You won’t find a music genre that inspires the kinds of heated arguments about “authenticity” as black metal. Message boards dedicated to the stuff usually result in endless pissing matches about which band is “true” and whether one band is “kvlt” enough, and although nobody can agree what authenticity entails or why it’s important, an outsider would be forgiven for thinking that the path to success in the black-metal underground boils down to a series of aesthetic choices: Are the shrieks demonic enough? Are the blastbeats sufficiently impenetrable? Are all the instruments mixed into the same midrange stew?
In the case of Wolves in the Throne Room, yes, yes and YES, but these traits are only half the story on the trio’s stunning second album, Two Hunters. The three members of Wolves in the Throne Room live off the earth in a small commune just outside of Olympia, Washington, and ascribe an elemental power to the black-metal traditions they espouse. To them, black metal isn’t about adherence to any particular aesthetic template or an abiding love for all that is evil. It’s a profound expression of mourning for the pastoral, earth-centric way of life that humankind destroyed in the name of progress, and blackened hatred for those who would continue that process.
In keeping with Wolves in the Throne Room’s natural ideology, the forests and ancient battles of pagan folklore feature prominently in Two Hunters. The album flows through musical changes organically, letting the seasons move through its four tracks’ lengthy run times. The band isn’t afraid to engage in moments of crystalline beauty. Album opener “Dea Artio” begins with the chirping of crickets and a gorgeous, instrumental night-time stargaze, all Pink Floyd majesty and buzzing Jesu ambience. Experimental vocalist Jessica Kinney (an Eyvind Kang and Asva collaborator) lends her ringing soprano to the enchanting forest rite that begins “Cleansing.”
And yet the passages that evoke nature’s awesome beauty inevitably give way to her savage force. On “Vastness and Sorrow,” a furious stampede of blastbeats, cymbal crashes and tense guitar squalls surges and crests across the track’s twelve minutes. Vocalist Nathan Weaver howls “Lifeless chaos is the order/ For the rider has mastered the seasons,” a clear depiction of humanity as a cruel horseman who claims ruthless dominion over nature. Even more dwarfing is “I Will Lay Down My Bones Among the Rocks and Roots,” an eighteen-minute hurricane of cosmic blackness that gets more nullifying as it goes on.
The members of Wolves in the Throne Room prove that there is room for spirituality in black metal. The pummeling we receive on Two Hunters acknowledges that we must destroy before we can rebuild — we are chewed up by its mammoth wall of sound (recorded by Earth/Sunn0))) engineer Randall Dunn) and spat back out, trembling and humbled, in the hope that “When (we) awake, the world will be born anew,” as Kinney sings at album’s end. Life and death, light and darkness, harmony and violence are entangled in an endless struggle painted in wide strokes across Two Hunters’ massive canvas. These endless struggles are all part of the natural order. As disturbing as that idea may seem, Wolves in the Throne Room are seeking renewal in Two Hunters’ dark complexities.