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Wolves In The Throne Room
Thrice Woven Josh Gray , September 21st, 2017 11:29

There are glorious moments of clarity amid thundering, growling WITTR business-as-usual.

Pacific Northwesterners Wolves In The Throne Room have long been masters at creating moments of clarity: those instances where their ear-splitting black metal engine cuts out and leaves the song to glide on unassisted, breaking out of the broiling storm clouds and into a clear canopy of sunlight. It’s a knack the band have spent 15 years perfecting, and Thrice Woven offers a textbook example of this halfway through opening track 'Born From The Serpent's Eye'.

After a four-and-a-half minute barrage of tremolo riffs sprinting over rocky blast beats, the song shoots over a cliff edge into silence. Instead of capitalising on this shock to push down into the choppy waves below, as many of their peers might, WITTR allow their momentum to fade away. Swedish singer Anna von Hausswolff’s hymn-like harmonies entwine with heavenly wind chimes. Then, just when it feels like this nirvana might never end, the Weaver brothers crash back in with a jolt of thunder.

It really feels like WITTR have been away for longer than they have. Their last album, 2014's ambient Celestite, was more an exercise in musical theory than a proper release - a concession to the unwritten rule that, at some point in their career, every black metal band has to try their hand at something that isn't black metal. Heavily influenced by electronic pioneers such as Cluster and Brian Eno, Celestite was the sound of the band (who have always had a thing for sparse synthesizer arrangements) pushing their abilities to the limit in the studio without thinking too hard about where they were going next. They could easily have taken a leaf out of the book of Ulver, or Sólstafir, or (urgggh) Burzum and continued down this path, moving away from the genre that spawned them in search of completely new musical pastures.

Fascinating though this approach could have been, it is not what has happened. Musically there is little but time that separates Thrice Woven from the ‘trilogy’ of Diadem of 12 Stars, Black Cascade and Celestial Lineage, all recorded under Southern Lord, and most of the songs here could be swapped with those on the last of this trio without raising too many eyebrows. Under the surface, however, there is a subtle evolution of style.

Past WITTR albums have tended to exude either an autumnal or wintry atmosphere and, once again, the band have chosen to release their album in September, just as the year descends into its slow demise. However, there’s an unexpectedly triumphal undercurrent to ‘The Old Ones Are with Us’ that feels like the premature coming of spring. “Winter is dying / The sun is returning / The ice is receding / The rivers are flowing,” the brothers growl, as if summoning the sun back from its arctic slumber.

As a band whose music tends to twist and transform like the unpredictable weather of Washington State, they have definitely managed to produce music with a positive vibe before. Usually, though, these warm moments are fleeting - brief beams of sunlight that break through the clouds and emphasise the mist of melancholy that surrounds them. For over eight minutes here, though, hope is the focus - it's an incredibly uplifting experience, coming from a band whose senses seem better attuned to the planet we live on than most.

The second half of the album lacks the spirit of its first two transcendent tracks. 'Angrboda', named after Loki's giant mistress, owes altogether too much to Darkthrone circa Ravishing Grimness and Windir at their windiest. The well-named but forgettable closer 'Fires Roar In The Palace Of The Moon' spends a full 12 minutes questing for a moment of impact that never arrives. But, for those first 19 glorious minutes, Thrice Woven skirts the eye of the storm, flitting between untrammelled power and celestial beauty with a finesse that few can match.