By Jonathan Smith
Two Hunters, the 2007 release from Olympia, Washington’s Wolves In The Throne Room, was a black metal masterpiece of its time. 2009’s Black Cascade was a very different but almost equally powerful album, shedding many of its predecessor’s layers in favour of getting back to the basics of metal with songs that could be entirely reproduced on stage. The latest album, Celestial Lineage, is a conclusion to a trilogy that in many ways sounds like a hybrid of both. The result is one of the strongest albums yet in a year with plenty of excellent releases even when its scope is at times a bit too ambitious.
Celestial Lineage‘s opening track “Thuja Magus Imperium” is awash in heavy synth moods and coupled with haunting female vocals courtesy of returning guest Jessika Kinney (who plays a prominent role on a few tracks this outing). However, it’s only a few moments before brothers Nathan and Aaron Weaver kick things into high gear with one of the most enthralling series of riffs they’ve ever written. The transition is incredibly smooth rather than abrupt, emerging organically from the atmospheric instrumentals. It takes another few minutes for the band to slow down again, and it’s almost disappointing to be brought down from the high when they do.
This is a pattern repeated throughout Celestial Lineage. For every blast of raging blackened metal and high-pitched shrieking, there are extended sequences of slow, soothing ambience. It’s a more challenging album than both Two Hunters and Black Cascade in that the band never gets into the same sort of lengthy (and almost ambient in their own way) metal grooves that characterizes past songs such as “Vastness and Sorrow” and “Wanderer Above The Sea of Fog.” The result sounds something like the musical shifts that were heard on the more progressive parts of Diadem of 12 Stars. The band’s sound is more expansive and ambitious than ever before, but that means often cutting short otherwise intense sections in which listeners can lose themselves in musical transcendence.
PR for Celestial Lineage has noted the band’s being influenced by experimental groups like Tangerine Dream and Popul Vuh. These influences register more when they’re added into the album’s longer pieces and built into the band’s overall sound. Where they don’t work as well is when they become a part of the intermission-style instrumental tracks. Given that those tracks are not developed enough to really stand on their own, they can’t help but feel somewhat unnecessary, digressive, and surprisingly thin while actually making the album feel a little bit too long.
Even when it feels almost too packed for its own good, Celestial Lineage is a fantastic album that showcases Wolves In The Throne Room’s commitment to their core sound while slowly expanding the band’s boundaries. The record’s energy is undeniable, and even on the occasions when it pushes and pulls itself into too many directions, it always returns to a passionate centre that points toward a plethora of future possibilities.