Wolves In The Throne Room - Two Hunters
It's damn near impossible to review Two Hunters, the new Southern Lord release from Washington State's Wolves In The Throne Room, without digging deep into the ideology and inspirations that form the primordial ooze from which their music is realized. It only takes a brief look at their wikipedia page, or myspace, to catch a sense of the depth behind their minimalistic, folk-inspired black metal. After one interview with the band it becomes apparent that they're one of the few honest artists in today's musical realm. While their shared desire to forcefully protest and actively strain against modernity may sound like so much postering from the mouths of a self-labeled "forest metal" outfit, it becomes more than clear that the essence of their music, of cold and quiet isolation and of a true connection with the elemental powers of our world, comes not from the baked minds of suburban teenagers making music to piss the suits off with, but from their own very lives and experiences. It's hard not to let you know (if you hadn't already) that most of Wolves In The Throne Room live on a self-made and self-sustained farm on the outskirts of Olympia, against the throbbing strength of a great forest. It's a challenge to keep this review short and sweet when the imagery Two Hunters conjures up demands great explanation and, in return, great awareness and attention. As the band has been quoted, an image is constantly alluded to, of a man on an icy plane, isolated both physically and mentally from society. It's an image I am constantly thrown back to throughout these 4 mesmerizing, painfully cold and refreshingly natural tracks.
"Dia Artio" sets the listener in a night-time scene, ice wrapping the ground in it's bitter chill and the wind stabbing through to the bone. An agonizingly slow introductory track, which swells to the point of bursting with droning guitar, acoustic melodies, and the ambience of the dead night, specifically recorded to bring you further into their realm. It's a sound that can best be described as from the earth, of the earth. In much the same way classic Burzum records were able to caputre the cold and empty vastness of winter wasteland, Two Hunters is all about finding the balance between those elemental forces of destruction and those of creation, of rebirth and hopefulness. While it can be a challenge for the listener to discover the balance behind the drone and the constant, piercing vocals, it exists on a very spiritual level. Not to make the music out to be some sort of higher power, but it certainly captures all of the atmosphere the original developers of black metal sought to create. And then some. "Vastness and Sorrow" contrasts the intro by quickly setting it's feet with a combination tremolo/drone guitar play-off, which drops quickly into a full-speed drone, drums pouring over the earthly tones like the battering of a hail storm. And that's the first 60 seconds. The track stretches over 12 minutes to encapsule the blank emptiness of Wolves' roots, a sudden shocking realization of society's failure and then expands into a wide-open thrashing reminiscent of Burzum's "Jesus' Tod" (Filosofem), seeming to represent the coming of some great cosmic storm. This is probably the most accessable piece of music on the album.
The biggest curveball, and one of the two best tracks, is called "Cleansing" and it utilizes female guest vocals and a depressingly beautiful introduction, weaving a tribal beat and sweeping vocal melodies. I'm not sure who the woman is, but her voice is majestic and manages to represent, to me, an ancient pagan ideal of the powerful goddess. Eventually the bottom is dropped out from under all this and, with no warning, a lightning-fast torrent borderlining on blastbeat swarms the speakers. The vocals are all rage and enlightenment, symbolizing man's disconnection with nature and his need to reconnect at all costs. The song goes through several tempo changes before crawling to a stop. "I Will Lay My Bones Among The Rocks And Roots" comes next, and it altogether takes the prize as the best Wolves In The Throne Room can claim to have done so far. A sorrowful guitar intro runs smack into another wall of sound, this one seemingly more grand and imposing than any they've layed by hand before. It continues to grow until you're almost sure it'll collapse under it's own weight, only to watch it transform into a completely different beast several times before ending on several minutes of femal vocals and a slow, foreboding strumming of guitar.
I try, in my reviews, to capture more of the artistic intent than the bare-boned technical qualities (or lack thereof) present. Therefore it's always a positive in my book when any particular band, from any stylistic viewpoint, treats an album like the piece of art it has the potential to be and less like a stage from which to caress his or her or their musical egos in masturbatory fashion. Wolves In The Throne Room are to my ears and eyes one of the most artistic and truly capable bands the realm of metal have seen in years and years, one that are capable of creating music with the truest of artistic merit while doing very little to contradict themselves in anyway. No scene-mongering or 'true kvlt' postering here; just a vision and a dream, intricate in it's creation and soulfully honest in it's delivery. Organic, atmospheric black metal of the highest possible order, Two Hunters is without a doubt one of the best releases of the century and one that demands attention from music fans everywhere, despite your preference for or against black metal. When you think of the great artists of music who've been able to convey a thought or a dream into song, the John Lennons and Beethovens, the Mozarts and the Jim Morrisons, Cobains and Yorkes, I think putting Wolves In The Throne Room in the same sentence makes sense. You always get a feeling, beyond all others, while listening to them; something between trust and humanity's unquenchable desire for knowledge, and it's oft-forgotten connection with the world that sustains it. You get the feeling with each passing note that what's being conveyed, a thought or 1,000, a dream or a dreamscape, that it comes straight from the heart. In a world where manufactured musicians and heavyweight labels hold their sway, it's bucking against the norm like Two Hunters that make for instant classics.
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