Ramar Pittance’s take:
“Black metal, by definition, creates a deep psychedelic wash by layering guitar and submerging melody in the chaos. This is one part of black metal that we will always stay true to.” – Nathan Weaver.
Usually when I first listen to an album that I know I’m going to be reviewing, I’ll jot down any words or themes that I freely associate with the music. It helps me to build a skeleton for my review and makes writing the opening sentences a little less painful. As I listened to Black Cascade, the third full-length release from Olympia Washington’s Wolves in the Throne Room, for the first time, there was one word that continuously came to mind: Purity.
At first, I thought the word was pinging between my ears because of the band’s unvarnished approach to their craft. If you take nothing else from this review, know that Wolves have taken the task of writing melodic and evocative black metal very seriously on this album. Tonally, the songs are dynamic and rich and each is crafted in such a way that pleases superficially at first, but truly rewards with more attentive listens. The production faithfully builds upon the thematic underpinnings of the album, which is best exemplified by the overdriven but analog and warm guitar tone. The resultant effect of the mixing are songs that readily invite the listener to submerge themselves in the “psychedelic wash.”
It’s hard to track Wolves in the Throne Room’s progression as songwriters, as on their first album, Diadem of 12 Stars, they already displayed a pre-natural talent for the craft, as though the band members had been thrust from their collective womb fully formed. What I notice though, especially on “Wanderer Above the Sea and Fog,” the album’s opening song, is a new capacity for developing melodic themes early in a composition, only to reintroduce them later in the song in a slightly modified form. For example, the melody that first appears at 1:30 of “Wanderer” is played several times, slightly altered, both later in the opening song and in other doppelganger-ed forms throughout the rest of the album. To my mind, this is evidence of a growing confidence; an ease which allows the band to focus solely writing songs – not just riffs.
I started thinking about Black Cascade’s purity in a more holistic sense as I listened to it while walking through the forest near my house this morning. For those who follow the band, purgation and rebirth have been the driving themes of Wolves‘ music since Diadem. I found it fitting then that, as I walked toward the forest, I saw columns of smoke billowing from yards across my neighborhood. Many of my neighbors had spent the weekend clearing their yards of leaves and felled branches in preparation for Spring and were now burning the dead remnants of Winter. Obviously it was a lucky coincidence that I was confronted by such an obvious and appropriate metaphor. However, it also got me thinking about how, for the most part, I don’t even know what half the bands I listen to are all about. With Wolves, it feels more clear, or pure. At the very least, getting myself outside and communing with what it is the band is mourning the potential loss of, allowed me to convince myself I understood what the music was all about.
What Wolves do admirably well is provide an opening of the way for meditation and catharsis. Of course, the songs are nice to listen to, but I think there’s more to it than just that. This is music that is so interactive as to almost be revolutionary. How the music will impact, of course, depends on you. I can assure you, though, that Black Cascade continues the trend of high quality releases put out by this band and is worth investigating what paths it may open for you.
Chris McDonald’s take:
If you had told me a few years ago, when I first heard Wolves In The Throne Room’s 2005 demo, that these hippie-looking farmer guys would end up becoming arguably the most popular “legitimate” black metal band out there today, I simply wouldn’t have believed it. How did it happen? I have no idea. And yet, here we are; the band’s third full-length is upon us, and Wolves have already become frontrunners in an increasingly progressive strain of black metal that holds more far-reaching appeal than anyone would have imagined. Their live show is legendary. Their personal beliefs and lifestyles are the subject of an inordinate amount of speculation. And their first two full-length albums received rave reviews from press and fans alike. Sure, they look kind of goofy and they may be forever known as “that hipster band” to the grim old buggers of the black metal scene, but the fact remains that Wolves In The Throne Room are now a BIG deal to a large number of people, and their desire to move their respective genre forward has already made its mark on other bands (Krallice, anyone?).
This is why Black Cascade surprised me. This is unquestionably the outfit’s most straightforward release yet, which may disappoint people expecting a continuation of the innovative tendencies of the Malevolent Grain EP and past releases. No female vocals this time, and little in the way of acoustic or ambient contributions…just four melodic, riff-focused black metal epics that give off the impression that Wolves In The Throne Room have made a conscious effort to pursue a more traditional style this time around. The band wastes little time in lurching right into the heart of each song, and with the more experimental flourishes of past releases toned down significantly, the layered guitars are left to carry these weighty compositions virtually by themselves.
And, for the most part, it works. The band’s penchant for lengthy, expansive tremolo riffs and Aaron Weaver’s loose drumming style still makes for an engaging core to the sound, and the massive melodies these guys conjure up are excellent. While there is still plenty of hypnotizing blasting, the band has also grown increasingly fond of the slow, Drudkh-esque dirges they began to explore on Two Hunters, reining back the tempo to a tragic crawl to great effect in “Wanderer Above The Sea of Fog” and the beautiful “Ex Cathedra,” which also contains one of the album’s few ambient breaks. “Ahrimanic Trance” and “Crystal Ammunition,” both of which clock in at over fourteen minutes, are mesmerizing and powerful despite being more traditional in structure, with the latter concluding the album with a gorgeous display of soft keys and epic melody like few other bands can.
And yet, despite the undeniable quality of the songs, I just don’t find myself getting that excited about Black Cascade. When Diadem Of Twelve Stars finally clicked, I listened repeatedly for weeks on end. When Two Hunters dropped the next year, I kept coming back to it time after time, even though it was admittedly too short in length and slightly lacking in meat. With Black Cascade, something just feels a tad too…clinical? Formulaic? Perhaps. In the end, it really just feels like another WITTR record. A damn good one, no doubt, but that’s all. For some fans, that will be more than enough, and I don’t want anyone to misinterpret this review and think that I was seriously let down by this album. As my scores indicate, I really enjoy it. It’s just that, from a band that many believe are carrying the torch into a new age of black metal, Black Cascade comes off as slightly tame, and even a little cautious. The production strips the song of any real energy, Nathan Weaver’s vocals have lost some of their desperate edge, and I miss the progressive touches these guys used to implement so effectively in their songs. Keyboards play a more prominent role as an atmospheric tool, but by and large this is an album of great black metal riffs, and nothing else. Don’t get me wrong, I love great black metal riffs, but in the past Wolves In The Throne Room have always managed to deliver something more than that. This time, I’m not so sure.