For over two decades, Washington’s Wolves in the Throne Room have been hypnotizing listeners with their abjectly spiritual and ritualistic black metal. They have become one of the most genre-defining bands at the forefront of atmospheric metal. With their latest full-length album Primordial Arcana, the band cements themselves as one of the most relevant bands in extreme contemporary music.
Produced entirely in the band’s studio, a place in the woods called Owl Lodge Recordings, brothers Aaron and Nathan Weaver join forces with Kody Keyworth, a recurring live member of the band. It was the first time he was involved in the writing process from start to finish. You can hear his influence on the record. It is a return to their raw roots with their perennial pursuit of ancient folklore and mysticism.
The metal and mystical influences don’t collide, they meld together. The guitar solos and chugging riffs are surrounding by atmosphere, but they aren’t drenched in reverb the way a lot of atmospheric black metal is. The composition of the album is reminiscent of baroque classical, which is brought to the forefront in the string interludes on “Spirit of Lightning.”
The self-production is forward and clean. It allows the guitar licks and atmospheric moments to shine but doesn’t bog down the more intense passages. The vocals echo with reverb. “Through Eternal Fields” has one of the heavier breakdowns the band has done. Always is it a majestic sound, no matter what’s on the forefront.
Keyworth’s doom influence makes its way through but doesn’t overshadow the band’s usual tremolo, blast beats, double bass, and triumphant guitar solos. There are clean, chanting vocals contrasting with Keyworth’s low, growling vocals. It appears for the first time that Wolves in the Throne Room is a trio.
“Primal Chasm (Gift of Fire)” rips through you as it cycles between fast blast beats and downbeat verses. The vocals are harmonized and layered. The end result is a behemoth that leaves the listener wanting more. The ambiance and field recordings at the end are better than most drone albums. “Underworld Aurora” accents the pulsating double bass and tremolo with neo-classical melodies. The samples of thunder are immaculate.
“Masters of Rain and Storm is a ten minute epic that grooves trudges onward with mystical synths and cycling palm-muted guitars. Only after six minutes does it ring out into some gorgeous acoustic guitars and windy, distant synths. It passes by like a dream. Ten minutes feels like three.
The penultimate track “Eostre” is actually a short ambient piece that closes the album. There are synths and wind instruments. It beckons like the mountains. But while the album officially closes, there is an epilogue—a bonus track called “Skyclad Passage.”
You can tell the album is over, but if you so choose you can have a little more. It begins with choral and wind sounds contrasting with thundering lows and lighting highs. It is a dungeon of darkness. It is perhaps the most unique track on the album, which begs the question why it wasn’t integrated into the sequence.
While these moments are more sequestered than other Wolves in the Throne Room albums, begging for longer passages to get lost in, it shows that the band has mastered the art of blending genres. There are a lot of atmospheric black metal bands out there, but there is no one else like Wolves in the Throne Room.