Thursday, June 21, 2007

Wolves in the Throne Room - Self-titled demo

Wolves in the Throne Room is the realization of promise of American black metal. Freed from the straight-jacket of narrow-minded expectations which lovingly enfolds the Scandinavian scene, WitTR manages to be true, rather than trve. They have traded corpse paint and church burning for an organic, back-to-the-land ethos which approaches the real spirit of black metal, with its frequent folk influences. This is existentialist music: the songs scream in rage that the world is fundamentally flawed, that human effort is ultimately futile, but that no alternatives exist. They accept the impossibility of meaningful action, but answers with a cry of defiance and perseverance. In this simultaneous denial and acceptance of the absurdity of life lies the closest thing to redemption.

Their first demo is saddled with the sort of low fidelity production which defines early Darkthrone. Lesser bands may intentionally use a subtle background hiss, flat drums, and inaudible bass to build "atmosphere." On a Wolves in the Throne Room album, this lack of clarity merely obscures the stark beauty of the underlying music. Were it not for the almost total lack of bass, the furious drumming on this album would take on a crushing heaviness. The double-bass in particular is used to good effect, menacing rather than thin. Indeed, this entire album has a heavy intensity which is only accentuated by the counterpoint of the vocalists' raspy delivery.

While technically proficient, Wolves in the Throne Room's debut effort sometimes demonstrates a frustrating immaturity in the composition of the songs. There are transcendent passages where everything clicks, and the listener is carried away by soaring, haunting melodies. The band occasionally breaks into an unexpected but effective jazz-influenced solo format, with one guitar taking flight over a repeated melody. But there are intervals where tedious repetition is confused for atmosphere. The band is not as tight as in its later incarnations, and the listener is left with the distinct impression that a few more rehearsals would have yielded a superior final product. Certainly nothing compared to the debacle that was In The Woods...'s final live album, but the slips in synchrony and missed notes are irritating on a careful listen.

On the whole, this demo is a clear portent of the band's promise, and a worthy opus in its own right. Though unrefined, its successes outweigh its failures, and I've found myself playing it more often than not over the past few days. Wolves in the Throne Room's signature melodic structure is already well established. Aside from a few rough patches, the songs are generally engaging and often truly beautiful.

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