an agenda as any band could create, but WITTR manage it with “Two Hunters.” This is music that reaches for a connection that is emotional and spiritual rather than intellectual. This is highly recommended music.

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