What with all the codpieces and corpse paint, leopard-skin tights and supermodel girlfriends, metal has long been a genre bordering on self-parody. The backlash against what MTV hath wrought began in the late ’80s, when bored, angry Scandinavian teenagers created black metal, rock’s most infamous, murderous, church burning-est subgenre yet. Nearly 15 years later, even black metal’s goth makeup and paeans to Satan have turned to cheese, and metal is in dire need of another reboot. Hailing from the rain-drenched forests of the Pacific Northwest, Wolves In The Throne Room have taken up that task, subverting black metal’s throaty growl into a primitivist call for “eco-spiritualism”—a philosophy they live by every day on their shared farm, Calliope—with the new Black Cascade. Before playing Slim's on July 13, Wolves In The Throne Room drummer Aaron Weaver spoke with Decider to set the record straight about his band’s shadowy mythology, its supposed neo-Nazi leanings, and the role of ritual in rock ’n’ roll.
Decider: What inspired you to move away from the ambience of your previous record toward the aggressiveness of Black Cascade?
Aaron Weaver: Two Hunters and Black Cascade are mirror images. Two Hunters is intentionally moonlit and smoky. It’s like the void—the chaotic, Dionysian side of things. Black Cascade is very solar and Apollonian, almost patriarchal. Metal has that very rigid, masculine energy. It’s orderly. The two records are meant to balance each other—the horned god as opposed to the goddess. We wanted to finish our relationship with straightforward metal by making the best metal record we could, to get it out of our system and move on to something else.
D: What’s the “something else” going to be?
AW: Man, it’s going to be a freak show. [Laughs.] I’m fully done with the rock-band idiom—four guys on stage playing metal, I’m just over it. I want the music, the performance, and the energy to be way more psychedelic, more trance-oriented and mysterious.
D: How does Wolves In The Throne Room fit into the larger metal community?
AW: I don’t feel much of connection to any black-metal scene. We’re pegged as a USBM [United States Black Metal] band, but that doesn’t feel very accurate. We’re not interested in glorifying Satan or raw urban nihilism. We have our own idiosyncratic take on metal. It certainly draws upon black metal and doom metal, but Wolves In The Throne Room is its own thing. It is what it is.
D: Do you worry about other metal bands’ ideologies when you book tours?
AW: That’s an issue in Europe sometimes. If you play cities like Vienna or Salzburg, the metal scene is really hardcore right-wing. A lot of the bands aren’t neo-Nazi bands, but they’re an Odinist band into pagan nationalism, and you draw conclusions about where their politics are at. We’re an avowedly non-political band, but we’re also very clearly not a right-wing band. It’s funny, because we were protested in Germany as a neo-Nazi band two years ago. We almost had our whole tour canceled.
D: How did that happen?
AW: I said in an interview that I thought the right wing has co-opted some really good and powerful ideas. In Europe, radical environmentalism and heathen spirituality are very connected to right-wing ideologies. I said that shouldn’t be the case. Those are good things that shouldn’t be connected to racism, xenophobia, and nationalism. People in the radical left, anti-fascist movement took that one sentence out of context—“Wolves In The Throne Room says, ‘Right wing has a lot of great ideas’”—and put it all over the Internet and created a huge furor. I like to stay out of politics altogether. As far I’m concerned, that’s a European issue. That’s their history they’re dealing with. I don’t want to have a whole lot to do with it.
D: What are your thoughts on the way the press has latched onto your backstory?
AW: The mythology that’s out there is not accurate. Of course it’s not true that that we live in a one-room cabin with a single candle, or that we get home from tour and I immediately hop out of the van and start scything grains and tending to the cattle. It’s something that I’ve been actively working against the last few years, to try to clarify the reality of our situation. When it comes to our farm, I’m the one who is most interested in the farming and homesteading side of things. Nathan [Weaver], the guitar player and vocalist, is a different kind of person. He’s completely nocturnal, and in the wintertime he won’t see the sun at all. Our whole idea of this band is to reveal the occult or spiritual side to everyday life. In regards to farming, there’s the actual process of putting seeds in the ground and harvesting them in the fall, but there’s a mythic dimension to that as well. That’s what we’re trying to get across with Wolves In The Throne Room: the astral echo of worldly experience.
D: What role does occult ritual play in your live show?
AW: I have a lot of friends who perform ritual magic as part of black-metal performance, and that’s something we specifically decided not to do. Ritual magic is a very personal thing, and I think it’s inappropriate to include people in those rituals without their express consent. With Wolves In the Throne Room, the intention is to open up the space to whatever people want or need to experience. For us, it’s a purely cathartic experience. The intensity of playing, the volume, and the physicality of the music really do transform your consciousness in a serious way. We’re unleashing the possibility for wildness, for chaos. All metal or rock ’n’ roll does that. Creating the possibility for something extreme to happen, to have some sort of experience, we’re not doing anything different than The Doors, Led Zeppelin, or Black Flag. It’s stripping away the everyday and the mundane to access something transcendent.
D: Do you feel it’s possible to achieve compromise between humanity and the earth, or is it only all-or-nothing primitivism?
AW: That’s a complicated issue, because there are two things that we’re talking about. There’s the individuals in the band who all live lives and make compromises. We have families and have to earn money. We have DSL connections, cell phones, and cars. Then there’s the band, the music, and the artistic expression, which is extreme, uncompromising, and irrational. As individual people, everyone does what they think is right. I found the balance that I feel comfortable with, and everyone has their own place in the spectrum. We like to have the music be very removed from environmentalism or some sort of political agenda. We’re not interested in a political program that we can bring about to change things. We express the irrational, the insane, the mad, the uncompromising, and the wild. That’s the role of music like this.