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Nature's blackest candy - 88%

SpaceMarinesAttack, April 6th, 2009

Some of you may remember that back in 2007, I gave Wolves in The Throne Room a rather favorable review, lauding them for some seriously emotive modern black metal while giving them a stern talking-to about their penchant for filling their albums with ambient filler (roughly half the album was not exactly what you might call “songs”). There was a time, circa Diadem of 12 Stars, when Wolves was at the top of my list of black metal bands, until Finnish lo-fi necro warriors Horna pulled the rug out from under them.

But, here we are in anno 2009, and the Wolves have decided to step back in the ring with their latest release, Black Cascade. The results: much improved.

For those not in the know, which I suspect is most of you, Wolves in The Throne room hail from the Pacific Northwest; Olympia, Washington to be exact, a region whose breathtaking natural northern landscapes have a nasty habit of spurring some truly evocative metal brews that are sometimes brutal (Fall of The Bastards), sometimes ethereal (Agalloch), but always inspiring. The region seems to form a real bond with its metal brethren. Wolves represents a binding of both these aesthetics into one potent trip.

They are day-walkers, if you will. They bear the marks of cold, traditional black metal: raw production (though it’s getting better), shrieking vocals and shimmering tremolo riffs. But, they use these harsh elements to create much more melodic soundscapes than we’re used to hearing in the genre. It’s like getting a massage with a sand blaster.

The lyrical content is a breath of fresh air, as well (from what the band tells us anyhow. They don’t print lyrics and I can’t really understand what they’re saying). Those of you getting a little tired of hokey blasphemy--and I suspect that after almost 20 years of black metal bible bashing you just might be--can take enjoy Wolves’ exploration of nature and shamanistic themes … via shrieks.

At first glance, nothing has changed on Black Cascade. It’s still four songs and they’re still really long, but this time around the brothers Aaron and Nathan Weaver, along with guitarist Will Lindsay, have created some more immediately engaging material. I can actually remember, nay, have stuck in my head, the opening riffs of “Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog,” and I’ve only listened to the album 10 times! Not that I’ve ever held the density of their material against the band in the past, but it’s nice to have it click a little faster this time around. Don’t get too excited though, newbies, these tracks still take a few serious listening sessions to digest.

Beyond that, there isn’t much else new in the Wolves’ lair. They could still use a little more diversity tempo-wise. From the aforementioned “Wanderer … ,” the album flows with a rather wraithlike, sea-sickened rhythm into “Ahrimanic Trance,” “Ex Cathedra” and finally “Crystal Ammunition.” If you’re not careful the whole album can blow by before you know it. It’s hard to engage with, true, but the atmosphere is consistently hypnotic and that’s something to be commended.

Wolves catches a lot of flak from black metal purists for their refusal to adhere to the genre’s traditional aesthetics, as well as their rise in popularity within some non-metal circles. But I say if you want pure black metal, just go listen to it. There are literally thousands of tr00 kvlt bands out there to satisfy your traditionalist cravings. Are you really going to let what other people are listening to ruin your day? From a writer’s perspective, it’s refreshing to absorb and review something that, if nothing else, at least stirs up a little bit of debate. Wolves in The Throne Room, I thank thee.