Wolves in the Throne Room

Celestial Lineage

Written by: EW on 12/11/2011 12:05:38

I've really taken my time in putting words to screen to remark on "Celestial Lineage", the majestic new album from American black metal antiheroes Wolves in the Throne Room, for this band's two previous works have cataclysmically altered my perceptions of the boundaries of not just black metal, but metal as a whole, through their leftist, earthly protestations and viciously unique take on a genre obsessed with the paradigm of individuality while all too frequently refusing to indulge in it. It's not just me who has caught the WITTR bug: both 2007's "Two Hunters" and 2009's "Black Cascade" have been hugely successful from a critical and fanbase perspective, pushing the reclusive Weaver brothers into the BM spotlight and stirring up a sound which has seen equally brilliant albums released by the likes of Altar of Plagues and Wodensthrone. With all this in mind, and the departure in style that "Celestial Lineage" proffers, it is an album worth the utmost attention.

Though opening and closing with three 10+ minute songs which for the most part bare strong resemblance to the days of old, the four middle tracks totalling 16 minutes conclusively provide the album with a more indulgent feel than previously witnessed and are essentially the make-or-break when it comes to "Celestial Lineage". Opening gently with "Thuja Magus Imperium", the song kicks in slowly with soft electronic and percussive ambience and the delicate female vocals of previously-utilised Jessika Kenney to kill off in one fell swoop any notions the band may lack the artistic authenticity to mix such beauty in their music with the harsh speed kicking of the lead riff which kicks in after two minutes. Once the tranquillity is broken the song moves on to include a level of psychedelia in the soloing as well as a break to flush the song with further ritualistic ambience, whereafter a short meditative interlude, "Subterranean Initiation" dives straight into the percussive hammering which formed the trademark of the two previous records. The most straightforwardly black metal track on the album, it is still blessed with a warm symphonic overture which adds greatly to it's vast lead riff rather than the tacky keyboard noises appended to all too many BM bands.

Aside from being a great title, "Woodland Cathedral" is a slow, female-vocal led foray into sweeping synth and esoteric atmosphere, which adds little in its 5 minutes before the closing epics of "Astral Blood" and "Prayer of Transformation". "Astral Blood" picks up the pace to project forward the classic WITTR template of Nathan Weaver's harsh screams atop fast tremolo riffing and double-kick drumming encased in their wonderfully natural, organic production, but after an all-too short period it breaks down into harsh atmosphere and indifferent dissonant guitar strokes, unearthing a void of the brilliant riffs one was hoping would again by conjured by the brothers. "Prayer…" starts slow and akin to the overall feel of the album before finishing strongly but one can't help feel this closing song sum up the album: generally great when in somber, considered thought but the sweeping, attacking grandeur of a song like "Vastness and Sorrow" or "I Will Lay Down My Bones…" to kill all others appears missing.

General perception since "Celestial Lineage" seems to follow similar patterns - having seen some elements of this live I can attest for it's power in that format - but for the lack of timeless riffs and less engaging tempo than the two world-beating records before it, this marks a step down for the shamanic Weaver brethren.

Download: Subterranean Initiation, Astral Blood
For The Fans Of: Wodensthrone, Weakling, Altar of Plagues
Listen: Last.Fm

Release date: 13.09.2011
Southern Lord Recordings

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