Wolves in the Throne Room / Ahna / Gyibaaw / Sick @ Rickshaw Theatre, Vancouver BC, January 6, 2011

Review by Kyle Harcott; Photos by Ted Wilson

I’d hoped to get down to see Wolves in the Throne Room (among others) open for Neurosis on one of their two shows in Seattle over New Year’s, but holiday obligations rendered a road trip South unlikely. Luckily, though, Wolves announced their inaugural Vancouver and Victoria dates immediately after so all was not lost. I’d been waiting for a chance to see them since first hearing 2009’s Black Cascade – so this all-ages show at the Rickshaw with three local openers was not to be missed.

Three-piece Sick kicked off proceedings; they seemed to fuse vague elements of crusty hardcore with their black-tinged sound. But their set was short, only about twenty minutes – so they were over before I really had a chance to wrap my head around their music.

Prince George’s Gyibaaw followed and, akin to Wolves’ earth-respecting stance, preceded their set by giving thanks and praise to the Coast Salish territory we were all standing on. Then they proceeded to rip the Rickshaw a new one with their brand of Tsimshian/Gitxsan war metal, raining blackened death upon the crowd. Equally impressive to the band’s blistering death metal, parts of the set saw singer Jeremy Pohl incorporate a traditional native flute into the mix. For me though, the epic thunder of “Itlee Tsimshian” stole the show, and it’s apparently become something of an anthem for the band. Their fanbase was vocal this night too – I overheard a few people wondering aloud why Gyibaaw were not in the later slot. An impressive band, I look forward to seeing them again.

Unfortunately, there were some sound issues to be worked out prior to Ahna’s set, so the two members kept their posts onstage looking increasingly frantic and not interacting with the crowd, while the house sound guys tried to figure out what was wrong. About twenty minutes of nervous waiting went by – but finally, all was worked out and the set could begin. Ahna’s stock-in-trade fuses lurching fuzz-drone passages with outright temper-tantrum-bash, and their first song was a perfect example of this, although it seemed to me that it took a good solid ten minutes of groaning through the drone to get to the spastic payoff, and the rest of their set played out similarly. While I enjoyed the frenzied pitch-a-fit-core parts of their songs (which were akin to a primal-scream therapy session with severe distortion), I found that the dronier parts of their set seemed to drag a little bit. But then, I guess that’s the risk of watching drone bands live – either you’re super-into-it or you’re not – unfortunately I wasn’t. A shorter dose of Ahna, concentrating on the spazzier bits, may have helped me get more into them, but by the end of their hour long-set, I was chomping at the bit for Wolves.

First, though, stage accoutrements were placed to set the mood: Stark monochrome backdrops of wintry forest scenes underlit by pale blue kliegs; fresh-cut pine boughs strewn across each monitor and along the front of the stage; a two-candle burlap altar with a carnivore’s skull placed atop it; a brazier full of sage burning; and oil lanterns to light the way. Wolves’ nature-glorifying stage set proved an interesting counterpoint to the last show I saw at the Rickshaw (Watain) – no less ritualistic or shamanic, but definitely invoking a different spirit. Though – I’ll take the odor of burning sage and fresh pine over weeks-old rotting offal any day. Soon enough, all was in place, the stage doused liberally in smoke, and their set began.

Nathan Weaver began by briefly thanking the crowd for coming and admonishing them to please refrain from flash photography, and also from moshing – something the majority in attendance seemed to appreciate. This band and all their trappings are an experience in the live setting, and the mood the stage sets seems as important and intricate as the music – taking your eyes off of them to smash into each other seems to miss the point – or maybe they just think moshing is stupid.

Wolves tore into “Ahrimanic Trance” and set the Rickshaw ablaze. With the majority of light coming from the two guitarists’ fretboard-illuminating LEDs, the scene onstage appeared an eerie, deep-forest alien visitation –laser lights cutting through the fog- to the sound of blurry, plaintive roaring. One song roiled into another and it was as if some kind of old-world pagan forest rite was taking place onstage. Wolves in the Throne Room were mesmerizing, mostly eschewing any banter and playing for themselves, deep within their own personal trances. Aaron Weaver was particularly monstrous behind his four-piece kit, hands all ablur through the fog. There was no bass present onstage, but touring guitarist Kody Moonsbreath (of Portland’s L’Acephale) complemented Weaver’s own sound and vocals with his own.

Only once were they forced to stop their flow, to call out an overzealous youngster who ignored the ‘please no moshing’ request and kept shoving his unamused neighbors. He was quickly banished to the side of the room, and the band pressed on, continuing their unbridled show of sighing heathen force. Their set was over an hour, and I believe they played four or five songs total – but that was better than I could have hoped for. Ultimately, Wolves’ set was epochal, and Vancouver was treated to a rare treat this night. I can only hope our city becomes a regular tour stop for them.

WITTR’s setlist (to the best of my recollection):

  • Ahrimanic Trance
  • Cleansing
  • Faces in the Night Time Mirror
  • I Will Lay Down My Bones Among the Rocks and Roots

Adam has been a photographer for Hellbound since day 1 and also has a hand in the technical aspects of running the site.