By Alex Platt
Listening to music has that magical ability of being to transport you far away from where you might actually be. Stuck on a packed bus on a rainy Monday morning hurtling towards that dead-end job that you kept promising yourself, after one too many shots over the weekend, you’d march right in and just gosh-darn quit? Pop on a tune that takes you back to the sun—drenched days of summer when you were young and wild and free (you visited a beautiful golden beach, remember? The sea was clear, the perfect temperature and seemed to stretch out into infinity) and not pushed up into a stranger’s armpit for 45 minutes. Such is the power of music, and so it will always be. I had a similar experience while listening to ‘Thrice Woven’, the new album from American Black Metal legends, Wolves in the Throne Room.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t whisked away to a beautiful beach while I was listening, but instead I was dragged backwards through time and history. This is partly due to the album artwork as well which features a painting by Denis Forkas of the mythical beast, Fenris Wolf (coincidentally there’s a song on the album called ‘Angrboda’, who was a giantess that created the Fenris Wolf with the intention that he would murder the old gods and destroy the world. So, let that sink). So instead of the beach I was transported back to a time of witchcraft and darkness and myth and lore and ancient entities that were believed to control the earth. The album opener, ‘Born from the Serpents Eye’, begins with twangs of an acoustic guitar and immediately I am transported to a great hall of a king of old, firelight flickering over him and his court before the blasts of black metal smash into my ears and everyone has turned on me. It takes a full 35 seconds for WITTR to start pummelling me with their brand of black metal and in that time I have been invited and then attacked in the court of a king. Vocalist Nathan Weaver’s voice comes slithering and snarling through my speakers and for the life of me all I can picture is Gollum from The Lord of the Rings up on stage with a microphone in front of him. This isn’t a criticism, as his voice perfectly suits the pounding instrumentation occurring in the background. The song washes over me and in my mind I am being beaten and carried against my will to somewhere dark and evil in the middle of a forest. A sacrificial clearing in the middle of these deeps wood, and I’m the one about to be offered up to benevolent gods of old. The song changes abruptly into a thing of great beauty when the music ceases as suddenly as it started and the ethereal voice of Swedish vocalist Anna von Hausswolff leaks out of the speakers. Notes chime and twinkle in the background as around me the king and his servants push me into the circle and parade around me, their heads twisting and warping into animals of the night, but I am too hypnotised to save myself. It is far too late for me as the music kicks up again and I feel the blade slide across my throat.
That’s just the first song. Phew boy, I can tell you that this entire album is a literal trip. Remind me to never be intoxicated while listening to it because my mind will go to some very dark places. The album is full of heavy black metal riffs that are interspersed with slow, melancholic yet beautiful moments. The opening to ‘The Old Ones are With Us’ has a spoken word poem read by Neurosis front man Steve Von Till as he picks at his guitar while sitting round a bonfire (that one isn’t even part of my imagination, that’s literally what it sounds like) before descending into chaos, while ‘Mother Owl’ and ‘Father Ocean’ is an absolutely gorgeous ambient track featuring Anna von Hausswolff again as her voice rolls out over the soundscape, like the darkest grey clouds signalling the start of a fearsome storm. It is possibly the most visual album of the year so far, worth multiple listens just to see where it’ll take you next.