Release Date: Jul 8, 2014
Record label: Revolver USA
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Heavy Metal
Wolves in the Throne Room' Celestite is their fifth full-length album and first to wholly eschew the atmospheric black metal of their past in favour of glistening electronic ambient soundscapes. This isn’t a complete surprise when one thinks back over the Weaver brothers’ back catalogue. As much as their sound has been largely shaped over the years by the ferocity of both the Scandinavian and burgeoning American black metal scenes, the project has always had a clear focus on the counterbalancing of heaviness and ambience.
Coming out of the forests of Olympia, Washington, Wolves In The Throne Room epitomise the recontextualisation of black metal over the last decade. Coming from a left-wing punk background, the group dropped much of the aesthetics – Satanism and corpsepaint – yet retained their sonic core, channelling the musical transcendence and nature-worship of bands the likes of Emperor, Ulver and Burzum. In many ways, that hasn’t changed.
The black sheep of black metal, a genre in which all normal human values of decency are inverted, are required to be polite and well behaved. Take Pacific Northwestern duo Wolves In The Throne Room, unlikely advocates of a self-sufficient, ecologically sound lifestyle. Previous albums, like 2011’s ‘Celestial Lineage’, have been ferocious, epic and blackened, with monstrous riffs.
According to Wolves in the Throne Room's Aaron & Nathan Weaver, Celestite is a companion to 2011's Celestial Lineage. They claim it delves deep inside the bevy of buried sounds in the latter's mix and repurposes them. But this isn't like anything they've released before. There are no bass or drums here.
When word hit in January that the next Wolves in the Throne Room album would not just be a companion to 2011's Celestial Lineage but also feature "no drums and no vocals, but rather deep, heavy, crystalline synthesizer journeying" it wasn't exactly surprising. The Olympia-based duo of Aaron and Nathan Weaver have always been in the vanguard of black metal's ever-changing landscape. This could simply be their next chapter.Recorded again with Randall Dunn (Celestial Lineage), the threads that make it a companion are often clear as day.
Review Summary: A mirror that reveals the soul of Wolves in the Throne Room, and provides a glimpse of what may be comingIt is a bit puzzling why people were taken aback by Wolves in the Throne Room’s decision to release a purely ambient album. They have always had this style lingering in the background of their signature Cascadian black metal sound, so it is fitting then that they chose to explore these distant soundscapes in a more thorough fashion. Celestite is not only the expansion of the wandering melodies that once laced the background of their more atmospheric numbers, it is the progression of the band’s attitude towards music.
A black metal band with a distaste for all the traditional trappings of black metal create a black metal album containing no drums, no vocals, and little you could readily confuse for black metal at all: Celestite, variously being described as their fifth full-length LP and a “companion piece” to 2012’s Celestial Lineage, is in many ways the logical next step for Wolves in the Throne Room, a band who have been pushing the boundaries of the genre in one way or another since their self-titled demo tape a decade ago. Crafted almost entirely on analogue synthesisers, Celestite sounds like the ghost of a Wolves in the Throne Room album: ethereal, stripped of everything that characterised them previously, and yet retaining just enough of their essence to remain unmistakably their work. The extent to which it works as a “companion piece” to Celestial Lineage is questionable; if anything, Celestite makes for a more interesting comparison to Agalloch’s The Serpent & the Sphere than it does to its own predecessor.
It was probably inevitable that the uptick in black metal's popularity (thanks to VICE docs, Deafheaven, etc) would lead to the genre's progressing away from its roots. Elements of shoegaze, bluegrass and other influences have mitigated the brutalist purity. Next: bagpipes, djembes and children's choirs. The future of black metal is no black metal at all.
When, during the first decade of their existence, have Wolves in the Throne Room not been over it? From the beginning, the music that Nathan and Aaron Weaver made thrived on inherent unease with expectations. On their earliest releases, they repurposed the furor of black metal, reshaping its sprints into half-marathons and adding classical overtones—operatic vocals, instrumental denouements, recurrent themes—to fashion arching, dramatic epics. “Our black metal is the product of our personal and specific history,” they said in an early, telling interview, “irrespective of other bands that share certain stylistic elements.” They wanted to be anonymous.
Few sounds are as mournful as Wolves In The Throne Room in their fullest, apogee-scraping flight. It's not necessary in the slightest to know what they're talking about - that sound is purely sad. 2012's Celestial Lineage was the end of a stylistic era for the band, the last time we would hear drums flailing dementedly underneath the Weaver brothers' guitars.