Wolves in the Throne Room – Primordial Arcana Review

Wolves in the Throne Room is an important band for me. When I was just getting into black metal, I found my way to the early albums in the band’s discography, which demonstrated to me the intrinsic and glorious bond black metal has with nature. I was absolutely captivated and I still consider the trilogy of Diadem of 12 Stars, Two Hunters and Black Cascade to be one of the strongest in black metal’s catalog. While I may be less enamored with the later albums (Thrice Woven, apart from its thunderous opener, left me cold), I feel a very close affinity with the band, and any new release is a very big deal to this reviewer. So when Primordial Arcana appeared, I greedily snatched it up. Early singles were promising, there was real bite to the black metal, and the texture seemed both natural and frosty. Which is how I like my black metal and my editors. Twenty spins later, has Primordial Arcana lived up to its early promise? Or are Wolves in the Throne Room in terminal decline after being together for nearly twenty years?

For those who are unfamiliar with this iconic band (and if so, get thee to Bandcamp and download Two Hunters immediately), Wolves in the Throne Room play a brand of atmospheric black metal in the vein of Agalloch, Weakling, and Panopticon. The founding Weaver brothers have always managed to inject a very personal touch to their material, which reflects their joy of nature and contempt for modernity. There’s also a uniquely American flavor and sensibility to their music, which separates the material from their European counterparts. Recorded and mixed by the band members themselves, in their own studio, in the middle of the woods, Primordial Arcana reflects their desire to keep their sound as natural as possible, stripped of everything that separates it from its roots. In this respect, it shares a spiritual home with Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago, and (bear with me), Taylor Swift’s evermore. As a result, this is atmospheric black metal at its most organic and entrancing.

The great strength of Primordial Arcana is the connection the Weaver brothers have managed to build between frosty, furious black metal and the beauty of the Washington land they so obviously adore. Wolves in the Throne Room albums have always focused on black metal’s intrinsic connection to nature, with all the beauty and ugliness that that entails. Primordial Arcana feels like a distillation of this aim. While no great shifts have occurred in the band’s sound, Wolves manage to successfully blend the early fury of Two Hunters with the more magisterial ambiance of Celestite. Whether a plucked string in “Spirit of Lightning,” a gentle flute in “Eostre,” the beauty of “Underworld Aurora,” or the confident use of synthesizers throughout (a Wolves strength since Diadem of the 12 Stars), Primordial Arcana sounds earthy and marvelous. But it requires a level of concentration and buy-in from the listener. For these tracks to work, you need to immerse yourself in the sound.

There are some minor issues that hold Primordial Arcana back, however. Wolves in the Throne Room have never been a band that rushed their work, but early albums were pervaded by a clear sense of purpose; the Weavers’ fury ensured that momentum was never lost. Primordial Arcana feels like you’re joining them for a walk in the woods, where the goal is to admire the beauty, not to get to a destination. This probably reflects the more mature mindset of the band and isn’t a criticism per se; the beauty is undeniably entrancing. But listeners yearning for the galloping thunder of Black Cascade may find the languid pace, especially in the middle third, at times frustrating. This is exacerbated by material that sometimes just isn’t as consistently strong as previous albums, with “Through Eternal Fields,” in particular, occasionally dragging.

Overall, Primordial Arcana is a mature and highly enjoyable collection from Wolves in the Throne Room. While not perfect, and not quite reaching the heights of those early, seminal works, it is perhaps the purest distillation of their new sound that began with Celestial Lineage. It reflects an aesthetic deeply rooted in the spirituality of nature, and, in the right context, it works beautifully. Be warned, however: this is not an album for laptop speakers while you rush to complete an assignment in artificial, glaring, office light. Rather, take this for a whirl on a dark evening, in your favorite patch of nature, with your relaxing beverage/substance of choice. Close your eyes. Breathe it in. Maybe you’ll simply hear an enjoyable collection of black metal songs. But if you pay close attention, you may just discern a distant voice, carried on the wind, that you haven’t heard in far too long.

 


Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Relapse Records
Websites: wolvesinthethroneroom.bandcamp.com/  |  facebook.com/wolvesinthethroneroom
Released Worldwide: August 20th, 2021

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