Wolves In the Throne room has always been a band that seems fully encompassed by nature. The way of the woods, mountains and rivers doesn’t enter their music simply through words, but in a rare feat of sound. One can imagine the drums smattered with growths of lichen or the amps sitting next to a lake and somehow translating its lapping waters into waves of guitars. There’s an elemental aspect to their discography that would make Captain Planet very happy. Diadem of 12 Stars crackles with fire, Black Cascade is awash with a sense of falling water while Celestial Lineage calls with an earthly strength from a deep-cave ritual. And, let’s not forget the heart that pumps an authentic sense of life into every musical offering the Weaver brothers have bestowed upon black metal ears since 2002.
As has always been the case, album number seven shows the band continuing to try new things and push their sound in different directions. Primordial Arcana reveals a subtle but impactful growth. The two most obvious things likely to jump out for listeners will be the shift in production and the generally shorter song lengths.
A song like “Spiritual Lightning” offers a great example of their deft hand at mixing. It opens with a folksy passage Obsequiae fans should enjoy that later returns toward the middle of the song. Both times it starts as the star of the moment, but then fades back behind the metal instruments and becomes an even more impactful supporting cast member. There are other more subtle elements throughout the song as well. Around the 1:15 mark, the drums shift to having more of an echoing thud that borders on sounding electronic. Multiple times the keys and synths briefly and quietly pepper the guitars or drums in a way so subtly or quickly you would likely miss them without a solid pair of headphones.
Having more, but shorter, songs turns out to be both a boon and a slight bane to the record. Each song focuses more strongly on a certain aspect of their writing style. “Mountain Magick” highlights the band’s ability to write a song with a more straightforward structure. There are fewer but repeated parts flowing in a natural order, but that doesn’t mean it’s boring; it still fires off a brilliant Dissection melody, a blistering speed passage, and a simple yet evocative lead toward the end. “Through Eternal Fields” slows things down with moments of clean chanting wafting from ear-to-ear, drawn-out contemplative guitars rolling at a mid-pace, and a big dramatic finish with horns and tribal drumming. “Primal Chasm (Gift of Fire)” is exactly what its title promises by eschewing more of their “fluffy” elements to unleash a wicked Satyricon riff and blaring trumpets that make for one of the most headbangable moments in their entire career. “Underworld Aurora” takes cues from Celestite by letting the synths be the driving force of the song starting with some creepy notes that sound like an offshoot of the lighthouse scene in Annihilation. There are still plenty of heavy passages in the song, but they feel more like accents to the synths that are progressing it forward.
The first five songs all range from 5:00 to 7:30 in length. The only track to breach Wolves In The Throne Room’s more traditional 10-minute runtime is “Masters of Rain and Storm” and it is excellent. It is a, ahem, masterful display of dueling tremolo riffs weaving around and through each other like two snakes trying to fertilize one another. It’s the one song that hews closest to their debut album. While it mostly blazes and sports a pretty wicked Immortal-style riff at one point, it also gives the listener a wisely placed break with an acoustic passage that gives you just enough time to breathe before dropping another Zeus-load of lightning on your head.
The album weirdly ends with a three-minute synth and flute instrumental that feels a bit anticlimactic after the surging power of “Masters of Rain and Storm.” But, hey, maybe you’re a fan of songs like “The Flames of the End” that inexplicably close an album of otherwise pure firepower when they would better serve as an interlude.
The main aspect of the shorter songs that becomes a slight detriment to Primordial Arcana is that it doesn’t feel as thematically cohesive as those of the past. Amenra has titled most of their discography Mass followed by a number because each album is a deeply engrossing ritual. Wolves In The Throne Room has always operated in a similar manner where the full album experience is enrapturing as every song connects and flows into one another. This time around feels a bit more like a collection of songs; A collection of really damn good songs, but still just a collection rather than a cohesive whole.
The shorter songs and increased creative risks make Primordial Arcana a more natural successor to Celestial Lineage than Thrice Woven. For fans of the band, perhaps that’s all you really need to know. If this is your first experience with Wolves In The Throne Room, it makes for a slightly more approachable and digestible experience than some of their more entrancing efforts.
Regardless of your experience level, Primordial Arcana is worth your time and money.