Wolves In The Throne Room: Celestite

The black metal rule-breakers bust out of black metal altogether; can we follow them?

- Wolves In The Throneroom - those black metal hippies living the sustainable black metal dream on their farming commune, nestled away in rural Olympia, Washington - have always tried to set themselves apart from the rest of the black metal milieu. The black metal fandom have both loved and hated them for it: that notoriously judgemental clique heaping equal measures of praise and condemnation on their records. WITR have returned the favour by refusing to fit expectations and sometimes claiming not to be black metal at all.

Lord only knows what black metal is these days, actually, with bands like Deafheaven throwing the definition of the genre into total disarray, sneaking in post-rock, shoegaze and folk past genre gatekeepers, who increasingly seem to be shrugging their shoulders and saying 'anything goes'. However, if you go back and look at WITR’s earlier work, you’ll realise it’s the sort of thing they’ve been doing for years.

It’s all a bit academic actually, because the band's latest foray, Celestite, makes good on WITR’s threats to not be a black metal band, by unequivocally leaving the genre. A belated companion to 2011’s Celestial Lineage, that record was, as usual, boundary pushing but undeniably, brutally metal. On the surface it may be hard to hear the connection between the two, Celestite is barely even a quiet echo of the former. Guitars, though still present are largely replaced by synthesiser and complemented by brass and wind, here and there. There are no vocals either, just thirty minutes of dark ambience.

People have been drawing all sorts of comparisons: Ben Frost, Tangerine Dream, WITR’s own reference point, der kosmiche musik of Popul Vuh, Sun O))), Pink Floyd, Alan Parsons, even Messiaen. There’s arguments to be made for all of those, sure, although the only one I found myself constantly returning to was Vangelis, thanks to a very similar taste in analogue synthesisers.

Drone music is supposed to be long form and subtle and there are certainly glimpses of depth and moments of restrained fire that make Celestite intriguing. Many listeners seem to have been wholly gripped by it. I can’t say that I have been. Usually such an enthusiastic supporter of WITR’s boundary breaking antics, I feel hypocritical but impelled to say that if WITR are out of their comfort zone, I’m certainly out of mine: I’d rather hear others do dark ambient, and from WITR -you want to be experimental, fine, the weirder the better- but can it be metal? That's something you really know how to do.

- Chris Cobcroft.

Album Details

Album Title: Celestite
Artist: Wolves In The Throne Room
Record Label: (Artemisia / Revolver USA)