Album Review: WOLVES IN THE THRONE ROOM Thrice Woven
Wolves in the Throne Room have had their fair share of both admirers and detractors, with many in the metal community welcoming their expansive, anamorphic take on atmospheric USBM, while others deeply scorn them as symptomatic of the very selling out of "kvlt" values that they feel are being lost in the global black metal scene as a whole. If the band's intent was to bridge the schism between those two camps, 2014's Celestite seemed to do the exact opposite: spare keyboards, listless pacing and no real sense of purpose or direction had even the staunchest WITTR fans such as myself crying foul, while the longtime naysayers finally had their objective "atodaso" moment.
Three years later – an eternity in online blogging time – the band return with Thrice Woven, a frankly rather conservative return to form that rights a lot of Celestite's wrongs while also somewhat painting WITTR into a corner, artistically. The atmosphere and spacious production are retained from previous efforts, but on the plus side at least we're back to growled vocals and tremolo-picked guitar riffs. Opener "Born from the Serpent's Eye" starts off with a brief acoustic passage which momentarily arouses anxiety about which direction the group are chasing this time around, but we're quickly launched into a traditional (if staidly traditional) black metal tune full of scorched earth vocals, emotionally charged BM riffs and an alternating juxtaposition of pathos and rage. The track stretches out over nearly 10 minutes and covers a fair bit of ground developmentally, and in fact about midway through the entire song cuts out to showcase an a cappella, multitracked vocal performance by Swedish singer Anna von Hausswolff. It's a rather abrupt segue, though not jarringly so, and after her brief moment in the spotlight von Hausswolff cedes the floor again to a (this time) smooth transition back into the song's main instrumental themes.
"The Old Ones Are With Us" begins with a short Western noir-inspired acoustic intro (think latter day Earth) with a guest bit of spoken word from Steve Von Till, before gradually simmering along to a minor build up over the course of eight minutes. The press release indicates the band were shooting for their own take on dirge-like 90's Finnish doom, and that sounds about right, although with modern resources and Southern Lord's pocketbook behind them there's certainly a slicker sheen to production value than anything their forebears would have had going for them (Emperor and Dimmu Borgir certainly would have loved to have these kinds of resources at their disposal back in the day).
"Angrboda" has the same sense of sweeping ambition but ups the ante a bit in terms of the black metal quotient, yet as well done as it is there's an alarming air of familiarity about the proceedings given just how innovative WITTR seemed just a few years ago. Which sums up Thrice Woven in a nutshell: there's nothing here that invokes active dislike… in fact, unless you just like 100% of your black metal raw and uncompromising this is about as professionally rendered and thoughtful as the genre gets. But with all the envelope-pushing stuff going on in the scene the last few years, if you prize originality and innovation at all, Thrice Woven treads a bit too much water to elicit so much as a raised eyebrow, let alone goosebumps. Time may look more favorably on this album should it posthumously prove to be WITTR's "regrouping" moment on their way to future greatness, but 3/4 of the way through 2017 it's hard to see this as potential Album of the Year material.