Common wisdom would have you believe that most bands approaching their third decade, and / or seventh album, will have found either a comfortable groove, or a furrow that they like to plough, and that the desire to challenge themselves and their supporters, to expand or revitalise their sound, has probably been dissipated to some degree. The cycle begats the (album) cycle and the artist, conscious of the desired output, sates the audience even if they do make token refinements to keep their own creative beasts content. For while there may be tweaks and tinkerings, there are, deep-down, a forest path of a woodland much explored, not often adventures anew.
Wolves In The Throne Room, though, are not your common band, and Primordial Arcana (Relapse Records), is an interesting and new experience in their mythology. But then, I’m sure you’d expect no less by now. Their first entirely self written, self recorded and self produced album is presented with a cover that points to woodland rituals and heathen practices that is the most telling clue as to the change of emphasis within; where previous covers were sublime yet external – waterfalls, landscapes, trees – here, the intimacy of the record is there for all to see.
Whether the result of the involvement of Kody Keyworth (guitars / vocals) in the writing for the first time, or a conscious plunge down a different natural track with a new label and focus in mind, Primordial Arcana deviates from the previous WITTR lineage in a way not too dissimilar to Myrkur’s progression from M to Mareridt (both Relapse), to significant and magnificent effect, while still hewn from metal black.
From the outset, it is clear the production is perfect for this emphatic evolution with guitars more defined, as if embolden and thickened by animal blood taken in offerings before being channeled into the sound. Synths swirl and dance in the mix, leading when required, subtly guiding at all other times, weaving a sense of comfort, elevation and maestoso through the series of tales.
The tales themselves are honed with a hunter’s instincts; six minutes delivering perfectly where previously fourteen had done… Focused, refined and more efficient, WITTR are also more effective, absorbing elements into their liturgies that may have previously sat as interludes, now embracing them and braiding them into the stems of the totem, rather than figurines or individual offerings.
‘Mountain Magick’ insidiously seeps in before cascading leads evoke beneath Nathan Weaver’s harsh howls. Weaver subsequently gives way to Keyworth’s cavernous animalistic growl and an august opener sets the tone. ‘Spirit of Lightning’ and ‘Through Eternal Fields’, organic motifs to the fore, are stately follow-ups that build and spiral – powerful, dramatic and intriguing – around a set of melodies that open up to release pent up natural energy. There is rage, but it is constrained, channeled internally into a forceful offering.
‘Primal Chasm (Gift of Fire)’ strides with a mountainous purpose, purposeful and evocative of Immortal and Satyricon duelling at their most epic. ‘Underworld Aurora’ broods and immerses – a swelling cinematic introduction stepping aside for a chasmic early section that coils inwards before unveiling a vast reflective and enlightening underbelly. However, it is the last track proper, ‘Masters of Rain and Storm’, that steals all previous thunder.
A near eleven minute epic that swirls from pounding Death Metal to an immersive lull to tumultuous,uplifting synth-flecked blackened passages – it is a majestic journey that lifts and moves, dropping scenes and tells, colours and steers, as it winds its superb way to a coruscating coda, before ‘Eostre’ trickles us downstream back to the cabin.
Whereas predecessor Thrice Woven (Artemisia) raged and scythed with icy canker, and previous offerings entreated forests and mountains vast, Primordial Arcana is a cinematic and luscious soundtrack of immediate rural imagery with each song conjuring scenery and mystic feelings aligned to a closeness with nature. This is not a panoramic, drones-eye experience; these songs feel lived and shared and personal, with a sense of intimacy. While bears may still fish in bitter rivers nearby, …Arcana carries a campfire’s warmth. These are tales of reflection, yes, yet these are tales and experiences shared; vivid tranquility offered in companionship brought to the fore by the storming, enveloping and sizeable production.
WITTR, who set in motion an entire post-Agallochian Cascadian movement in atmospheric American-based Black Metal, have never been far from superlatives throughout their existence. And by coming down from the wilderness retreat and sharing with us their rites and rituals on a more personal level, they have taken a bold stride down an intriguing and more accessible path, bringing with them the wisdom and integrity imbued by only the most impressive.
While perhaps not as important – externally at least – as Two Hunters (Southern Lord), Primordial Arcana is every bit as vital and just as monumental.
Buy the album here: https://wittr.com/
9 / 10