Album review: Wolves in the Throne Room – “Thrice Woven”

I needed an album like this in 2017. An album to take me away from things as they are, away from all the specifics of my own circumstances, and to a place I think many of us have a kind of subconscious nostalgia for, a place we might never have been to, a place which perhaps never existed at all. Olypmia, Washington black metal band Wolves in the Throne Room have always succeeded in this respect. With their debut album ‘Diadem of 12 Stars’, the band translated the cold style of Norwegian black metal into their own American cultural context, re-emerging as an expression of the band’s deep connection with the Pacific North West. The band don’t fundamentally change their approach on “Thrice Woven”, but it’s certainly a more aggressive and immediately gratifying approach to a familiar concept.

There is a profoundly spiritual element at the heart of this album, which perhaps represents an attempt to channel and reinterpret Celtic and Norse mythology within a distinctively Cascadian cultural context. There are references to Anwyn, which is the ‘otherworld’ in Welsh mythology, “a world of delights and eternal youth where disease was absent and food was ever-abundant.” The track “Angrboda” is named after Angrboða, the frost giantess in Norse mythology who gave birth to Fenris, the wolf destined to murder Odin when Ragnarok arrives. These can perhaps be understood as an attempt to draw together and reimagine the cumulative spiritual and cultural heritage which unite so many, to recontextualise traditions which were at one time crushed and suppressed, and – in the more recent past – used to divide and oppress.

And yet despite the fundamentally contemplative, spiritual themes, “Thrice Woven” is one of the most aggressive straightforward albums in this American black metal band’s impressive career. The heavier moments hit harder, the vocals have more bite, and the guitars even have an edge of menace is quite new for the band. In the past, the band’s music was frequently uplifting, or at its lowest melancholic, but Thrice Woven has an edge of real venom. Much of this might be down to the fresh range of influences that new guitarist Kody Keyworth brings to the table, a distinctively visceral Norwegian approach. But the softer and more introspective side of their sound is very much present here, and the heart of this album is as true to the spirit of Wolves in the Throne Room as anything they’ve ever written.

The gentle strumming of a guitar besides the crackling of an open fire, the breeze against the leaves, stories of old gods spoken in whispers among the roots of ancient trees; these are the kinds of vignettes that define “Thrice Woven”.’Born from the Serpent’s Eye’ and ‘Angrboda’ tap into such a pure, powerful state of sublime beauty, inducing the kind of awe-struck state of wonder one has when walking among towering forests thousands of years old and gaining some small glimpse into the minuteness of our own existence and importance. Anna von Hausswolff’s ethereal, melancholy voice has such a profoundly evocative, spiritual quality on ‘Mother Owl, Father Ocean’, and leads into the closing epic ‘Fires Roar in the Palace of the Moon’ which is an utterly devastating encapsulation of everything Wolves in the Throne Room do so well. Brothers Nathan and Aaron Weaver are in a state of such musical and spiritual oneness that its closing, rousing crescendo takes on almost spiritual quality. It’s powerful, moving and utterly vital.

The album closes to the sound of waves crashing against a shore, a final reminder of the power and beauty of nature that the heart of this album seeks to venerate. This is a profoundly powerful record that has so much genuine heart and spirit within it, and the renewed vigour of the band’s approach to a distinctly Cascadian style of black metal delivers in spades with one of the finest albums of the year.

Thrice Woven is available now through the band’s own record label, Artemisia Records.