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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.