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Wolves in the Throne Room - Primordial Arcana Music Album Reviews

Wolves in the Throne Room - Primordial Arcana Music Album Reviews
Working out of their home studio in the Washington woods, experimentally minded brothers Nathan and Aaron Weaver return to their roots in atmospheric black metal, but they no longer sound like pioneers.

Wolves in the Throne Room’s early albums imbued black metal’s towering riffs and pummeling drums with a striking sense of place. Brothers Nathan and Aaron Weaver shared a deep communion with the forests and rivers of the Pacific Northwest, and they sought to capture that beauty and power in music. Their so-called Cascadian black metal felt like a uniquely North American answer to the frostbitten sound of Norwegian bands like Immortal and Enslaved. On Primordial Arcana, the band’s disappointing seventh album, they sound like they need to come out of the woods.

In the decade since Wolves in the Throne Room released the excellent Celestial Lineage, they’ve seemed adrift. On 2014’s Celestite, they eschewed black metal for a pale imitation of Popol Vuh’s kosmische synth experiments, while on its follow-up, Thrice Woven, they made a conscious return to black metal, with results that took cues from their best albums but felt limp in execution. Primordial Arcana is another misstep. Though WITTR are apparently firmly committed to making black metal again, they’ve started to sound like any of a million other bands aping the Cascadian formula the Weavers helped create. Some of their boldest experiments have been failures, but failure would at least be more interesting than the rut they’re stuck in now.

To the band’s credit, they do still know how to write a stirring black-metal song. “Mountain Magick” opens the album promisingly enough. An ominous synth drone twists itself into a muted melody before giving way to a propulsive riff and a blasting drum pattern from Aaron Weaver, who sounds as spry behind the kit as ever. The rest of the song unfolds with grace, if not necessarily any surprises. Historically, much of the power of WITTR’s best work has come from its ability to entrance the listener through repetition and hypnotic, densely layered riffing. “Mountain Magick” never quite finds that mesmeric groove. All but one track on Primordial Arcana clocks in shy of the 10-minute mark, and while it’s likely the brothers were trying to make their music more direct, they end up sounding like they’ve run out of steam. The lone exception, the imposing “Masters of Rain and Storm,” is the finest song on the album, and the one that most evokes the WITTR of old.

Synthesizers, while not as front and center as they were on Celestite, remain omnipresent in this incarnation of WITTR. The band has cited the symphonic black metal of the ’90s as a key reference point for Primordial Arcana, and when the synths mimic a vast choir or take over a main melody from the guitars, you can hear that influence. Some of the best moments on the album echo Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk­-era Emperor. Yet even this feels like a missed opportunity. Rather than using their doubtlessly impressive collection of synths to create something novel, WITTR sound content to borrow from their past. We’re living in something of a golden age for atmospheric black metal right now, with dozens of bands carving thrilling new tributaries of the sound the Weavers pioneered. They don’t sound especially interested in being trailblazers anymore.

The Weaver brothers and bandmate Kody Keyworth did nearly everything themselves on Primordial Arcana, including producing and mixing the record in their newly built home studio in the Washington woods. A lack of outside input can help a band bring a fierce, uncompromising vision to life. It can also excuse self-satisfaction, and unfortunately, it sounds like that’s what happened when WITTR opted not to work with an outside producer for the first time. The Weavers have no trouble sounding like themselves, but another voice in the room might have helped them flesh out some of the underexplored ideas on Primordial Arcana. Like the still life that adorns its cover, the album can be beautiful, but it’s fundamentally inert.
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

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Wolves in the Throne Room - Primordial Arcana Music Album Reviews Wolves in the Throne Room - Primordial Arcana Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Tuesday, August 31, 2021 Rating: 5

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