Wolves in the Throne Room

Two Hunters

(Southern Lord; 2007)

By Chet Betz | 8 November 2007

Although it features an influx of influences similar to Altar, last year's collaboration between Boris and Sunn O))), Wolves in the Throne Room's sophomore album purports itself to be nothing other than black metal. In a way, that claim of fealty holds up. Recorded mostly analog by a band who lives on a secluded farm and writes songs that seek out absolute attunement with nature, Two Hunters captures the spirit of black metal better than any record since Dead as Dreams (2000) by San Francisco's now defunct Weakling. If "authenticity" really is an empty notion, nobody told these guys. I'm glad, too: their earnest conception of black metal sounds revolutionary compared to the consumptive muck churned out by their contemporaries.

The record's cross-categorical touches come about by virtue of it trying to unearth the motivation and passion at the core of its genre. "Behold the Vastness and Sorrow" is the most straight-up black metal track present, but there's a prog-like ambition to its form that keeps all twelve minutes as structurally involving as they are viscerally kick-ass. The opener stews in psychedelic swathes of guitar while the chanteuse vocals of Jessica Kinney on the third and fourth tracks lend a hint of the ethereal, rendering nature's beauty and holding it aloft as mystical. Though the results border on cliché, it's a cliché that black metal forgot it needed, and so the sylvan opening of "Cleansing" provides an inverse impetus for Aaron Weaver's blast beats and Rick Dahlin's raw screams to come barreling in, desperately groping for all that's beyond -- or that's below, simple and pure as dirt.

"I Will Lay Down My Bones Among the Rocks and Roots" is a manifesto. Guitarist Nathan Weaver picks out some chiming notes as a field recording offers a few gusts of wind, some real calm-before-the-storm shit that lasts all of a minute before an apocalyptic advent of 180 bpm drums, roaring guitars, and Dahlin's tortured pipes. The song twists and turns, though, weaving through a variety of switch-ups on the beat and often returning to a bright chord motif that Wolves in the Throne Room must not have realized sounds about as black metal as My Bloody Valentine. There's a nigh ambient break around the six minute mark and another around the twelve, effectively making this eighteen minute song a three-part opus; the breaks also foreshadow the track's final dissolution into Jessica Kinney, analog synths, and bird chirps. It's the perfect example of how this album is everything it wants to be by sounding like more than that, and it sounds like more than that simply because it's very thoughtful about the tradition it carries.

The only question, then, is where to next? It's a bit of a conundrum: a big part of the reason that Two Hunters is such a success is because it just wants to be black metal, but for Wolves in the Throne Room to improve on what they've accomplished here it seems like they'd have to embrace what makes them different and then stretch even further, a move that could undermine what they're all about in the first place. As dedicated as they seem to the music they love, though, the worst they'll probably do is to continue making really damn good, genre-validating records.