As one of the best bands in the post/atmospheric black metal scene since 2006’s Diadem of 12 Stars, Wolves in the Throne Room decided to release an ambient album Celestite in 2014. As an ambient fan I was excited that Wolves in the Throne Room would surely release a great album with their penchant for atmosphere and influences outside their genre, despite the history of black metal bands turning to ambient usually becoming snoozefests – they would bring more to the table. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be that way, and with no textural grace, bland repetitive melodies, and oblique & clumsy dynamics it was a poor ambient album in every regard. Even though they’ve gone back to playing black metal now, in April when they played The Roundhouse at London’s Desertfest they were a let down, generating no atmosphere, albeit not helped by a half empty hall and bad sound, but they didn’t exactly put much energy into their appearance either. Forward to four months later, and they’re playing at 2:15 in the morning in a packed out tent, open to the elements with stars in the sky in the Czech Republic at Brutal Assault festival and everything clicks. A ferocious, storming performance, with all the best songs from the first four albums, with incredible sound and atmosphere, they brought a tear to the eye on the closing I Will Lay Down My Bones Among the Rocks and Roots and surprisingly became one of the best bands across the whole four long days of music. With a great new single to boot at that point, the prospects of their 2017 album Thrice Woven seeing a return to their roots and the quality that comes with it seemed good. They don’t ignore this ambient miss-step – there were always elements of it in their first four albums, but woven in well among the black metal elements (pardon the pun), it this carries into the new album, which is a great return to form.
The first track is arguably the best, the single Born from the Serpent’s Eye, a stirring tremolo picked riff enveloped by quietly atmospheric synths, blastbeats and aggressive rasping vocals providing a great main riff for the track, before moving into a nastier and chuggier mid paced riff, injecting some needed aggression. A short ambient section shows the style they SHOULD have taken on Celestite, with effects-laden soft, high pitched female vocals in a dreampop style, harmonizing in Swedish, before a slow moving powerful melodic riff brings it back to the epic style we know and love from WITTR, a thick layer of celestial synths punching a hole through the atmosphere, taking it back into the blackened realms of forests and starlight that the band exemplify, ending with a wash of psychedelic guitar.
The production is heavy, but still retains a polished approach, with all the instruments sounding rich and clearly audible. WITTR take on a folk style on the next track The Old Ones are With Us, spoken word and acoustic guitars opening it up before some dense barrelling riffs. A haunting folky sounding melody comes from the synths, strangely as a modern instrument, but it gives the track a nostalgic feel, and a counterpoint to the dark riffs and rasped vocals. Half way through we get more acoustic guitars and clean vocals, echoing the spoken word from the intro, used tastefully and not outlasting their welcome, adding to the great atmosphere of the track. Angrboda is a bit of a step down after two really interesting tracks, the repetitive melodies not weaving as much of a hypnotic atmosphere and being a bit more simplistic than the other two tracks without being quite as memorable, but still delivers some great riffs in some of the tremolo picked and synth laden sections between the blastbeats, and oddly enough the ambient interlude in the middle, with echoing guitar and keys. It’s certainly not a bad track, just comes after two powerful tracks and may have been better served being sandwiched between them. With a short ambient synth laden introduction preceding it, the closer Fires Roar in the Palace of the Moon is a great synthesis of the sound of the first two tracks, with stirring tremolo picked riffs, and a nostalgic nature-enthused vibe coming from the wistful melodies and tasteful synths – and the almost jam-like guitars toward the middle after an ambient interlude are heavy as anything. A great closer on a return to form.
Some more of the fantastic female vocals, and a bit more energy on Angrboda wouldn’t have gone amiss, but on Thrice Woven, Wolves in the Throne Room are clearly back to form, with great atmospheres, evoking dark forests and starry night skies as atmospheric black metal does at it’s best. The first two tracks would sit with the best they’ve done in their career to date, and while overall it may not be up there with Two Hunters, but it’s still a gem in their crown that one wouldn’t have expected after the stale Celestite. WITTR are rightfully taking back their place in the throne room with Thrice Woven.