WOLVES IN THE THRONE ROOM – Black Cascade (2009)

Wolves In The Throne Room - Black Cascade Few black metal bands have risen from obscurity to prominence in the course of just two albums, but Olympia, Washington’s Wolves In The Throne have done just that. While their debut album Diadem of 12 Stars, was a largely unnoticed gem, their follow up, Two-Hunters, received a considerable amount of praise from the metal community, and found its way onto many year-end lists (including my own – it was #2, behind only Sleepytime Gorilla Museum’s magnificently weird In Glorious Times). Having already released an excellent (but brief) vinyl EP earlier in the year, Black Cascade inevitably feels like a departure of that album, in that it’s not as cyclical or as brooding;. but what it lacks in violent atmosphere, it makes up for with sheer, dominating power.

On that note, let me talk about atmosphere for a second here: now, the issue I take with a lot of black metal is the way the atmosphere of much of it feels forced or artificial. Originally, this was most accomplished by means of a terrible production (I’m looking at you, Darkthrone), and there have certainly been a number of bands who’ve taken on a more symphonic approach to the music, but who (through their startlingly collective lack of vision), have homogenized it to a near-unbearable degree (remember back when Dimmu Borgir and Moonspell actually sounded creative? – I sure as fuck don’t). I wish the aforementioned bands (and others) could listen to the foggy collapse that occurs midway through Ex Cathedra, or the folk-dirge that surfaces in Crystal Ammunition (and the fiery haze that swallows up the song in its final moments, before flickering out entirely). Not only is each passage genuinely atmospheric, the band able to take the listener by surprise each time. If I pop in a symphonic black metal album, and hear a faux-Carl Orff intro, that’s no longer eerie or resonant; it’s expected – and it’s totally non-engaging.

Stylistically, the album is a bit more traditional in the production department; gone, for example, are the heavy drums – the guitar fuzz has been lessened considerably also. But despite these changes in sound, the album still manages to be a thoroughly absorbing affair, proving that lo-fi approach of Transylvanian Hunger can work in the hands of capable musicians.

Black Cascade might be the album to turn any metal fans who’ve disliked the black metal genre around; it’s a forceful, expansive and incredibly focused work, and one that I’d highly recommend.

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