My first experience with WITTR was when a friend gave me a copy of Two Hunters and described it as “American hippies who think they’re Burzum”. Not an entirely fair description, perhaps, but one that stuck in my head to such an extent that my first thought upon listening to Celestite (Southern Lord/Artemisia) was “they’ve finally reached the prison albums”.
No strangers to developing and refining their sound, the brothers Weaver here celebrate the end of a self-described trilogy of albums by jettisoning the one musical element that remained constant throughout them. Despite the guitar rumbling in the background of some tracks, Celestite is very deliberately not a Metal album at all, fully embracing the Dark-Ambient/Soundscaping territories that several of their contemporaries have already experimented with. Within their new field, WITTR’s sound is rather broad. Swathes of moody electronics recall Ulver’s Lycantropen Themes, rumbling valleys of feedback suggest Earth or Sunn O))), dramatic synths recall Goblin and – yes – the odd plinky-plonky piano does indeed call Varg’s porridge-period to mind.
Metal fans sometimes dismiss this sort of thing as easy, but it can be extremely challenging to build a sense of drama without recognisable riffs or song-structures (even the abstract forms of them used in WITTR’s style of black metal) if you’re used to writing with those things. The worst dark ambient sounds thoughtless, the best very deliberate and driven by clear intent. For the work of a group coming late to this music, Celestite falls mostly on the right side of that spectrum, with only the middle track ‘Bridge Of Leaves’ collapsing into unstructured ambience and costing the album some of its momentum. By nature this is background music, Metal listeners may find it withdrawn or even boring, but approached with the right expectations it reveals more going on than you may initially think.
Switching from black metal to ambient electronica is nothing new, of course –Ulver having blazed that particular trail over a decade ago – but WITTR have released a confident, purposeful foray into the style, and an indicator of future greatness if they remain in this style.