Primordial Arcana

Wolves in the Throne Room

(LP - Relapse Records #74601)

Review by Thom Jurek

Since releasing 2006's now-classic Diadem of 12 Stars, Olympia, Washington's Wolves in the Throne Room, led by brothers Nathan and Aaron Weaver, have continually thwarted expectations. They release new music only when they have something genuinely new to offer. They experiment with textures, instrumentation, and vocals, sometimes radically as on Celestite, the electronic ambient companion to 2011's Celestial Lineage. In the four-year gap between 2017's Thrice Woven and Primordial Arcana, they built their own Owl Lodge Studios to record their first "self-contained" album; it was written, recorded, produced, and mixed by the trio -- WITTR has also made singer and guitarist Kody Keyworth a full contributing writer and production partner. The only other participants here are guest bassist Galen Baudhuin (Infera Bruo) and multi-instrumentalist Yianna Bekris, of one-woman black metal project Vouna, who contributes to two tracks. Musically, Primordial Arcana sits dead center between the texturally expansive Celestial Lineage and the Cascadian black metal of Thrice Woven. There are ingloriously buzzing guitars, blastbeats, melodic pianos, hovering synths, growling vocals, truly symphonic atmospherics, and field recordings. The album meets the band's criteria for presenting the dramatic alongside the dynamic, yet exceeds them both with its most sophisticated set of melodies.

Opener "Mountain Magick" commences with an occult vibe as the sounds of scurrying animals, droning synths, and field-recorded ephemera are met by raging drums and squalling guitars less than a minute in. Nathan Weaver's growled vocals meet the thunderous drums head-on. A mesmerizing single-string guitar break adds majesty to the menace as the tune shifts, only to re-emerge at twice the intensity. "Spirit of Lightning" develops more slowly. A circular, fragile guitar vamp hovers atop waltz-time drums, echo-laden vocals, chimes, and bells until the two-minute mark. Nathan's vocal claims the center and Aaron's quadra-timed blastbeats threaten to overcome the labyrinthine melody but don't succeed. "Primal Chasm (Gift of Fire)" begins in creepy abstraction with low-end hiss and a droning horn sound before shifting into gear. The tempo accelerates with layered guitar riffs and a buzzing bassline. Nathan's roar becomes the hub as the music cascades around him, until the tune explodes harmonically. "Masters of Rain and Storm," at over ten minutes, is the set's centerpiece, overflowing with dark, ritualistic, nearly monstrous heaviness. It is episodic, almost suite-like as black and death metal entwine, shifting and alternating their emphases amid layered atmospheres that nearly engulf the mix while they swirl around Nathan's vocals in a struggle for dominance. Bekris' acoustic guitar introduces a particularly poignant, nearly Baroque interlude before it all turns back on and nearly swallows itself. Primordial Arcana closes with "Eostre" and "Skyclad Passage," two nearly ambient experimental tracks that, when taken together, add a haunted ceremonial ethereality full of keyboards and nature sounds. As a whole, the album doesn't provide a lot sonically that fans haven't heard before, but it doesn't need to because WITTR have created their most uneasy balance of brute force, massive power, and brooding, trepidatious calm to date.