Thrice Woven might be the most straightforward collection of ragers Wolves In The Throne Room have yet pulled from the misty wilderness of the Pacific Northwest. That’s a relative distinction, of course. Like most of black metal’s less traditional American practitioners—think divisive Brooklyn bands like Krallice and Liturgy or crossover “hipster-friendly” superstars like Deafheaven—this eco-minded Olympia outfit has earned howls and moans from the purists. Some of that has to do with the way they’ve blasphemously augmented the genre’s usual blast-beat cacophony with post-rock and electronic flourishes. The rest is probably the image cultivated in press kits and interviews—the environmentalist tilt of the band’s ideology, the way brothers Nathan and Aaron Weaver more or less identify as hippie farm boys. (No corpse paint for these tree-huggers; there’s as much Bon Iver as Mayhem in their creation myth.) So it counts as some kind of departure, in the context of a controversial career, to hear Wolves In The Throne Room make music that can unambiguously be described as black metal. After years of leaning away from the scene, they’ve leaned back into it. Sonically, anyway.
Again, that’s relatively speaking. Thrice Woven has its share of offbeat elements: the way the sound and fury of opening track “Born From The Serpent’s Eye” dims to a spooky hush, briefly replaced by a ghostly chorus of voices, like the pagan equivalent of Christmas carolers; or the soothing lilt of female vocals, crooning over howling wind and dripping water, lending a heavenly glow to a genre that usually revels instead in the fires of the underworld. But after the synthy John Carpenter knockoff soundscapes of the band’s last record, Celestite, the renewed interest in roaring guitar marks Thrice Woven as a return to roots. Not since acclaimed debut Diadem Of 12 Stars has Wolves In The Throne Room rocked this hard and steady; in its sustained racket, it approximates one of the band’s live shows, which tend to be all blistering blitzkrieg all the time, drone passages withheld.
Not that Thrice Woven keeps the dial cranked to 11 from start to finish. This being a WITTR record, the fury comes in crashing waves, emerging monstrously from stretches of placid calm, like the acoustic strumming that kicks the record off, the spoken-word incantations of “The Old Ones Are With Us” (which, somewhat amusingly, gives the yearly process of spring thaw a mythic wonder), or the sustained eye-of-the-storm interlude that is “Mother Owl, Father Ocean.” If those song titles make you chuckle, you may have trouble getting onto the apocalyptic ecological wavelength of Wolves In The Throne Room, whose conjuring of old gods and awed whisperings of natural landscape can be as interchangeable as the satanic gobbledygook spewed by their less Earth-conscious peers. But then, most of the lyrics come via an indecipherable banshee cry; they could be shrieking about almost anything under the ferocious din of this back-to-basics collection.