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Three Songs No Flash

Among the Rocks and Roots: Wolves In The Throne Room Live
Brad Sanders , September 13th, 2011 04:51

As Wolves In The Throne Room ready new album Celestial Lineage, Brad Sanders has a celestial experience when he sees them live in Louisville

The attention of the crowd turns to the narrow stage where Wolves in the Throne Room's three live members stand. A hush falls over the Louisville venue where they're playing — a converted Victorian era house known now as the Rudyard Kipling — as they tune up their instruments for the final time and get ready to launch into an hour-long set of Cascadian black metal. It's nearly midnight, and my friend and I left our hometown of Bloomington for the venue at 2 p.m.

But somehow our excruciating wait doesn't matter when we gaze upon the stage. There are elaborate, hand-painted tapestries depicting an owl, a rat, a wolf, a heron, and a buck hanging behind it. There are branches from evergreen trees lying all over. There's a fog machine and a pair of ancient-looking lanterns, lit with matches. It's all very Wolves in the Throne Room.

Soon Nathan Weaver and live guitarist Kody Keyworth are letting feedback squeal and playing the opening chords to the first song of the set. About five minutes into it, though, the power cuts in the venue. It takes Aaron Weaver a few seconds to realize that his bandmates' guitars are inaudible, and once he stops banging his drums, everyone just looks at each other — sheepishly, helplessly. A palpable "Oh, fuck" falls over band and audience alike. "What the fuck now?"

And so again we wait. It's 12:20 a.m. and the venue people are scurrying somewhere to fix the power. "They don't know where the circuit breaker is," someone in the crowd complains, possibly accurately.

"What do we do?"

"I want to start again from the top."

"Thanks for your patience."

The brief wave of panic that hit us when we realized Wolves in the Throne Room could totally just abandon their set and hop back in the van to get a jump on the drive to Cincinnati subsides quickly when the members all sit down on the stage. There's a camaraderie there. They, too, had been waiting all day for a Wolves in the Throne Room show, and like us, they weren't going anywhere until they got it. This reverie is mercifully interrupted when a voice rings out from somewhere in the back of the venue.

"We got it! We're back on!"

Smiles all around. Wolves Round 2.

It takes about 30 seconds to forget that there was ever a power outage. The Wolves dudes start tearing through cuts from Celestial Lineage and Black Cascade. Already I'm entering a trancelike state. Each riff burrows its way into my brain and makes my knees wobbly. Part of that's heat exhaustion, but most of it is the incomparable power that Wolves in the Throne Room brings to the live stage. But their first two songs, incredible though they are, prove to be a mere warmup. The main attraction comes when they visit their finest album, 2007's Two Hunters.

With just a hint of synth beneath them, clean guitars introduce one of the band's most unmistakable cuts: the mighty 'I Will Lay Down My Bones Among the Rocks and Roots'. After just over a minute of those tension-building dissonants, the blastbeats and tremolo picking kick in. Then the vocals. Then suddenly I'm no longer in control of my body or responsible for my actions. Every riff, every fill, every vocal part is executed to utter perfection. Wolves in the Throne Room spend 18 minutes exercising as much power over me as anyone ever has. I'm pretty sure I sense tears running down my cheeks, but I can't raise my arms to wipe them away. Everything that is good about not just black metal or even music but life in general is pouring from the amps and souls of the three men on stage. To witness this, to participate in it, is to understand the world at some higher level.

When I interviewed Aaron Weaver this summer, he told me that black metal is pretentious by definition, and that its opposition to the punk ethic is what attracted him to it in the first place. This makes sense especially in the context of 'I Will Lay Down My Bones Among the Rocks and Roots'. It's an 18-minute, multi-part epic with majestic lyrical content that embraces its earthly bonds while transcending them. It's also one of the black metal genre's best selling points. Everything you need to know about black metal iconoclasm and aesthetics is buried somewhere in its marathon running time, and in a live environment, it's even more effective.

Wolves in the Throne Room play another song after 'Bones', and it's amply crushing, but most audience members seem to still be buzzing from what they all know was one of those all-too-rare brainfreeze moments that can happen when encountering live music at its best.

The drive home is as long as the drive there, but longer, because it's nearly 2 a.m. when we begin it. Our eardrums ring. The Rudyard Kipling's acoustics amplify every sound a thousand times over and somehow possess the sentience to jam them in your ear canals as violently as possible.

Deafness is a mere excuse for our difficulty in discussion, though. We're still entranced, and we acknowledge the fact openly. We try to talk about what we just witnessed, but it only serves to cheapen the experience. We settle on silence.

By the time we roll back into Bloomington, we've listened to Celestial Lineage a few times in the car in order to pass more educated judgment on it. But of course we can't. We've been affected by the show. The wait. The power outage. The branches. The tapestries. "I Will Lay Down My Bones Among the Rocks and Roots'. Objective analysis of anything relating to Wolves in the Throne Room is no longer possible for us. We say good night, worried that in the morning, none of this will feel real anymore. Everything will change.

The last lyric to that most incredible song of the night resonates in our heads.

When I awake, the world will be born anew.

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