Tuesday Teardown: Wolves in the Throne Room – Celestial Lineage Oct 4, 2011

“Astral Blood” off Celestial Lineage

Ok, so it’s been a while but what a perfect album to bring about the return of Tuesday Teardown!

I’m a hypocrite. When Oregon-based Wolves In the Throne Room released Black Cascade, their homage to the Cascade Mountains of their home state, I sang praises for weeks about it. Then I started to really listen to the album and after putting it on heavy rotation, I lost interest. Why? I still don’t know. Maybe because there were much better black metal releases that year, or because I felt like they were getting too much praise for too little work. Years later, I’m back into Black Cascade but I’ve yet to warm up to their Two Hunters EP. Again, I’m not exactly sure why.

This year, the whole metal industry has been salivating for the release of Celestial Lineage, the new Wolves album. People wondered what they’d cook up for this release and me being the cynical fuck that I tend to be when it comes to overhyped music, already had an idea what it would be like. Was I right? Kind of. Wolves makes such an effort to break up their music with angelic singing and other sounds, focusing on the composition more so, at least in my opinion, than on their actual music. Celestial Lineage has, in many ways, lived up to my preconceived opinion.

“Thuja Magus Imperium” begins with windchimes and a harmony sung by a women, straight out of Lord of the Rings. This creates a contrast that in my opinion, muddles the album as it morphs from this introduction to Wolves’ signature tremelo picking and distortion. And it’s like a beast escaped from a cage. This is a whole new Wolves. The writing has improved immensely, the drums, guitars and basslines are fucking sharp and before you know it, it’s a jam fest. Now if only this momentum would continue.

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“Thuja Magus Imperium” off Celestial Lineage

As a knife scrapes across a sharpening stone and monks chant, “Permanent Changes in Conscious” causes a break in time. A schism in perpetual motion. The music is gone and we’re left listening, waiting for an eruption of emotion. That brings along “Subterranean Initiation”, more blast beats, more tremelo picking and more Wolves on steroids. Again, their sound is dialed. Randall Dunn, the recording engineer really put in work here. More synths follow and you’ll find yourself turning up the volume to hear the thick layers that Wolves have created in “Rainbow Illness”.

Much like layers to the Earth’s core, Wolves found a way to create an environ in which their music flourishes. Black metal, in general is about atmosphere but they’ve taken it to a new level with Celestial Lineage. But here’s where their grip loosens. “Woodland Cathedral” is as you’d expect. More vacuum-forming emptiness. I envision particles floating in the air, surrounding redwoods when I listen to this track and I personally don’t think it’s a successful treatment for the album. Luckily, it only lasts for five minutes before the two last juggernauts of the album rear their heads.

“Astral Blood” is how I imagined the new Wolves to sound. It’s got power, emotion and enough breathing room for you to truly soak in their abilities as musicians. “Prayer of Transformation” follows with more of that sound. And as the album ends, I’m left half-fulfilled. What exactly did I just listen to? Why do I have audio whiplash? And where did all that space retreat to? One of the things that Black Cascade had that Celestial Lineage does not is a pace. It’s too fragmented and disorienting.

The moments that they give you to rest are too long and could essentially drop off the album entirely. In Wolves’ earlier work, they incorporated this into the tracks, giving it a much more engaging experience. I’m sitting here critiquing this album a little more than I normally would. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good but Wolves’ have risen to such an enormous figure in the BM scene that you have to greet with with a bit of cynicism. Then again, a new Wolves album is going to be better than 90% of the other BM releases. Except for Krallice.

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