Last year, much was made of so-called “Cascadian black metal.” To me, this was nothing more than an attempt to label a regional sound that didn’t exist and in the process lump a bunch of bands together that had very little in common. Invisible Oranges declared it “bullshit,” while an article in the Guardian stated that “cascadian metal” was a good descriptor for Krallice, apparently not aware that the term refers to Washington’s Cascade Range; Krallice hails from Brooklyn, NY which is on the other side of the country (a rock “journalist not doing their homework?! Hard to believe, I know. Insert eye-roll). No one seemed to have a good grasp of what exactly Cascadian black metal was, but that didn’t stop them from invoking the term ad nauseam to serve their own needs. A harmless geographical descriptor got twisted into utter nonsense by the metal media, and even the non metal media got in on the act.
The first band to be referred to as Cascadian black metal (or at least the first that I’m aware of) is Olympia, Washington’s Wolves in the Throne Room. The term makes sense for the band both literally and figuratively; not only do the Weaver brothers make the Cascade region their home, their music evokes the kind of breathtaking vistas of natural splendor that one would expect to see while hiking through a thick forest or surveying a snow-capped mountain range. Over the course of almost a decade of existence, Wolves in the Throne Room have carved out their own niche in black metal; naturalistic without falling into the pagan metal category, beautiful and lush-sounding without giving up their Burzum-derived black metal roots. Celestial Lineage is the band’s most fully realized recording to date, the climax of the transcendental journey into the shadowy corners of the natural world they began with 2007’s Two Hunters.
Wolves in the Throne Room have long had a knack for rounding off black metal’s sharp edges, replacing the genre’s frostbitten hatred with inviting warmth. It’s the musical equivalent of sitting in the dark next to a crackling hearth, watching shadows dance across the wall to rhythms of flame. This is especially true of Celestial Lineage; the album is a total environment unto itself that envelops the listener and takes them deep into dense thickets of pure sonic bliss. Gently buzzing, tremolo-picked guitars, rasping vocals, distant drums, synths and nature sounds are woven together to create a musical tapestry that recalls Two Hunters without being a carbon copy. Instead, Celestial Lineage is both a refinement and an expansion of that album’s earthy yet airy approach.
Although the album is intensely organic, it is also otherworldly. When I listen to it, I can close my eyes and imagine ghosts forever doomed to wander through darkened woods, searching in vain for the decrepit old cabin containing that aforementioned fireplace, hoping to warm their lost souls against the eternal cold of the grave. But regardless of any phantasmagoric flights of fancy it may conjure when I allow my mind to wander, I think what Wolves in the Throne Room’s music is ultimately about mankind’s tumultuous relationship with the natural world. In our very short existence, we’ve gone from being completely in tune with Mother Nature to repeatedly gang raping her, and the Weaver brothers have given a voice to her anger and anguish, while at the same time reminding us of her ability to capture our imaginations.
Regardless of any genre tags gone wild, or what you think of their eco-friendly philosophy, there’s no denying that Wolves in the Throne have successfully harnessed black metal’s energy into something that is uniquely their own. Celestial Lineage is a powerful yet haunting commentary on the deterioration of humanity’s spiritual and physical connection to the Earth that spawned them, a clarion call back to times of simplicity and harmony.