Thursday, 5 April 2007

Hair Raising

Since this is still by far and away the greatest album i heard from last year, here's my review of it again for anyone who needs something new and exciting in their lives.

Wolves In The Throne Room
Diadem Of 12 Stars
Vendlus Records

Living in a self sufficient commune outside Washington USA, eschewing pantomime corpse paints and the distracting regalia of weaponry and spikes, Wolves In The Throne Room are not your regular black metal band. Perfect black metal in fact and their music is no less rebellious towards the genre.

Whilst there are many bands honing the form, creating equally masterful and progressive recordings (see USA’s Leviathan, Sweden’s Watain and Woods Of Infinity, UK’s Anaal Nathrakh and Axis Of Perdition, France’s Blut Aus Nord and Deathspell Omega for examples of how to push the limits of a genre), the continual adherence, even amongst most of these aforementioned bands, to sartorial and musical codes needed a radical shift in attention. For a genre so concerned with rebellion, adherence of any kind should be strictly outlawed, but such is the way of things that the scenes within black metal increasingly constrict themselves and disregard too much which they consider ‘untrue’. This is where Wolves In The Throne Room come in.

With two equally mesmerizing demos behind them, it was with great anticipation that I awaited the album proper, to see what this band could achieve in such a formal setting. From the highly atmospheric, misty forested cover and the scenes depicted on the sleeve, it was clear that this would be something else entirely, including as it does, ‘The Queen Of Borrowed Light’ from the second demo. The shortest song on here is 13 minutes, dead on, which tells you how grand a scale this band work on; cinematic, operatic but deadly serious and not prone to posturing theatrics, this album covers a huge amount of musical ground, seamlessly incorporating Norwegian droning, flights of technical fancy and grinding segments into songs that undulate like rivers, ghosting through the misty forests of the cover art. The album, whilst tense, nervy and aggressive, conjures a pagan, earth-worshipping atmosphere that is being slowly eroded from the black metal field to be replaced with head down violence of the likes of Black Witchery and Revenge and the necrotic filth churned out by the Finnish hordes of bleakness. More akin to Negura Bunget and Drudkh in spirit – the eastern European forms – where spiritual, naturalistic elements are the higher concerns. The force of Gaia is represented on this album through the presence of female vocals from Jamie (this band only ever use first names, real ones at that, not stage names – Aaron on drums, Rick and Nathan on guitars and vocals). Female vocalists are becoming popular in the more Death-oriented forms of metal, much rarer in black metal and their presence here is striking. Not only does the sound of them – ethereal, ephemeral, sleepily intoned, rising high over the surging motorik riffing – contrast with the caustic shrieking of Nathan and the more guttural vocals of Rick, but they represent the harmony of the earth, echoing the cyclical, sexual nature of the world, of birth, nurturing and creation. They are beautiful. A word rarely used with this form of music, and not in a sexual as in lusting, fucking beauty either, for they are too innocent, too pure and they don’t convey a human sexuality, more an angelic presence watching over the maelstroms of noise beneath, occasionally being smothered as happens in life, then returning wings unfurling, majestic, exuding femininity amongst the masculine energy as she sings of her “Heart beating against the soft rush of the river”. A section of acoustic guitar breaks up In A Night Time Mirror Part 1melting away Jamie’s vocals before being consumed by a violent storm as the electrics strike up and the drums come thundering in.

Nathan and Rick’s vocals are not excessively harsh, not high in the mix, not overbearing. Instead they sit gently amongst the guitars and drums, themselves not overly intrusive, so that the whole thing drifts along, dreamlike. They are strong and forceful, especially in Face In A Night Time Mirror Part 2 where after a suitably entrancing drone accompanied by a grave vocal undercurrent from guest singer Dino, the drums pick up into a forced march and the rhythm quickens; guitars clang and reverberate, panning out into a blissful vista where Nathan slowly screams through gritted teeth “Death was my angel”; a wraith like entity already dead, thanking its’ maker for putting it at peace with itself.

This album is elemental; conjuring spirits and evolving scenes of wilderness, the effect being to make the listener small and insignificant in its presence as if staring up from the foot of a mountain, yet the blood surging through the epic choruses embolden and energise. A return to the ancient sounding BM of old, quite unlike the current breed of destructive misanthropic bands seeking to annihilate and bludgeon everything in their path. Diadem Of 12 Stars is a life spirit, not a death spirit, astral and regal, as the title suggests, not of the earth, the bowels, fire and horror. With no blastbeats and no evilness, what makes this Black Metal at all? It is good to remind oneself that is while listening to this, as there is nothing quite like it around. It may be that with genrefication so acute nowadays, that this band can be considered Post-Black Metal, in the same way that Slint and Mogwai helped forge the term Post-Rock out of the shogazery noise bands.

The title track – (A Shimmering Radiance) Diadem Of 12 Stars – begins with guitars softly intertwining, shrouded in distortion, breaking into gulps of drum beats as crushing guitars crash in and out, the air in between adding weight. Slowly the density drifts apart, a shimmering guitar line slicing through the space, increasing in intensity before bursting into hammering lunges careening towards a thundering section where Jamie and Nathan sing together, one shining light, the other sucking it away. Drums roll turbulently across the churning guitars with the pressure increasing and dispersing like wind, the tone lowering into minor keys and the atonality veering off into soaring near-melodic passages. The lead guitar picks up for a brief moment as the rhythm gets choppy; crunching and biting into the drums, peaking with a sole high note then instantly descending into a funereal stomp with Nathan gradually increasing the strength of his guttural noises until real words gush out, space opening up in the music to allow him through. The drums gather pace as Jamie comes in, effortlessly shifting the album into the realms of spirituality with her softly gliding vocals, then slowly recedes into the shadows. The drums strike up again, cantering forward and the guitars give chase, thrashing and lashing out, though the ambience has shifted and a rising melancholy begins to creep in, sensing an end to things. Harsh screaming vocals bear down on the music, sweeping it aside as the track slowly fades out to the end. It is an exhausting and exhilarating piece of music, not unlike a Godspeed You! Black Emperor movement.

Which brings us neatly to the point where I started. The essence of Black Metal has always been a rejection of wasteful peripheral materialism and distracting influences, of rejecting normalities and dogmatic instruction, of free spirits and the value of individual expression. The old order has been deposed. The wolves are in the throne room

No comments: