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On this short recording, their first EP, the Cascadian band Wolves in the Throne Room have opted for a post-BM approach, one that, compared to previous releases like "Two Hunters", has a clean, very streamlined sound and a stronger emphasis on melody. The mood and style are still bleak yet gentle and beautiful; any semblance to raw-edged and hostile black metal kept to background showers of noise rain and outbursts of vibrato guitar in the instrumental parts. First track "A Looming Resonance" is far more song-like and accessible to a general heavy metal / hard rock audience with natural, almost conversational female vocals dominant throughout the piece. While the vocals and melodies are very beautiful and heart-felt, the real glory of this song comes after the singing finishes and the noisy, pulsing black metal proper begins. This is a withering blizzard-like slab of black metal, harsh and supremely anti-human in its mood, and it calls to mind an army of angry giant wasps and hornets, roused from the depths of the earth to defend the planet from the rapacity of humans and their destructive activities and wounds inflicted upon the forests, plains, rivers and oceans. The buzzing gives the impression of masses of stingers rapidly breathing as one gigantic meta-being, about to attack human populations around the world. Percussion flurries and cymbals vibrate continuously and there's a crackling loop bordering on mild thunder that adds menace to the track's conclusion.
With a title like "Hate Crystal", listeners would probably expect something fast, aggressive and sharp with a great deal of screaming and constant showers of jagged guitar needles shooting through the air in thickets. Instead this track explodes with raw ambient black metal and severe rasping vocals, and then over the course of ten minutes gradually calms down, the pace becoming relaxed, the atmosphere of the song becoming colder and more remote, and a definite chill creeps in near the end where the track falls away into another dimension.
Taken together, the songs are not bad but not well balanced: the first track is very strong and melodic, the second track sounds very much throwaway B-side material. This is unfortunate as it began very powerfully but from then on the piece whittled down steadily with no variation or interruption that might have enlivened it. The conclusion tends to be a whimper rather than a bang which might disappoint a lot of listeners expecting a last-minute defiant howl or guitar explosion before non-existence claims the track. Perhaps if "Hate Crystal" had been shortened a little and another track (perhaps a short instrumental remix of "A Looming Resonance" or an experimental ambient piece) added to make up the B-side, the EP would be improved enough that it would be worth buying rather than simply downloaded from whatever website was offering it.
Along with 'Black Cascade' from the same year, 'Malevolent Grain' witnessed a new incarnation of Wolves In The Throne Room, a slightly cleaner, more sharply produced, and less organic band that had also seen lineup changes. 'Malevolent Grain' features two songs for the band. While the past three full length albums have had four tracks each, this two song piece feels almost like half an album, although the incomplete feeling does not take away from the relative strength of these two tracks. While I have never been a real fan of Wolves In The Throne Room, 'Malevolent Grain' stands as being a good slice of post-black metal, that I cannot see not satisfying the band's more dedicated listeners.
The first of these tracks is 'A Looming Resonance', which is an oddly melodic track for Wolves In The Throne Room. It also holds the distinction of being a song by the band that is completely led by clean vocals, here being the female vocals of Jaime Meyers, of Hammers of Misfortune. It is a mid-tempo track that has much more to do with post metal than anything grim and frostbitten; while repetitive and brooding, Meyers' vocals are powerful, and the track builds its melancholy quite well. The lyrical hook 'time stands still' stays in the listeners head, even long after this EP is over.
'Hate Crystal' is the second half of 'Malevolent Grain', and it is alot more typical for Wolves In The Throne Room. The first section of this song revolves around the same monotonous guitar picking and blastbeats that I tend to associate this band with, and it sounds more or less like a song from 'Black Cascade' that didn't quite make it. The second section of this song is a section of extended ambiance that closes off the EP, and it doesn't feel all too necessary, but it is a nice enough touch.
'A Looming Resonance' is an excellent track from this band, and while 'Hate Crystal' doesn't match up, it's a typical track for the band that fans will likely dig. Not a particularly vibrant release, but it's been worth checking out.
By a few representations, American black metal can seem like one of the most stylistically dynamic and instrumentally diverse black metal offshoots from the Norwegian, Swedish, and British authors and innovators of the sound. From another viewpoint, American black metal can be considered the weakest and lightest of the above iterations due to bands like Agalloch, Wolves in the Throne Room, Gallowbraid, and other post rock, folk, and more diversely influenced bands diluting their straightforward, atmospheric sound in preference to a more progressive style. While some consider this style to be watered down in acoustic guitars and slow wandering meters, Wolves in the Throne Room strongly demonstrates the power that American styled progressive black metal can bring to the table with their growing sound in “A Looming Resonance” and completes their EP, “Malevolent Grain” with the selfsame fury expected in black metal in their second track, “Hate Crystal”.
While Wolves in the Throne Room’s left-wing ideology, touching on somewhat militant conservationism as well as some unnecessarily vehement feminism in a musical style that has progressed from a “boy’s club” to further relying on female vocalization and incorporating female musicians in roles stronger than just synth and keyboards, seems about as sound a reason to get pissed off to me as the ranting of NSBM about peoples’ colors, Cattle Decapitation’s “brutal vegan” stance about animals we humans have been eating for millennia, and other fringe ideologies, the band’s style is clear-cut black metal that perfectly comes into its own sound while remaining firm in black metal construction.
Sonic decay is at its best in “A Looming Resonance”. The treble end, accentuated by the slow and clean lyrics, calmly falls through a harmonizing and resonating meter, enhanced atmospherically by much treble distortion. As the guitars drag this sound forward, progressions are exemplified by the drumming that decays with increasing intensity throughout the song. After a short guitar break the drumming kicks into full gear, birthing itself through canals created by riffing harmonies. This structure decays slowly after a few more lyrical stanzas into pure distorted atmosphere looming across the desolate metric plane. Such agonizing decay doesn’t last though as Wolves in the Throne Room continue into “Hate Crystal”.
Exploding from the first structure, “Hate Crystal” brings the aesthetic fury that was missing in the first track to a height and into decay masterfully from a stunning combination of melodic tremolo-picked harmonic rhythms and astute drumming to a slight resonance with a dying rhythm attachment. Vocals are shrieked in bloodcurdling fashion, joining the mix with the fiery intensity missing from the previous track’s sung harmony. While there are few progressions, they are announced well with drastic pace changes and plenty of tonal variation. There isn’t much missing in this song, but another progression within the first few minutes would have helped bring the sound to its height.
As an introduction to Wolves in the Throne Room, “Malevolent Grain” is a perfect EP to be exposed to. While only two tracks, there is plenty of content in the twenty-three minutes to equal a five track EP from any other band. The musicianship, composition, and aesthetic all hit the marks well and expand black metal sound beautifully.
So I am listening to the typical, beautiful black metal melancholy that exemplifies WITTR, and I hear something that made me double-take at my iPod to make sure that I am not listening to something else by mistake. Clean vocals? Wow, now that was something I never expected. "A Looming Resonance" is fantastic. A very slow and melancholy track, no blast beat drums, in fact it is difficult to hear any drums except the snare and cymbals. This is OK though, because the overall atmosphere of this song is complete and the drums being in the background bring more attention to the excellent musicianship, and about the halfway point of the song, there is a very nice interlude with minimal distortion in the guitars, and a soundbyte of the ocean in the back. At around the 8:30 point, once again, there is a surprise, where a woman's voice can be heard harmonizing with the singer. Everything crescendos to a beautiful thick soundscape, and drives mid-paced with some variational flares of guitar. A lot of cymbal work here can be heard doing great things for the overall atmospheric elements; Aaron's sticks really working those crashes. As the song fades, only the cymbals can be heard coupled with the sound of perhaps a rainstorm...I find it difficult to tell. All in all, a gorgeous song, and very enjoyable to me.
The second song, "Hate Crystal" is more the speed of WITTR, a quickened pace from the last track and black metal vocals again. There is a lot of cymbal crashing and blast beating coupled with furious guitars, and the vocals are farther back in the mix, bringing forward the drums (the most compared to the last track where they were soft by comparison), and the guitars. This song is much more distorted compared to any other song by this band that I can think of, it is very atonal, just a lot of layered atmosphere and reverberation from guitars, vocals and cymbals. The cymbals hang in the air, and keep adding into each other almost drowning out the melody, but there is enough to keep track of where the song is going. Halfway through the song, the din abates a little, the song moves away from the breakneck pace,the blast beats give way to a nice mid to fast-paced rhythm, and the band finally settles on a good little riff. There is a short interlude where the drums begin to pick up pace again, while sticking with the same riff, only to give way to a hollow hum, while the guitars fade out leaving only a keyboard playing a single dissonant chord, and the barely audible drums. With a minute left, the drums fade to oblivion, and only this strange note, and the album fades out, fin.
All in all a good release, nice, long songs, and some great elements that were different from other releases by these guys, and they pulled off the clean vocals really well. Unfortunately, the second song on the EP was less than stellar and detracted from the overall feeling that I got from the disc. Perhaps they were experimenting with their sound, or not; either way, they definitely have a place among the best in black metal here and the US, and I would venture to say, they are among the best in the genre.
Wolves in the Throne Room has proven to be relatively one of the most productive black metal bands of the new millennium. Ever since their debut in 2006 we haven’t seen a year without a Wolves release. And while 2009 had barely started yet we are generously going to be treated to TWO Wolves releases: the Malevolent Grain EP and the Black Cascade LP.
A Looming Resonance is definitely not a very WITTR-like song. It is monotonous instrumentally, but not disturbingly so. The most unique thing about this song is obviously the clean, female vocals. This is nice, but tends to get boring after more listens. The recurring sentence “Time stands still” is nice and gives the song a distinct atmosphere. It gets faster around the 8 minute mark, but is overall low-tempo for Wolves standards. They seem to work more with drones on this song, which suits a Southern Lord signed band perfectly. This also applies to the noisy crescendo into which the song accumulates.
Hate Crystal: Now this is Wolves in the Throne Room as we know it! It starts out immediately with the all-familiar shrieking vocals, fast guitars and pounding drums. Sometimes it gets interrupted by nice instrumental pieces with a little more prominence of the guitars. As opposed to the opening track a true black metal song, with maybe the exception of the last two minutes, wherein the raw black metal sound flawlessly fades into a smoother, calmer, ambient part.
Overall a nice treat from the guys with an experimental track which gives us something different for a change and a very traditional, consistent second track. The first track is nice for a few times, but, as has already been said, gets less interesting after more listens. Hate Crystal hasn’t yet let me down once though and is one of Wolves’ finest, especially for fans who, like myself, like Diadem of 12 Stars the best.
Though the metal community (the black metal community, anyway) has been fairly divided over the Burzum-influenced-yet-progressive post-rock flavored black nature metal of Wolves in the Throne Room, their last album proved to be a critical success even after deviating even further from the black metal norm. Hell, it even began to deviate significantly from the ambient black metal norm, what with the slow, doom-laden sections, atmospheric intro pieces, tribal drumming and of course those clean female vocals.
Malevolent grain seemingly takes that newfound experimentation (and the praise it received) and runs with it. Opener "A Looming Resonance" takes every aspect of the black metal formula and alters it enough to make the song seem like something from an entirely different genre, but I contend that this is still a black metal song. The drums are fast and propulsive, but the lack of a snare hit every quarter means this isn't your typical blastbeat. The drums gain intensity over the length of the song, but never devolve into what you'd call typical black metal drums. The riffs are exactly the same chord progressions you'd expect in an ambient, depressive black metal song. However, there's no tremolo picking to be found - what we have here is reverb-heavy strumming. The vocals are mid-range female vocals, not of the most technical variety but rather evoking some sort of indie band (think Band of Susans or something similar). The delivery, the intonation, the lyrics - these are 100% black metal. If these were screeched or rasped as usual, there would be no doubt about the genre. So, black metal has been turned on its head to make something truly interesting. It's glad to finally see this level of progression in the black metal scene, if you ask me. The song ends with an extended ambient outro that is done as well as the top-tier post-rock bands have accomplished.
The success of the first track makes the second, "Hate Crystal," that much more disappointing. Unlike "A Looming Resonance," this one explodes right out of your speakers, blastbeats and all. However, with a title like "Hate Crystal" I was honestly expecting the most brutal WitTR track yet; instead I'm treated to "traditional" ambient black metal that doesn't touch the technicality of Diadem, the atmosphere of Two Hunters, or the aggression of the angriest moments on either of those albums. The lack of a quality hook (like the mighty refrain in "I Will Lay Down My Bones....") makes this just one just plain drab. Eventually, just before the five minute mark, the snare transitions to accent beats rather than full-on blastbeats and a more memorable riff takes shape. Half a minute later, the bass drums back off of the double overtime, and we really get to see the meat of the riff. The rasping vocals subside and we are treated to some nice backing vocal harmonies while the riff contines to wind down with some pounding, tom-heavy drums. Again, another excellent outro takes place; I only wish the beginning of the song had been either more aggressive (as in the moment the band kicks into overdrive halfway through Two Hunters' "Cleansing") or more akin to "A Looming Resonance".
So, all in all I was very happy with this EP. Only the first half of "Hate Crystal" left me disappointed, which is about a quarter of the run time, accounting for the missing 25% of the score. Presuming the band decides to stick to the extremes of black metal ambience/progression and intensity and doesn't muddle so much in middle-of-the-road mediocrity like the first half of "Hate Crystal", Black Cascade is looking to be one of the better records to come out this year.
I picked up this record after a Wolves in the Throne Room gig not too far away from my home because I had made the mistake of bringing enough cash, while I am the sort of person that compulsively buys music. To be honest, I was not expecting too much: I do like the band, but I am not totally adoring them, even though they performed well that evening. But when listening to this record, I was pleased to find out that this release was more than worth acquiring.
The first track, A Looming Resonance, starts quietly with a clean guitar, almost immediately followed by some sort of buzzing sound which, in a way, sets the tone of the atmosphere throughout the album. The song sort of flows on, the music now being accompanied by warm (I can’t think of a better word here) female vocals, sometimes together with more echoing angelic vocals and the riffs being combined with cleanly picked guitar bits. It must be noted that a significant part of this track does not have too much metal in it: it floats somewhere between atmospheric black metal and shoegaze for the first half, then shifts to something more akin to black metal. Or black metal with the aforementioned gentle vocals to put it in other words. Regardless of the way I put it, it works quite well, creating a melancholic atmosphere. The track doesn’t have an awful lot of variation, but the combination of all its elements do make it a song that captures your attention and diverts it to some trance. Well, if you are the kind of person for that, at least. This track is what actually justifies buying this release, as the second track doesn’t live up to the standard this track sets.
The second track, Hate Crystal (which, according to me, is far from a good song title) immediately blasts into more raw black metal, yet sounds a bit generic, but still carries a fairly well-crafted atmosphere, mainly due to the overall hazy and ethereal production of this release, I would say. Unlike the previous track, we do not come across any female vocals here: here, we again hear the black metal rasps we are used to when it comes to Wolves in the Throne Room. This song is again quite repetitive, and is built up around only very few different riffs. Hence, if you do not like repetitive black metal, this will probably not be your cup of tea. I, on the other hand, am the kind of person that enjoys Hypothermia, so I do not mind listening to a song built up around two or three riffs, as long as I appreciate those riffs. Put shortly: I like the riffs used on this track, so I cannot say I dislike it. It must be said though, that there is room for improvement as, to me, this track feels like it has been written too quickly, without fully using the pontential the band has. Another thing that disturbed me now and then was the volume of the drum: every now and then when the other instruments take a step back, it suddenly lies way too high in the production, playing a rather dominant role.
To summarize things: we have one excellent track, and one that is better than mediocre, yet not spectacular. This record is all about the atmosphere actually, and luckily does a decent job at that, aided by a fitting production and good musicianship. The downside it that this could have been a lot better. Still, this will more than likely make it to my personal top 10 of 2009.
I think I'm one of the few people I know that actually doesn't mind sitting through movie trailers in a theater. It's almost spring, so soon if I should decide to grab a seat at my local cinema, I will probably be treated to a multitude of trailers for what's known as "the summer blockbusters". Explosions, impressive visual effects, a dramatic score, and many other things that would probably make me justify the warrant of grabbing a ticket. However, when I really sit down and think about these things, I cannot deny the sheer superficiality of the trailer itself. I wonder, "Is there going to be really anything cohesive about this movie if I were to strip away the visuals? The protagonist is probably going to be very one dimensional, the plot will have holes the size of Mars in it, and at the end of the day, what is this movie going to do for me that others have not?". This is about how I feel about "Malevolent Grain".
This two song EP is being established as sort of a preview for Wolves in the Throne Room's next album entitled "Black Cascade", and it leaves me with feelings just like the aforementioned "movie trailer" (except with a much smaller budget, obviously). It consists of two songs, the first being "A Looming Resonance", and let me tell you, it's a fantastic song. Without a doubt, this song would be the "special effects" of this EP. Featuring very ethereal female vocals, this song manages to create a very soothing ambiance with quiet guitars and a nice drum beat to keep the pace going. It's rather mid-paced, and the vocals aren't loud in the mix at all, assuring that a pretty voice isn't the only thing going on. If you can find this EP for cheap, I'd say it's worth it just for this song alone.
Unfortunately, like the summer blockbuster, the special effects usually make the movie. The same can be said for the female vocal parts in Wolves in the Throne Room's songs, which is very disheartening.
The reason this EP is getting an only slightly above average score is because of the ridiculously titled "Hate Crystal". If you asked me to describe it, I would probably say "It sounds like Wolves in the Throne Room", which isn't a bad thing per se', but not necessarily a good thing either. The song starts, and for its almost eleven minute duration, doesn't really stop. The riffs just keep going, the snare keeps cracking, the vocals keep screeching, and there's hardly a break at all. That would be fine if the song wasn't as long as it is, and if the low-fi riffs didn't have such a dry feel to them, but unfortunately that's all I can really say about this number. It's Wolves in the Throne Room at their most uncreative. This song is the poorly paced, cut and paste military conspiracy plot of the said "summer blockbuster".
All in all, I like Wolves in the Throne Room, thought they obviously get far too much regard. It's not music I listen to often, and when I do I usually use it as background noise. Though neither of these songs are on the forthcoming album, the thought that they could be turning out material like this makes me nervous, and I will probably end up downloading this album before deciding if a purchase is warranted. Again, "A Looming Resonance" is an amazing song, and makes up about fifty percent of the given score. But do you really want to shell out the money for one good song on what is soon to be a rare album?
I'm hoping this was just a hastily recorded cash grab by the band, and that "Black Cascade" will end up being a fine album, but judging by the jargon spitting, meat head protagonist of this EP (Hate Crystal), that's unfortunately all I can do; Hope.