Music Reviews
Celestial Lineage

Wolves in the Throne Room Celestial Lineage

(Southern Lord) Buy it from Insound Rating - 4/10

Wolves in the Throne Room make black metal for those who don't like black metal (which is, in theory, a hell of a lot of people). They may take some of the genre's more off-putting elements, such as the impenetrable screams and the blast beats, but these are combined with rich production (by black metal standards at least), and an image aimed more at those outside the 'scene', thanks to their beautifully designed covers and their being signed to Sunn O)))'s label Southern Lord. As for the genre's slightly dodgy ideological connotations, these are skated around by the band generally going on about farming in interviews - essentially they're a bunch of slightly scary looking hippies (which explains Permanent Changes in Consciousness, a low meditative chant of 'aum' over the scraping of farm equipment). And Celestial Lineage, their fourth album, might be their most tasteful yet, with early word mentioning the involvement of renowned engineer Randall Dunn... and there's the fact that it has more than four tracks.

However, when listened to, the only impression of Celestial Lineage that really sticks is that the album sees the band doing things that they've already proved they can do very well (which might have something to do with their claim that the album is the closing part of a trilogy started with 2007's Two Hunters) and somehow doing them less impressively. While twelve-minute long Thuja Magus Imperium may be a striking opener, consisting of long drones breaking into pummelling rhythms, cathartic screams and intricate guitar work, it's fairly standard for Wolves in the Throne Room, they've offset the slow-burning building of atmosphere with aggressive release many times before, and the guitars sound really quite similar to both Two Hunters' brutish highlight I Will Lay Down My Bones Among The Rocks and Roots and Ex Cathedra from the mid-section of the 'trilogy' Black Cascade.

As for the rest; Subterranean Initiation noticeably grinds to a halt at the mid-way point; interludes such as Rainbow Illness are so forgettable they might as well not be there; and Woodland Cathedral aims so hard for the sacred that it ends up sounding worryingly like Clannad (strip back the droning distortion and there's very little difference between the two). Technically guest vocalist Jessika Kenney has an incredible voice, both grandiose and adept, but it isn't used in an interesting way, particularly when compared to her work on Two Hunters, and even less so in relation to the similar role performed by ex-Hammers of Misfortune vocalist Jamie Myers on past releases by the band, (take, for example, A Looming Resonance from the Malevolent Grain EP, where the shock felt when her seductive coo leads into a second-half of all-out aural assault is so exhilarating that it hits in the pit of the stomach; something that the band have no hope of recapturing here). Astral Blood does try to innovate by including a harp-based mid-section, but it just feels throwaway and dainty and gets lost in the midst of a track that's a bit too heavy-handed and obvious (the seeds of something melodic and actually memorable are planted about two thirds of the way in with a guitar riff buried deep in the mix, but they're barely allowed to germinate). Most unfortunately they don't even manage to pull off the big closing number - Prayer of Transformation turns out to be somewhat ironically titled as it hangs there, doing very little, for ten minutes (although play it through a half decent pair of speakers and the closing couple of minutes are brain-scramblingly effective, in a fun way).

Celestial Lineage may be well crafted and even (relatively) accessible but by eschewing the ideas that coloured their previous work, Wolves in the Throne Room have ended up creating something that's not really black, but rather quite grey.