Wolves at the door
Underground black metal duo Wolves in the Throne Room garner mainstream attention
Scandinavian black metal is about as subtle as using a severed goat head as a hood ornament. The music is extreme, as are its practitioners—church burnings, Satanic rituals, even murder, have put black metal in the headlines for decades. And the aesthetic is just as radical. Faces caked in corpse paint, leather, spikes É It’s KISS without the “party every day” mission statement, and with real blood. A friend of mine attended a show by Swedish black-metal band Watain and said the stench from the severed pig heads on the stage was unbearable. He said it’s what he imagined a “third-world butcher shop” would smell like.
Over the past few years, America has jumped aboard the black-metal hearse. And people have taken notice, not for the violence or the creative stage d"cor, but simply for the music. Wolves in the Throne Room are at the top of the heap, gaining attention and rave reviews in metal circles as well as from the unlikeliest outlets—NPR and even The New Yorker (!). And, surprisingly, the widely acclaimed duo will be bringing their huge sound to Chico’s tiny Cafe Coda this Saturday, Jan. 28.
Wolves play extreme music, but brothers Nathan and Aaron Weaver have less in common with Watain than they do with, say, the Grateful Dead, a band they cite as an influence along with beatniks, Satanic hippies and tree-spiking anarchist punks. The Olympia, Wash., two-piece (which typically gets additional accompaniment on recordings) formed in 2003. The members don’t wear makeup. They don’t engage in unsavory behavior. In fact, Nathan wrote the band’s first songs while attending an Earth First! event, and later the brothers moved to a farm just outside of Olympia, where they write material and help run an organic garden. It sounds rather un-metal, but the band’s lifestyle—and its homestead (called Calliope)—plays a huge role in the music they create.
The band’s latest, Celestial Lineage (the third in a trilogy that includes 2007’s Two Hunters and 2009’s Black Cascade), is a record that feels like a living, breathing organism. There are plenty of crushing guitars and guttural vocals, but it’s also filled with moments of beauty, with a psychedelic underpinning. Opener “Thuja Magus Imperium” clocks in at almost 12 minutes. The song is littered (which might be considered poor word-choice by these guys) with sound effects, synths and female vocals along with Nathan Weaver’s zombie screech.
There’s a lot to take in on that one song alone. Actually, the entire record comes across as more soothing than evil. WITTR use field recordings to great effect, especially on “Permanent Changes in Consciousness,” which offers a moment of peace before “Subterranean Initiation” rips through the silence. Celestial Lineage might be one of the few black-metal records where the term “ear candy” would be appropriate.
WITTR follow the footsteps of (and ultimately have brought more exposure to) fellow black metallers like Texas’ Absu and San Francisco’s Leviathan, both of which formed in the ‘90s. It’s a peculiar thing when black metal begins to lurch from slapdash ‘zines into the pages of The New York Times.
It’s been reported that Celestial Lineage will be the final recording in the band’s current formation. Whether that’s true or not, the Weaver brothers have—in their almost 10 years working together—inspired a mainstream dialogue that might be considered, understandably, disconcerting to some underground purists. In metal circles, a band clawing its way above ground—whether it’s by choice or not—can be more frightening than using a stage as a slaughterhouse. Then again, Wolves in the Throne Room are much more then just a metal band.