Wolves in the Throne Room: Celestial Lineage

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Wolves in the Throne Room: Celestial Lineage
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Wolves in the Throne Room: Celestial Lineage
Black Metal
Southern Lord Recordings
September 13th, 2011
Release length: 50:09
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When it comes to Black Metal, it seems everyone has a say in certain bands, whether they actually heard them or not. This ends up being the case with the band Wolves in the Throne Room, a group on the lips of fans of the style all around the world, and those who are just pelted with one side of the argument or both as to what makes this group great, and what makes the group falter. The band formed back in 2003, and when the group’s debut full-length offering Diadem of 12 Stars hit the unsuspecting masses, their popularity and infamy took off at quite a rapid pace. With an EP, live album, and three full-lengths behind them since, Wolves in the Throne Room return on their long time home of Southern Lord Records with their fourth album, the highly anticipated Celestial Lineage. Chances are good there’s really no reason to write this review since fans will end up buying this album no matter what, and those who dislike the group will continue to avoid it, but just what does Celestial Lineage have in store for those not quite familiar with this band at point in their career?

There’s no denying the group has taken a somewhat raw audio quality approach to their music, but nowhere near having an analog album or falling into the “kvlt” mold. The music is haunting through a quality that places the vocals and instruments in a more distant audio environment. The guitars here sound pretty sharp, but thanks to that distant sound come off a bit faded, which works well to aid the varying somber and melancholic atmospheres of the recording. The bass is pretty loud in the mix, though doesn’t necessarily stand out as a layer more vital to the mix then simply adding a blunt edge to the somewhat sharpened guitars. The drums are about what you would expect from this kind of Black Metal release. The bass kicks have what sounds like a bit of a click but thanks to that rawer sound they have more of a booming thud then anything, and the snares are about the same though a little clearer and more natural with loud crashing cymbols that feel a little toned down due to the issues with the distant quality. There are additional keyboards, some louder guitars that kick in for things like guitar solos, as well as some sound effects and other similar elements and they are much louder in the mix and even come off more like they are right in front of you while the band is still quite a distance away. The vocals are not so close, but rather maintain the same volume level as the rest of the instruments here, and are performed more as a simple rhaspy approach you could compare to an early of mid-lifespan of the second wave Black Metal sound. These vocals sound solid amid the music regardless of it’s pace, but they do border on being a little dull since they do feel a little more restrained then they should be at times.

Celestial Lineage really wastes no time establishing the more somber and melancholic atmosphere of the effort. “Thuja Magus Imperium” starts the album off with a rather long introduction featuring a woman singing against the sounds of wind and windchimes before hammering into a more depressive Black Metal sound. The distant vocals immediately strike you as being a little restrained here and there, though sometimes you can really feel some enthusiasm and energy deprending what portion of the song you hit, a varying mix to the performance that does appear throughout all the tracks. The loud booming bass kicks really come through loudly in this track and will have your head banging along with it’s rhythm regardless who enthralled you are by the misanthropic guitars and the subtle, small keyboards that do appear around the half way point. The problem with the additional keyboards used here, while trying to feed into the atmosphere of the album, end up sounding more like something you would expect on a Progressive Rock release, or even a Space Rock album.

One of the things about the album that works to it’s advantage, as well as against it, is that it bleeds into the next track at the end of one song, but it’s usually through interludes heavy on sound effects or like the aforementioned female clean singing on “Thuja Magus Imperium”. While these are not necessarily bad things, it is when they feel a bit drawn out. In order to get to the firey intensity that is “Subterranean Initiation”, you have to sit through “Permanent Changes in Consciousness”, which clocks in at just under two minutes. The track again seems to have a heavy focus on wind, but there’s a loud effect of what sounds like a man sharpening something, perhaps with a rock, and some chanting in the background that feels more viking oriented then anything. “Subterranean Initiation” actually backs that up a bit as the song ventures from fury to slower dismal with a hint of an epic performance on a Viking or even Pagan sense during some of these sections. But while the song you eventually get to is great, “Permanent Changes in Consciousness” just goes on for too long and you’ll start to lose interest around the one minute mark.

These interludes seem to help pad out actual songs, as well as just the album at times too, without really offering much in the lines of atmospherical benefits, or even any aid to the album’s musical progression. “Rainbow Illness” is guilty of this crime too, but it’s a little more interesting considering it tends to build from the start instead of just does the same thing over and over, though at the half way point there’s really nothing else building and could really end around that point before going into yet another interlude that kicks off “Woodland Cathedral” that is only bled into by “Rainbow Illness” thanks to some really distant chirping of birds. “Woodland Cathedral” is perhaps the worst, as it starts off leading you into thinking you are getting an actual song, having some really distorted, slow paced guitars and drums that start out heavy, but then kind of pull back for the female vocals that struck in “Thuja Magus Imperium” to come back for another round with a more layered choir sound. This track does build, and overall it feels more like a stronger instrumental then anything, but again it just really doesn’t offer anything to the album outside maybe a little additional atmospheric aid towards a more Pagan Black Metal sound that was established through the chanting on “Permanent Changes in Consciousness” and some of the slower passages of “Subterranean Initiation”. But, even with that, the track’s main fault is a simple one: It’s boring. There’s nothing unique, inspiring, or beneficial outside of that little atmospheric push to this over five and a half minute song, especially when already coming off an interlude track. By the time you reach the end of this, you may not even want to tackle the next two songs.

The album ends with the tracks “Astral Blood” and “Prayer of Transformation”. The first of the two is more along the lines of “Thuja Magus Imperium” and really works with the atmosphere of the album’s audio quality to create more of a cascading mystical environment. This is better pushed through some of the slower passages, though the faster moments still carry that Depressive Black Metal sound with some extra ambience set into the background through additional melancholic melodies that do help to establish that aforementioned mystical vibe. The only gripe here is that the song eventually slows down about half way through and caters to a much slower passage that sounds like something you would find in a Folk album, as if the setting changed to a gypsy caravan huddled around a fire at night sort vibe that, once again, feels more like it’s meant to be an interlude within the track, and while it’s built back into the song nicely, that realization is about enough to make you want to run to the nearest living thing and kill it considering how random it feels to the song, as well as out of place. Finally the album closes with “Prayer of Transformation”, which is not really a bad song, but it’s insanely slower pace and surprise lack of any real atmosphere that will make any sort of impact on the listener really holds it back and just makes it boring and even just feel drawn out, like this song should have just been cut down to the length of “Woodland Cathedral” and used as an outro track to the album instead of trying to make it into a much longer full-fledged song.

Honestly, even though the songs themselves were often quite long on this release, with or without the additional interlude, intros, or outros, Celestial Lineage just feels like you’re listening to the band spend more time building up what music is actually in this release and failing at it then actually performing music. Some of the tracks here are fantastic, especially when the band is not screwing around with trying to set up the atmosphere or some ambience before it starts. “Subterranean Initiation” is perhaps the best track off the recording, and also the shortest due to the track having no nonsense before, during or after, and “Thuja Magus Imperium” makes a great start with an introduction one would expect to be there anyway to establish the album’s atmosphere, so it all works out. The album clocks in at about fifty minutes, and when you think about it, you’re looking at an estimated twenty minutes of interlude material, as well as the closing track “Prayer of Transformation” which simply is not a good, and just an overdrawn outro to the album. In the end you get maybe thirty minutes of actual solid material that you’ll want to come back to, which boils down to three songs out of seven, and one you need to spend seven minutes wading through interludes to get to. But, those thirty minutes show a strong band with a great sense of where they actually want their music to go, and they do a hell of a job despite some of the various moments where the vocals feel a bit restrained, and it really just makes you wish the band had not focused on filler material and worked on composing stronger songs like these. In the end, these three tracks are worth checking out, but when you look at the full package and the overall experience from start to finish, it’s just a journey not at all worth venturing on, especially for how much this release will eventually cost you brand new when it hits store shelves.

01. Thuja Magus Imperium – 11:59
02. Permanent Changes in Consciousness – 1:57
03. Subterranean Initiation – 7:21
04. Rainbow Illness – 1:30
05. Woodland Cathedral – 5:35
06. Prayer of Transformation – 11:14
Initial Pressing Score: 4.5/10

Wolves in the Throne Room
Wolves in the Throne Room

Digital review copy of this release provided by Southern Lord Records via Earsplit PR.