Interview: Wolves in the Throne Room bring three-album cycle to an end with “Celestial Lineage”

Wolves in the Throne Room (photo by Alison Scarpulla)

 This month, Washington State’s Wolves in the Throne Room will close a circle the band opened four years ago, with the release of “Celestial Lineage.”

In a recent interview, drummer Aaron Weaver and he and his brother, vocalist/guitarist Nathan Weaver, embarked on what they envisioned as a mythic trilogy in 2007, with “Two Hunters.” The second part of the trilogy, “Black Cascade,” followed during the frozen early months of 2009.

“Two Hunters” was raw and primal, combining black metal with dense, intricate arrangements and moments of acoustic beauty. “Black Cascade” retained the attention to arrangement, but was fiercer in overall assault; while lacking the acoustic melodies of “Two Hunters,” Black Cascade also contained hints of the psychedelic.

“Celestial Lineage” is the marriage of all that came before. Highly structured in places and roaring with power in others, “Celestial Lineage” is a sometimes beautiful, sometimes crushing reach for transcendence and escape from the modern world.

“When we completed ‘Two Hunters,’ the idea for the tracks (for ‘Celestial Lineage’) had already been formed,” Aaron Weaver said. “By the time we started ‘Black Cascade,’ We knew we would make a three-record cycle; we were already planning the musical ideas on all three records.”

The writing for “Celestial Lineage” was finished over the winter, when Nathan and Aaron retired to Calliope Farm and lived like hermits in the wilderness while they worked on the songs.

“We usually like to do our writing and recording in the winter time. It’s a quiet and introspective period,” Weaver said. “That’s especially true in the northwest, where the days are very short and gray and rainy for months on end.

“Definitely I like to avoid contact with other people” while writing, Weaver said. “No one understands the mindset when you’re in a very intense creative endeavor; we need to be in a really quiet space and get into the head space of the record we’re working on.”

While the wild woods and  mountains of Washington State — and the farm where the Weaver brothers live and work when not making music — remains the core inspiration for the band’s brand of black metal, some of the songs on “Celestial Lineage” have the feel of religious ritual. The ceremonial sound of songs like “Woodland Cathedral” was intentional, Weaver said.

“‘Two Hunters,’ to me, sounds feral and wild; that was the image we had … the idea of transcendency,” Weaver said. “With ‘Celestial Lineage,’ we had the idea of, ‘what’s the next step? If someone has that (transcendent) experience, what’s the next step?'”

The ‘next step’ when a person makes a spiritual connection, Weaver said, is often to attempt to codify it into a religion. The need to build a liturgy or ceremony around the quest for a spiritual connection can be both positive and negative, Weaver said.

“I think there’s a really beautiful side to that; We can all agree there’s something beautiful in a great cathedral in Europe … and there’s something dark in turning that into a liturgical (ceremony).”

One of the themes of the record is that, even when the original transcendent connection is cloaked in ceremony, that connection is still alive and obtainable.

When a religion is built, the initial connection “becomes something else,” Weaver said. “But at the same time, that spark is still there.”

The album also reflects changes in the lives of the Weaver brothers as well. When the band was founded in 2002, both Aaron and Nathan were in their early 20s; naturally, they have changed as people and now have more complicated lives — and that is reflected in the music.

“Maybe part of the reason we wanted to do a record on establishing tradition has to do with being older,” Weaver said. “At 34 and 32, we definitely don’t feel as wild and free as we once did. I’ve established a home and am working the farm with my wife.”

In terms of pure sound, WITTR are a black metal band; it’s not difficult to hear the echoes of Burzum in the band’s guitar sound, or feel the larger-than-life atmosphere also captured by Emperor’s “In The Nightside Eclipse.” Like Burzum’s Varg Vikernes (not to turn this into a conversation about him), the members of Wolves in the Throne Room create music that is intensely personal — but not nearly as cold as that created by the Norwegians who initially inspired them.

But one thing Wolves avoids is the “Satanic” fixation of some black metal bands. In fact, when asked if he believes WITTR is a “black metal” band, Weaver said, rather, Wolves uses its black metal influences to express its own ideas.

“We’re certainly inspired by Norwegian black metal and I feel a (resonance) with the themes you hear in Burzum, Mayhem and Darkthrone,” Weaver said. “But, we’ve taken it an applied it to our own situation.”

Norwegian black metal “was so clearly emanated to place — it was emanated from the spiritual landscape of Scandinavia,” Weaver said. “That is something that’s very important to me. I feel very committed to the northwest and the landscape.

“It was clear we could take black metal and express the mountains of the northwest,” Weaver said. “We want (the music) to be reflective or our own experiences and lives here in Cascadia.”

There’s a symphonic feel to Wolves in the Throne Room — not in the “let’s add strings and a horn section” sort of way, but in how the band’s melodies intertwine and move both on and under the surface. When asked if either he or Nathan have studied classical music, Aaron scoffed.

“I don’t even consider myself to be a musician at all,” Weaver said. “… I don’t want to be a musician. I never practice drumming … For me, the music is a means to an end; we’re concerned more with atmosphere and texture than (any) technical aspect of the music.

“All the music theory has been secondary to, ‘how do we convey the emotion and feeling, and how do we express it?'” Weaver said. “I think that fits into the black metal tradition; it’s more about feeling than technique.”

“Celestial Lineage” will be released on Sept. 13.

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