The USA, though home to countless extreme subgenres of metal, has never been famous for its black metal, as the genre has always been associated mostly with the Scandinavian bands, that made quite an impact on the world of music in the early 90’s with their unapologetically violent and intentionally underproduced music, their proudly satanic image and lyrical content, as well as the various acts of crime that some members of these bands have committed. But as the years passed and the pioneering bands of the Scandinavian black metal scene lost their potency and inspiration, dedicated black metal fans started shifting their attention on the more obscure scenes of the genre, such as the US scene, and over the last years, a number of US black metal bands have experienced success and recognition in the underground.

Hailing from Olympia, Washington, Wolves in the Throne Room is quite possibly the most unique band of the US black metal scene. From their 2006 debut “Diadem of 12 Stars” to their two subsequent albums, Wolves in the Throne Room have displayed a type of black metal that is unconventional for the standards of the genre, relying more on simplistic atmosphere rather than raw aggression and incorporating elements such as ambient keyboards, folk influenced passages and female chanted vocals. Also the bands lyrics revolve around themes about nature, cosmology and other abstract thoughts, instead of Satanism or Norse mythology. And while their music is nonetheless black metal and features characteristics such as tremolo picking, blastbeats, shrieked vocals and raw production, it is played in such a way that it does not invoke the feel of pure mayhem and bleakness that most black metal bands do. Rather than that, the music aims at taking the listener on a mystical journey to the vast forests and dark caves of the bands homeland, with its dreamy and almost hypnotic feel.

“Celestial Lineage”, the bands 4th release, is not far removed from what Wolves in the Throne Room have offered in the past. Every attribute of the band’s sound is still present here. However, there are some details here that help increase the music’s effectiveness and distinguishing a bit the album from past releases. Whereas in the previous albums each track stood alone as an individual compositions, here the tracks flow seamlessly into one another, making “Celestial Lineage” sound like one big track altogether and enhancing its atmosphere. Moreover, besides the ambient passages that have always been part of the songs, melodic guitar riffs and leads, and undistorted guitars have been incorporated as well, adding even more diversity and emotion to the songs. This is best displayed on the breathtaking opener “Thuja Magus Imperium”, definitely the album’s strongest track. Finally, this time the tracks manage not to pass the 12 minute mark, making them somewhat more accessible to the listener. Highlights include the aforementioned “Thuja Magus Imperium” with its mournful female chanting at the beginning and melodic leads, “Astral Blood” which features a beautiful harp passage around the middle and undistorted guitar melodies on top of the raw black metal riffs, and the doomy “Prayer of Transformation”, all of them being above the 10 minute mark but never dragging or losing their direction. The two ambient pieces “Permanent Changes in Consciousness” and “Rainbow Illness” however could have been part of the main compositions, as they seem a bit unnecessary on their own. “Subterranean Initiation” also, while starting quite powerfully, it doesn’t have the melodic touches of the other main album tracks, making it seem like a somewhat filler track when compared to the others. But other than these minor flaws, “Celestial Lineage” is no more than excellent.

So, despite not offering something that different from past releases, in “Celestial Lineage” Wolves in the Throne Room manage to perfect their style, making this album the bands strongest and most focused release up to date. Definitely an essential album for dedicated fans, “Celestial Lineage” is also the best starting point for fans of black metal and experimental metal in general that were not familiar with the band before. Beware though, as this is not the kind of band that is easily accessible, and only patient and open minded listeners will be attracted by it. Yes, it is extreme metal for sure, but this isn’t just something to bang your head to. There’s a spiritual and purifying dimension to it, and those who are able to get into the whole philosophy of Wolves in the Throne Room will live an experience like no other when listening to this album!

Track List Line Up
01. Thuja Magus Imperium
02. Permanent Changes in Consciousness
03. Subterranean Initiation
04. Rainbow Illness
05. Woodland Cathedral
06. Astral Blood
07. Prayer of Transformation
Aaron Weaver: Drums, Guitars, Percussion, Synth, Field Recordings
Nathan Weaver: Vocals, Guitars, Synth, Broken Mellotron, Field Recordings