American Black Metallers Wolves In The Throne Room have always been a band with a far greater commitment to atmospherics and ambiance than their peers, but with fifth album Celestite (Southern Lord) they’ve left Metal behind to fully embrace Electronic ambiance. Aaron Weaver, one half of the core duo, spoke to Ghost Cult about spirituality, striving for perfection and how they’re not ready to turn their back on Metal.
Celestite represents a significant change from your previous work, in that the Metal elements have been left behind. Do you consider this an abrupt change or a gradual one, and would you say that your musical direction has altered?
“Musically, the finished result feels very congruent with what we’ve done before and clearly exists in the same universe. It has the same energy to it, the same spirit to it. When I listen to it, I experience the music as a landscape, a soundscape, to move through, and it feels just like a Wolves In The Throne Room record, like everything we’ve done before. Making it was very different, though. The aim of the record was to put us in a different musical position, to take the aspects of song-writing and record-making that we were comfortable with, the instruments, guitars, drums, vocals, song structure, methods of writing songs, to take all those things off the table and force ourselves into a recording process that was very alien to us.”
How much of a challenge was it to express yourself musically without those familiar structures, to write music closer to the paradigm of Dark Ambient than Metal?
“Yeah, we didn’t have verse, chorus, bridge, all that kind of stuff. Our Heavy Metal song structures are pretty abstract, pretty sprawling, but we still think about it in terms of a song. With this album we didn’t have that so much. But there is a structure, there is movement from beginning to end, which is different to a lot of Dark Ambient music. A lot of Dark Ambient music, or Ambient music in general, just delivers the listener into an open space that might mutate, might transform, might pulsate, but it doesn’t move – literally – from one place to the next, there’s not a beginning and an end necessarily. On Celestite we do have that, there is a sort of narrative flow throughout the songs and throughout the whole album rather than just having an expanse of sound like you would on a true ambient record.”
You’ve previously referenced Tangerine Dream as an influence – would you associate the music on Celestite more with Kraut Rock, then, than with Dark Ambient?
“Kraut Rock was a big influence on this album just in terms of the equipment we used, equipment from the 70s and 80s rather than the more digital stuff that you’d hear on Dark Ambient records. There are elements of Kraut Rock, or Dark Ambient music, but also more straight-forward Electronic music. I mean, the harsh, blighted soundscapes in Jeff Mills’ music, Detroit techno music, that’s a big influence on this album, and it always has been. We’ve always been influenced by electronic music, that method of creating soundscapes has always been a thread that’s run in the background of our music, but on this album it’s more to the front.”
You are not the first Black Metal band to walk the path into more Ambient and Electronic territories. Do you feel any kinship with groups like Ulver that have gone before you?
“Yes and no. I mean, there are a few good examples from Norwegian Black Metal. Burzum, of course, was infamous for that, though perhaps under duress as he didn’t have his normal instruments available to him in prison and had to crank out a Neo-Folk ambient record. Fenriz too, he had his Dark Ambient band in the 90’s, but honestly it wasn’t something that was a big influence to us. It’s something that we were aware of and it’s going to be a comparison on this album because we’re an ostensibly BM band who’ve done an ostensibly ambient or electronic album, but that’s not where our heads are at. We’re very much in our own trippy little universe.”
In previous interviews you’ve expressed a changing relationship with the term Black Metal – initially embracing it, then slowly distancing yourself from it. How relevant do you think that term is to you now?
“I feel less and less connection to it, honestly, and I feel that’s purely a function of developing as a musician, developing as a person and as WITTR develops. It’s just very natural that when you’re just starting out, and this is very true for all bands, you’re a sum of your influences and you’re consciously trying to emulate the music and the art that has been inspirational to you. It’s just a natural thing that as time goes on labels and definitions cease to have as much meaning and you do your own thing. I think a band like Neurosis is a good example. They aren’t Punk, they aren’t Crust, they aren’t Doom, they’re just Neurosis and there’s nothing else like them. And though I’m loathe to put myself in that category of a band who are as important and magnificent as Neurosis, I think that’s true for us. There are not a lot of bands that sound like WITTR, or have a similar approach that we do. We’ve carved out a very unique niche for ourselves.”
Interesting that you should mention Neurosis as, having taking their sounds to an extreme position with ‘The Eye Of Every Storm’, they then seemed to go back on themselves, returning to the heavy riffs and dramatic song-writing of previous albums. Can you imagine yourselves going back to Metal?
“Definitely. That’s been the intention the whole time. If we do another album in the future, we’ll definitely reincorporate guitars, drums and Nathan’s harsh vocals, because that’s really what the band is. Celestite was a necessary experiment. A way of tapping into some new energies to challenge ourselves, to challenge what WITTR can be. But if we do music in the future, we feel very compelled to reincorporate guitars and drums. Of course it won’t be like our first album – it can’t be, we’ve grown and we’re at a new point in our lives – but it’s an idea that’s exciting to me, to bring guitars, drums and the Metal elements back into our music. We’re about creating a space, a sonic space to journey in, to get lost in, and Metal is just a means to an end really. That’s so important to us, to use our music to create the opportunity for the listener to go into a different world, enter a different consciousness – that’s really what this is all about to us.”