Believe everything you read online and you might run a mile from this. Wikipedia will tell you that Olympia, Washington duo Wolves In The Throne Room is a black metal outfit. Their label associations, with Southern Lord primarily, support this suggestion. 2011’s ‘Celestial Lineage’ was considered by Pitchfork to be black metal’s defining album of the year, and “a classic” of its kind.
And yet, there’s a very clear dissonance at play here, too. The band – brothers Aaron and Nathan Weaver – has always stated that it is not a black metal band. They claim influential kosmische outfit Popol Vuh as a key influence. The pair’s credits for this, their fifth album, read synthesizers first, guitars second. Guest musicians on ‘Celestite’ – a mineral bearing a delicate blue hue, often used in fireworks – include Randall Dunn, a veteran of working alongside acts including Sunn O))) and Akron/Family, on “H300 Sound Design and Electrical Processing”.
This isn’t a black metal album, basically.
What ‘Celestite’ is, instead, is rather harder to define in such simple terms. This is ambitious, expansive, texturally dense, atmospheric material that paints mind’s eye images of a London skyline comprised exclusively of Shards, horizon-filling cityscapes of gleaming metals and shimmering glass. It’s forward-leaning, a late-realised soundtrack to Deus Ex: Human Revolution and its near-future neon visions of Detroit and Shanghai. It’s got more than a few shades of Vangelis about it, especially on the wavering drones of ‘Bridge Of Leaves’.
No vocals – discernable ones, at least – are evident, and guitars are kept in check by significant swathes of keys and even the occasional instance of woodwind. It doesn’t lack for weight: when the guitars do crash in during ‘Initiation At Neudeg Alm’, this band’s more metal-centred heritage becomes apparent. But in the sweeping, sumptuous, enveloping swells of ‘Turning Ever Towards The Sun’ and ‘Celestite Mirror’, there is no darkness to fear, any descending night set alight by a million stars.
Just as Deafheaven’s critical hit of 2013, ‘Sunbather’ (review), couldn’t be categorised as a black metal collection, despite that act’s past form, so ‘Celestite’ takes even greater strides away from its makers’ source. This is more Ben Frost than Burzum, more interstellar overdrive than terrestrial church torching.
And it’s just a bit brilliant, basically.
Words: Mike Diver
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Listen to ‘Celestite’ on Deezer, below…