Genre: Progressive Black Metal
Label: Southern Lord
Pushing black metal into further left field regions, while keeping it firmly rooted in it’s origins can’t be an easy feat. But Wolves in the Throne Room seem to do it just fine, perhaps even making it an easy feat after three albums and two demos before Celestial Lineage.
Musically, this album is beyond what many people would call black metal. WITTR are taking cues, it seems, from Isis (whose own Aaron Turner makes chanting appearances on “Subterranean Initiation” and “Permanent Changes in Consciousness”), Xasthur, Leviathan, and even touches of Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Junius with some classic American rock leanings, as well as Darkthrone, Celtic Frost, Emperor, and even Dimmu Borgir at times.
The artwork for Celestial Lineage is amazing. Photographs, presumably taken near Calliope, depict a peaceful, beautiful rural setting, with Nathan and Aaron in the distance in a falling-down forest on the back cover. The sleeves for the records are equally photographed, featuring mountains, forest, and a deforested area as well. The vinyl itself for both records is some of the blackest I’ve ever seen, the sheen on it is magical, and at 180gm the platters have a good weight.
In all, it really meshes together, the physical beauty of the records and the auditory beauty that is on the records.
“Thuja Magus Imperium” is in many ways a classy black metal song. It starts off ambient-infused and has Jessika Kenney singing wonderful vocals, then Nathan takes over with his blackened lungs and riffs. A wonderful solo happens in it, which in the notes is called the “Black Acid Solo” (a perfect name for it), and it’s performed by Milky Burgess. The main riffs are reminiscent of slower Darkthrone, with a very haunting quality to it that brings Emperor’s Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk to mind.
“Permanent Changes in Consciousness” is very much an ambient track, with wind and meditative chanting being the main sounds. There is a wonderful underlayer of percussion and windchime-esque sounds. Lovely, but far too short for such a great ambient gem.
“Subterranean Initiation” starts off fast and hard, keeping the wind sounds but turning them into a gale rather than a breeze. If the more cinematic elements of modern Dimmu Borgir were performed by Celtic Frost, this song might result. Very strong riff structure that moves you along, rather than allowing you to come with it, is combined with beautiful keys. All of this gets stripped away for a short time, however, and we are left with only a bare guitar momentarily, and the song slows right down for about a minute, only to return to it’s Celtic Borgir beginnings. Faith Coloccia does additional chants on this song, with Timb Harris writing and performing the “uprooting string arrangements”.
“Rainbow Illness” is another instrumental, led primarily by keys and possible field recordings. Really good, but again, too short.
“Woodland Cathedral” seems to be the baby of Jessika Kenney, with her taking control of choral vocal performance, arrangement, lyrics, and organ. The woman is amazing, her voice strong and uplifting, while her organ work really brings you down to earth. This is almost in no way a black metal song, other than the undertones of guitar, bass, and drums, which slowly come closer to the fore, which makes it even more of a black metal song, to me. This song really reminds me of parts of the Treasure album by Cocteau Twins.
“Astral Blood” starts off as a total second wave black metal song, with riffing and drumming sounding like a drier Darkthrone, until the keys kick in at least. Then it becomes all Wolves in the Throne Room. Thick vintage tone comes from their amps, and analog synths bubble up; no longer is this dry. Wet with emotion, “Astral Blood” may well be my favorite song on the album. I love the harp/wind section by Zeynep Okyu Yilmaz at the 4ish-minute mark. It’s just so moving, it’s hard to concentrate on anything else. Honestly, this whole song is like that. It definitely pulls at the heartstrings.
“Prayer of Transformation” picks up on the ending of “Astral Blood”, then morphs into it’s own lumbering beast. The entire song moves at a slow pace, bringing a doomy flavor to the occult lyrics. The synths are just brilliant, and what I think is more field recordings make quiet undercurrents throughout. There is nothing extreme about this song, except Nathan’s vocals, but the whole is extremely moving. I could sleep to this, and perhaps have the most pleasant dreams of bringing the dead back to golden life. The ending is great, with the keys and guitars coming up into a crescendo, then dropping off into ambiance for about a minute.
This is where, as the final record begins to click the fact that it is over, you turn off your record player, take off the record, put it back into its sleeve, and put the first one on the turntable again, and take the spiritual and emotional journey once, or even twice more. I could listen to this album, and only this album, for days. It is spellbinding and gorgeous. Beautiful. Perfect.
10 out of 10.
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