Wolves in the Throne Room abandon their sound, but not their darkness, on ‘Celestite’

Photo by Chris Beug

Photo by Chris Beug

Time is littered with bands that have changed their sounds. Sometimes tastes change, and other times band members get older and want to do something a little less extreme and not as taxing on their bodies. But what we have today is one of the most extreme forms of musicians changing their colors and morphing into something different.

For the past decade and over four incredibly influential full-lengths, Wolves in the Throne Room have tapped into the majesty of their wooded surroundings in the Pacific Northwest and have channeled that into some of the most imaginative black metal going in the United States. Hell, even the world. But the brothers Weaver (Nathan and Aaron) never seemed like your typical metal artists, and a common path didn’t seem like something they were interested in taking. Even when they were making some of the most destructive music in the world, they also had their moments of serenity and beauty, and bringing in a singer such as Jessika Kenney, for example, to color those dark corners indicated there was way more going on beneath the surface than most people not entrenched in their camp knew.

WITTR coverNow the band’s fifth full-length opus has arrived in the form of “Celestite,” and will it ever divide the camp of Wolves fans. First, it is entirely devoid of drumming and vocals. Instead, the music that makes up these five tracks is awash in gorgeous waves of ambiance, thick drone, and mysticism one might expect from a New Age record. Some people have cracked that this is a New Age record, but I wouldn’t go nearly that far. Instead, think of what a group like Ulver have been doing the past 10 years or so, and you’ll have a better idea of what to expect. Will it be for everyone? Definitely not. I’m not even sure where it ranks for me among the band’s cataloged recordings. But this record, which is a companion piece to their last record “Celestial Lineage,” sure is a daring move, one they definitely did not do to move more records or play bigger halls because, if anything, this will reduce their disciple count. But it also feels very real, organic, and from the heart of their kingdom, and I have no doubt what they’ve done here aligns with their mission spiritually and artistically.

“Turning Ever Towards the Sun” opens the record with strange noises and a cosmic haze. Sounds blip and pulsate here and there, and eventually the song reaches a state of full majesty. The passage is eerie and spacey, conjuring feelings of unease, and the final moments feel like the tapping of a rapidly beating heart. “Initiation at Neudeg Alm” has the essence of a weird 1980s B-level sci-fi movie, like a “Final Sacrifice” type, but eventually the loopy synth waves settle down, and a thick doom drone guitar charge registers and shakes the walls. That gives the song its sense of danger, and along with that chill is the feeling that you’re going in and out of consciousness with this track. It takes some getting used to, at least for me. “Bridge of Leaves” floats like a dream, staying the same pace and course of for its duration. It makes me think of my mind drifting off miles away during broad daylight, only to return to find myself soberly back in reality.

“Celestite Mirror” is the longest cut at 14:30, and from its earliest moments, it conjures a sense of unease and even dread. It often feels like dusk is falling and the forces of evil are getting ready to make their nighttime ride, with organs pumping heavy smoke into the atmosphere. About 10 minutes in, all of the sounds begin to boil over, the intensity increases, and the thick guitar drone returns, darkening everything in its path. Doom horns begin to call, and that drags the song to its conclusion. Closer “Sleeping Golden Storm” settles into a charged-up synth bed, where it meets murky melodies and eventually a meditation-inducing section that connects mind with spirit. The keys stir up their own sense of drone, there’s a feeling of a choral melody lurking beneath everything. Then the song bleeds out, returning just as the sun begins to rise up again.

What you get out of “Celestite” depends on your patience with the band pursing its artistic muse and if you can handle such a significant departure from sound. Remember, this is a companion record, so while it counts as their fifth, it really wouldn’t exist without “Celestial Lineage” as its seeds. It took me a while to realize the merit of these five tracks and to understand how they worked alongside their last record, and it’s a growing process for me. My journey with the record will continue past these words, and I am curious to see how I feel about this piece six months to a year from now.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.wittr.com/

To buy the album and for more on the label, go here: http://artemisiarecords.bandcamp.com/