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Wolves in the Throne Room
BBC Session 2011 Anno Domini Tristan Bath , December 20th, 2013 09:19

Nearly a decade since the passing of John Peel (and his very own sessions), the BBC's history in recording quality music seems a distant memory. Other than a multitude of on going orchestral recordings and Radio 1's repugnant Live Lounge - wherein mostly shit artists cover other shit artist's largely shit songs - Maida Vale isn't quite the musicians' pilgrimage the Peel Sessions would have you think it once was. Even so, the proverbial excremental sea is littered with nuggets of gold, and this Wolves in the Throne Room session recorded back in 2011, now released on 12" by Southern Lord, is one of them.

The metal landscape has vastly shape-shifted since the mainstream emergence of both black metal and doom, and few bands incorporate the sonic breadth of both as fully as Wolves in the Throne Room. Phantasmal legends about the Weaver brothers' supposedly feudal existence in America's unforgiving Pacific Northwest persist, and this session helps to demystify. On offer are the bookend tracks from their last opus, Celestial Lineage, released just prior to the recording. In reverse their original order, ‘Thuja Magus Imperium' and ‘Prayer of Transformation' are both captured live and with Albini-esque absence from the production team, allowing the trio (the Weaver brothers are augmented by Oakhelm guitarist, Kody Keyworth) to slay on record as a near-untouched live band.

Each ten-minute track takes up a full side of the 12", with side A delegated to ‘Prayer of Transformation'. Unlike the version on Celestial Lineage, which made full use of the studio's ability to layer guitar on guitar, rendering the introductory drones a wall of varying white noise onto which growls and typically Nordic tremolo picking could be superimposed, and ultimately amalgamated, the BBC take is far doomier. Without studio sleight of hand and limited to two guitars at once, the track takes on some of the over-encumbered atmosphere of latter-day Earth records like Angels Of Darkness, struggling forward one step at a time. The lack of echo or reverb effects on the Nathan Weaver's maniacal tortured growl makes it even more harrowing than its original incarnation on the album. On Celestial Lineage, it was a cartoon cave monster's snarl; here it's the agonised high definition cry of a very human monster. The band's apparent abhorrence of violence, and insistence that this is music for weeping has never been more credible.

The run through of 'Thuja Magus Imperium' on the B-side is no less revealing. Dissected and reassembled, the vocals of Jessika Kenney are now notably absent, but it's the rawness of guitar and Aaron Weaver's relentlessly tight drumming that wins. The atypically psychedelic and stadium-ready solo some four minutes in to the original (in that case provided by Milky Burgess of Asva and Master Musicians of Baukkake) is subbed for a toned-down, almost Nordic reimagining reminiscent of the Wolves' gut-punching slug of a black metal debut. Both sides of the vinyl aim to strip the music of that heightened mysticism added by the extended interludes, and cavernous subterranean production of Celestial Lineage or Two Hunters. The result is quite the opposite though, and this excellent session demonstrates how Wolves in the Throne Room have learned to broaden their palette with more than mere studio trickery and guest appearances.

At this point, twenty minutes in the studio with these guys contains enough power to merit a health warning, and transmits perhaps even more desolate pummelling fury than their more meticulously crafted demonic woodland horrors. Metals, both black and doom often depend upon musical theatrics and mystique. It's bolstering to know that Wolves in the Throne Room lose nothing in the transition from the moulded, murky and spectral forests from whence they came into the tangible realm of amps, condenser mics and the Bakerloo line.

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