Review: Wolves In The Throne Room ‘Primordial Arcana’

In the summer of 2014, shortly after the release of the band’s fifth full-length album Celestite, the talk amongst fans was that Wolves In The Throne Room might not remain as a black metal band for much longer. Having constantly dabbled in atmospherics closer to folk or ambient music, than traditional black metal, Celestite‘s five droning synth tracks seemed to mark a significant shift in the band’s sound that suggested it might not just be a one-off; and while Celestite, a companion album to their previous record Celestial Lineage, was a stunning and beautiful record in itself, it still felt like a complete shift to this style would be a loss to black metal.

Wolves In The Throne Room 'Primordial Arcana'

Three years later and such a prediction couldn’t have seemed further from the reality. Despite its substantial folk aspects, 2017’s Thrice Woven was the band’s most metal album to date, cementing their place at the forefront of US black metal. The sound of Thrice Woven was driven, to a certain degree, by the new membership of guitarist Kody Keyworth, and on Primordial Arcana the Weaver brothers and Keyworth are now fully bonded as a trio.

The three were all involved in the writing and composition equally from the beginning, and even chose to self-produce the album, rather than work with their noted long term production collaborator Randall Dunn. With Keyworth‘s background in doom metal it’s unsurprising that Primordial Arcana contains the band’s heaviest material to date, but it’s also their most exploratory and fully realised creation, both sonically and conceptually.

There are elements to Wolves In The Throne Room‘s sound which remain eternal. They have a certain propensity for floating guitar melodies that seem to defy the temporal nature of the tremolo chords and blast beats that surround them. These feature prominently on tracks like Mountain Magick, Through Eternal Fields and Underworld Aura, all of which have an invigorating familiarity which any Wolves In The Throne Room fan will enjoy.

The epic mournfulness which has always been a defining feature of their music is in place on every track, but in many instances, it appears much sweeter than on previous albums. The band have never quite attended the school of blackgaze, though their expansive take on the Norwegian sound has been a huge inspiration to those bands in this style. There are moments though on Primordial Arcana where the sombre melodies drift into a more glistening melancholy, creating an almost optimistic sensation you might be more used to hearing from the likes of Alcest or Liturgy.

The album moves from track to track with majestic, stunning and completely absorbing atmospherics…

Where things have really developed are in areas they’ve always been strong, but have now raised themselves to expert level. There are numerous moments where they employ heavier and more traditionally metal sounding riffs than ever before, such as Spirit Of Lightning, Through Eternal Fields and the epic Masters Of Rain And Storm. These tracks all mould themselves around a juxtaposition between the heavier riffs and walls of their native atmospheric black metal. There is also an increased focus on more prominent vocals, blending and contrasting the different timbres together. Mountain Magick and Primal Chasm (Gift Of Fire) are great examples of this, emphasising a wonderful mix of emotive howls, powerful screams and abyssal growls.

The album also features their deepest use of electronics and non-metal instrumentation within black metal tones. These elements feel much more amalgamated into the sound than on previous records, where at times they could appear like an external addition, rather than an integral component. Sometimes they’re used to just build atmosphere, such as the synths on Through Eternal Fields and the horns at the opening to Primal Chasm (Gift Of Fire). At other times they’re a fundamental ingredient of the song, such as on Mountain Magick, Spirit Of Lightning and Underworld Aura.

On Masters Of Rain And Storm, however, the band manage to integrate these sounds as both an atmospheric tool and an irreplaceable component. It is without doubt the album’s centrepiece, involving all the features I have discussed, twisting and turning them to their extremes, cultivating them into one of the most unique tracks Wolves In The Throne Room have ever created.

All of this would of course add up to a tremendous record, but what really makes Primordial Arcana feel so special is the flow. The album moves from track to track with majestic, stunning and completely absorbing atmospherics. It takes you beyond the thematic consistency which has pervaded all of their previous records, and into an enveloping metaphysical aura that truly transports you to Cascadia.

The mountains and woods of their homeland have always been an intrinsic inspiration to Wolves In The Throne Room, but never have the band produced a more immersive and engaging aural journey to the region. It’s past, present and future are evoked in equal measure, often in the same moment, eluding the constraints of time and space, in the same way their guitar melodies so often do. Rather than elevating themselves beyond black metal’s constraints, Wolves In The Throne Room have found new ways to expand those limitations, and in doing so they have produced their greatest album yet.

Label: Century Media | Relapse Records
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Scribed by: Will J