29 March 2009

Wolves In The Throne Room – Black Cascade

Southern Lord (2009)

Even more FACT-age...

Wolves In The Throne Room. While overused nomenclature, Wolves, when used correctly, can evoke a certain snarling menace. The tepid likes of Wolfmother and Wolf Parade have certainly besmirched this signifier in recent years, but there has always been a Wolf Eyes or Rye Wolves to restore sufficiently brutal, flesh-ripping primevalism.

Wolves In The Throne Room scored another one for the good guys with their debut, Diadem of 12 Stars, in 2006. Its beautifully epic, dreamy, yet ominous, artwork was at once bewitching and appropriate. The music – four extensive examples of USBM (that’s the American form of black metal, for those not up on their kvlt abbreviations) – was dynamic and engrossing.

This was around the same time sunnO))) released their last ‘proper’ album, the all-conquering collaboration with Boris, Altar. Since then, sunnO))) have seen fit to tempt us with side projects, while Wolves released another album, an EP, and now this. Such proflicacy, combined with their allegiance to BM (as opposed to the vagaries of drone-, doom- or post-metals) has led to feverish support from discerning metal hordes.

Controversy struck when WITTR decided to change their logo to a Christophe Szpajdel design. He did the Emperor logo, see. This caused consternation among true believers, as the band’s identity was now irrevocably besmirched by legibility and mass production. Obviously, this means nothing. The debut LP didn’t even have the band’s name on the front or back covers. But I suppose it’s another emblem you’ll have to scrawl on your Twilight pencil case.

The logo means especially little in the light of the musical developments. After accusations that the last album, Two Hunters, was rather too similar-and-inferior to Diadems, WITTR started using old-school equipment with Randall (Earth, Grails) Dunn. Perhaps because some semblance of pesky individuality remained. Despite initial misgivings, this has paid off.

The dynamic BM-to-melodic swings of old have largely gone, replaced by more single-minded, unified sounds. The Burzum-inspired, buzz-saw, guitars of the past have been clawed back into the murk of the mix, adding to the accumulating musical miasma leaking out of your speakers. And it’s fucking epic. There are still the time changes one would hope for in quarter-hour songs, and shifts from quiet to loud, but it’s all presented in a synth-integrated, Gestalt-friendly whole, rather like Neurosis’ move back to nature with Times of Grace in 1999.

It’s not all forest-dwelling, subsistence-idyllic harmony though. Step outside the comfort zone, into the world of evil and strife, and you’ll find better recent BM. Like the immense last album from the bizarrely out-of-favour Leviathan. It’s confusing why so many are sleeping on Wrest’s Massive Conspiracy Against All Life, but they shouldn’t because it’s a work of art. And, unlike WITTR (and 90% of po-metal bands), it’s dripping with malicious intent.

Despite the gurning misanthropy that can sometimes be metal’s undoing, all the best examples of the genre – from Sabbath through Carcass, Neurosis and Converge – have managed to balance the outsider-friendly smarts and ideology with refined aggression and ill will. WITTR claim they want fans to ‘prostrate themselves on the floor and cry’. There is a certain melancholic intensity in the latter half of Black Cascade for sure, but if they want us to get that involved, they have to do their bit, and bring the pain.

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