Wolves in the Throne Room - Diadem of 12 Stars (Vendlus CD)
Wait! Stop! Scroll the F back up here. I know what you're thinking - the name is cheesy and black metal is played out anyway. Wrong! So wrong! And WitTR are totally here to prove it otherwise. If you read the Aquarius records of the week list religiously like I do, you must know these guys by now. And you probably got as exciting as I did reading the compliment-laden reviews from Andee and co. True, Aquarius have been guilty of laying it a little too thick on bands that aren't exactly worthy of all the praise, but whatever they've said about these guys, they're right. If you pick only One Black Metal Band in 2006 to Get Excited About, for the love of god make it Wolves in the Throne Room.
You'd be forgiven for thinking this was some kind of ironic joke band. Name and album art aside, let's take a look at the facts - they're based out of Olympia, Washington. Not the necro capital of the globe by any stretch. Their lineup consists of "Rick, Nathan, and Aaron". The band pictures on their website. The fact that they actualled named that page "menudo3.htm". I could go on and on. But three seconds into "Diadem of 12 Stars" and you know this shit is the real deal. It's the band's first full length, following two demos that you probably only could get from Aquarius or the band itself. Despite being from the same country, Wolves' black metal isn't the same mark as the kind put forth by present-day USBM luminaries Xasthur, Leviathan, Nachtmystium, and the like. Whereas most people readily label those three "suicide black metal" (it's depressing, you see), Wolves are operating on a whole 'nother plane of epic, thrashy, well-produced, balls-in-a-vice-grip black metal. Four songs on this screamer, all averaging about 15 minutes in length (I understand a 2LP is in the works which is just the most perfect thing ever), all containing nary a minute of tedium. The guitars race along at break-neck pace, all the more suffocating due to how thick the production is - no "elastic bands wrapped around a Kleenex box recorded on an answering machine in the woodlands" business here. And the album benefits tremendously from it. At times Wolves almost border on the instrumentation of a death metal band, but all the while mainting a total black metal essence.
The LP commences with "Queen of the Borrowed Light" and a scream so totally filled with despair. The rest of the track is a moody, speedy, magnum opus. A real album highlight (and testament to the song-writing ability of the band) is when the Burzum-esque riffs on "Face in a Night Time Mirror Part 1" fall away leading into a breathtaking folky interlude gleamed upon by epic female vocals...and then the instruments come rushing back in and the song picks up where it left off, never missing a beat. The vocals here sound like either they come from a man honing his craft in secrecy for many years, or Odin himself. I mean, this is ridiculous. Where did these guys COME from?! How are they so GOOD?! The next tune, "Face in a Night Time Mirror Part 2" is like being trampled by lava-spewing wooly mammoths. There's a doomy, sluggish breakdown in the middle of the song that only prepares you to be floored by the drumming, which is something like the bones of human femurs beating on your skull. The epic 20-minute closer "(A Shimmering Radiance) Diadem of 12 Stars" is a slice of pure blackened misanthropy and melancholy with another perfect acoustic interlude...and then the mammoths return. There's another black-tar slowdown in here that reminds me of Corrupted, which can only be a good thing.
Seriously, this album is destined to go down as a black metal classic in years to come. It's the perfect synthesis of old-school BM song writing and modern innovation and technical prowess. I could see some people writing it off for being too cleanly produced or even too "American", but those people are usually still stuck on Bathory and Mayhem (fine bands in their own right but let's move on!). The best part about Wolves in the Throne Room? They play live! Holy shit I don't believe it. What could be better?? No Fun Fest 2007, book em.