Originally written by Jeremy Garner
Hmm…this is interesting. Just when I was giving up on US black metal and the genre in general of putting out anything that really advances and pushes conventional boundaries, a band from Olympia, Washington bursts out of absolutely nowhere and lays me out completely shocked and awed by the breadth and imagination with their first full length Diadem of 12 Stars. I refuse to again make the mistake I did while reviewing the new Aes Dana by both underestimating and undervaluing another amazing black metal album . Wolves in the Throne Room has created and album that suffocates me with its oppressively brooding atmosphere and sends chills up my spine as it works its demonic fingers through my being.
Diadem of 12 Stars offers more proof that an album doesn’t need the glossy sheen of pro tools or a big studio budget to sound absolutely phenomenal and enrapture the listener in its misanthropic, organic sound. Granted the treble and mid frequencies dominate, scooping the lows for a harsher sound, the disturbed ambiance of the production fits the album perfectly
Generally upon being confronted with a four track album I’d jump to the conclusion of EP, but astonishingly, these four songs cover right over an hour worth of astonishingly bleak and phantasmagorial black metal. Wolves in the Throne Room can produce some pretty kvlt shit when you get right down to it, but amazingly enough, their music is surprisingly listenable unlike most similar black metal albums which tend to dwell on the overly grim side of things. It has that minimalistic droning quality of Nargaroth, yet it still has that desolate, alluring quality of pagan heroes Negura Bunget. You’ve got to be ready for some long fucking songs but this stuff can achieve the twisted atmospheres of Deathspell Omega and the demented aura of Blut Aus Nord while still bordering on melodic territory that most bands of the genre are too afraid to include. The true ugliness of this record manifests itself in its strong musical ties to the baleful monster of Weakling, and any of you who’ve come into contact with them should have a good notion of the direction the music takes on Diadem of 12 Stars.
The vocals of Rick and Nathan expand beyond the usual snarl and rasp of black metal, reaching the eerie howl of Attila Csihar (Keep of Kalessin, Mayhem, Aborym), the frightening screams of Varg Vikernes (Burzum), and at others rivaling the vehement rage of Dave Hunt (Anaal Nathrakh). Vocal interplay between these vast black metal elements retain a distinctive tension and ever changing interest throughout their epic material; interspersed with the occasional death growl and alluring female vocals that actually add depth of beauty, contrasting perfectly with the harshness of Wolves in the Throne Room without sounding overly pretentious like the faggoth bands of yesteryear
These two masterminds also handle the guitar work, creating layer upon layer of perniciously feral black metal that combines an impressive command of traditionalism including tinges of older Emperor while still refusing to be constrained, tearing through conventionalism by expanding and tugging at the boundaries of black metal all while drummer Aaron sets a rhythmic backdrop to drives along this demonically vicious whirlwind.
“Queen of the Borrowed Light” erupts with sonorous melodies and subtly grim black metal not too unlike a slower version of the pedantic metal Agalloch exhibited on From Which of this Oak before descending into somber acoustic folk passages ala Ulver’s Bergtatt. The song persists; melding and shape shifting in ingenious and compelling ways with a ubiquitous push and pull tension of inexorable pain.
“Faces in a Night Time Mirror, pt.1” divulges the listener with majestic dissonance overlaid with the haunting female vocals of Jamie (Hammers of Misfortune) and which then morphs into yet more lugubrious acoustic verse not too dissimilar from Empyrium before returning to the melodramatic, ashen tension of earlier verses, exploring the labyrinth of sonic soundscapes and chaotic maelstrom of black metal Diadem of 12 Stars contains.
“Faces in a Night Time Mirror, pt.2” as expected expands upon the groundwork laid by its predecessor but still explores enough uncharted territory to stay interesting. Unlike their earlier material, Wolves in the Throne Room capitalizes on the more abrasive qualities, steering the song away from becoming too similar or formulaic in comparison to previous material by capitalizing on a grotesque savagery that most black metal bands can only dream of creating while still exploring a spacious, ethereal darkness towards its end.
The closing dirge, “A shimmering radiance diadem of 12 stars” weaves its way through tortured funeral doom and otherworldly droning black metal that pulls and tugs at your heartstrings while expanding upon icy black metal reminiscent of Immortal, presenting a dismal and empty atmosphere that perfectly fits their nihilistic tonality. Finally the song blares into its final fray of ferocious timber accompanied by alluring female vocals ending on a note of quite contemplation leaving you shivering and afraid at the Kafkaesque horror that has unfolded before you.
Wolves in the Throne Room have taken the place of Weakling as the forerunners of this particular sub-genre of black metal and have also proven themselves to be one of the most talented and important up and coming USBM prospects. Their talent to completely immerse the listener in an unparalleled experience is only more assurance to the fact that they’ve created a damn fine album. Cheers to Vendulus records for bringing us something more palatable than the utter insanity of Especially Likely Sloth and for bringing us an album whose artistic vision has greatly moved me. Buy this.