Monday, 14 September 2009

Wolves InThe Throne Room - Black Cascade. 94/100.

If you know anything about my taste, by looking at the majority of my reviews, it should come as no surprise that I enjoy Wolves In The Throne Room, or WITTR, as they’re normally abbreviated to. For me, this is a strange band. To put into words how much I have enjoyed listening to them in the past and the present is difficult. The strange thing is, no matter how much I have enjoyed the band in the past, it wasn’t until ‘Black Cascade’ hit me, and sunk in, that I truly learned to appreciate the band for the talented musicians that they clearly are. Previously, despite enjoying the first two records, I neglected WITTR for reasons unknown. In my opinion, before entering into the world of the magical ‘Black Cascade’, WITTR were good, but not exceptional. Having become intoxicated by this band, due to this record, I have gone back in time and evaluated the bands previous efforts based on the attributes shown in them individually. Its fair to say that this American outfit is forever evolving and it is because of that, that they are always fresh in the mind. Each record represents a different era and each record represents a different sound. ‘Black Cascade’, despite the initial joy after hearing ‘Two Hunters’ is, without a doubt, the quintessential effort thus far and I stress that, thus far! Time will tell whether this American band will survive the hype and become a classic, influencing much of the music in years to come but, for now, we can safely say WITTR are one of the most important bands to come out of North America in recent years.

In relation to the general sound of WITTR, there is none. This band are constantly evolving to suit their needs whenever they record and release a new full-length. The introduction to this bands full-length history is different to what we have here in several ways. First, the production has altered since the days of ‘Diadem of 12 Stars’ and with it, the movement of the music has altered too. On previous efforts, WITTR had a cleaner sound, to my ears. The debut is a representation of this given how wonderfully it incorporates clean chants and smooth sections of instrumentation as opposed to the harsh textures of ‘Black Cascade’ which, whilst drawing some similarities, tends to suggest that there are some new, perhaps mature influences behind this environmentally based record. The introduction to ‘Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog’ came as no major surprise to me - a sample of a slight breeze and falling rain - but then came the major shock - a change to the vocal expression and a more aggressive backbone to the guitars, which rely more on distortion now than ever before. This seems even more true when judged in comparison to efforts like ‘Cleansing’, taken from the monumental ‘Two Hunters’ full-length. This song exhibited a tribal sound, one which was in harmony with the vigorous environmental factor in this bands modernist style. This tribal ethic was fantastic portrayed by the female vocals, slowly paced instrumentation and tribal drumming, but all of this has been stripped away on ‘Black Cascade’.

What we’re left with is a piece that resembles Trist’s ‘Zrcadlení Melancholie’ more than it does previous records from this band. To me, WITTR are one of the most important American black metal bands of the current generation, which has been labelled as a crop of misfits in an era without true direction. Not only do they inspire with their extravagant brand of music, they breach a rule that has been considered the norm since the genre was first created. Though I wouldn’t consider the band mainstream, I do notice that in the short time they’ve been around, they have reached and touched people’s lives in areas of fan bases that metal bands normally wouldn’t extend to - particularly black metal bands, who’re generally obsessed with being mysterious and obscure. Though WITTR adhere to those concepts, they adhere to them in the correct manner - musically. The ideological nature of this band has been well documented and many call them frauds, but what cannot be denied is the fact that, lyrically, WITTR are one of the most interesting bands in the scene at the moment. For me, this band and, ironically, fellow American band Panopticon, are the most striking bands when it comes to lyrical content - an area of metal music I rarely take into account unless the subjects speak volumes to me, or if I’m generally interested in the concepts. These two, for example, are driven towards political manners that aren’t normally associated with black metal bands.

We’re all accustomed to National Socialist bands - though we may not like, or respect their opinions - bands like WITTR, who express an interest in the following; left-wing politics, radical environmentalism and ecofeminism are amongst the most interesting concepts to be drawn into the black metal battle that sees warring factions, divided by beliefs and instrumentation values, seek attention for the most radical ideas. Of course, there are some references within the lyrics to concepts most black metal fans will be accustomed to, like nature and sorrow, but WITTR are still one of the most intriguing based upon lyrics alone. Although it is hard to imagine musical perfection, ‘Black Cascade’ comes close to that idea. There are, on those few occasions, bands who come across our paths with records that take complete control of our entire being and with that, they consume our souls and upon reviewing this material, it is easy to become hyperbolic. When I’ve reviewed records before, and given them perfect scores - which hasn’t been often - it was due to the fact that the record was forcing me to do so, there and then, but with ‘Black Cascade’, I have taken several weeks, months even, to sit down and truly immerse myself in all that it is. I have not written this, like my previous 100%’s (though, please do not discredit them!), on a whim. Thankfully, it doesn’t take much for the content to sink in without much trouble. The emotionally driven soundscapes are fused with a consistent instrumental style that makes the lengthy songs easy to digest.

I have let this digest and, as far as I can make out, this is one of the best black metal records of ALL time, not just this year. This phenomenal journey is one that takes us along a road that has clichés posted on all the road signs, “out of body experience”, “epitome of ambiance” or “the most inspired record you will ever hear” but never before have those terms seemed so apt in relation to a single piece of musical brilliance. From ‘Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog’ to ‘Crystal Ammunition’, this record doesn’t indicate to me that I should consider ‘Black Cascade’ one of my personal favourites, it forces me to prophesise that this is one of the greatest tributes to black metal music in the entire industry. In my tired state, I don’t feel like I’m going overboard in my sentiments. Given the material, from the astral ambiance, to the unique vocal portrayal, I feel I am completely justified in my opinion. Of course, I don’t imagine my opinion will sit well with everyone, but I will still wholeheartedly recommend this to every Tom, Dick and Harry - and then their mothers! Initially, I even had some apprehension as to what I was going to get. The long nature of the songs left me feeling weary before I even heard the material, but it flows so effortlessly, that the lengthy state that even enter to my mind once I’m transfixed on the transcendental material that causes my mind to race across the many areas of life. The free flowing sound actually gives me the impression that WITTR could have stretched their songs out even more and still have gotten a positive response.

From the elemental nature of life on Earth, through the wind, fog and thick atmosphere of the tropics to the oceanic areas, up to the night skies, everything about this record seems to touch upon all quintessential and inspiring aspects of life. As a huge fan of nature, magic and mystery, this record appeals to my personality. The dynamic vibe moves in and out of the instrumentation with an ease that inspires awe within me. From the double barrelled nature of the record, with two guitarists and a lead and backing vocals, even the repetitious riffs, to the tremolo bass, every area seems to be in tune with my feelings and depicts to me exactly how I would feel if the vivid imagery this records adventurously displays were true to life and actually occurring. Certain aspects of the soundscapes reminds me of other notable records this year, particularly the juxtaposed synths which offer wave after wave of elemental ambiance on songs like ‘Ex Cathedra’ to the traditionalist tremolo and double bass offerings, including Altar of Plagues debut, as well as Fen’s debut. This is, essentially, the year black metal critically fused with the most incredible atmosphere to produce some of the best records the genre has seen in years. ‘Black Cascade’ is, to me, a modern day masterpiece. My one concern would be the vocal depiction. On songs like ‘Ahrimanic Trance’, the vocals do sound overdone, perhaps even too synthetic. The emotional context is whitewashed over by this overbearing vocals but, thankfully, the vocal depiction has never been the reason we all tune in to black metal. However, in relation to the previous efforts, this is definitely the best.

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