During the early 1820s to 1830s, American philosophy took a turn toward Transcendentalism. The movement’s bedrock was based around fierce individualism and the idea that society was a corrupting force toward man. The major theme running throughout the movement was a profound fixation on the natural world. Figureheads like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau emphasized the use of the wilderness as a healing tool and a way to find one’s personal truths. Black metal has always had a deep connection to the environment, but when I listen to Wolves In the Throne Room I think of Transcendentalism.
No one writes about nature like Wolves In the Throne Room. From the very beginning, the goal of the brothers Aaron and Nathan Weaver was to take the sounds and vibrations of the Pacific Northwestern wilderness and translate it through black metal’s dissonance. “Dissonance” may not be the right word. The Wolves discography is more rugged than harsh. It’s thorns and pine branches, not sheet metal. The Wolves In the Throne Room sound inserts itself into the elements. It makes itself wholly apart of Washington forests rather than replicating them. After all, this is a band whose best song is about dying in the woods in order to become part of the Earth.
That deep appreciation for the environment runs through the band’s classics, Diadem of 12 Stars and Two Hunters. Needless to say, it remains intact on the band’s sixth full length album, Thrice Woven. The new album is the follow-up to 2014’s Celestite – a release that occupies a strange place in the band’s discography. It’s hard to view a full-on ambient synth excursion from a predominantly black metal band as anything other than a left turn. But, I’m sure the Weavers don’t see it that way. Fans of the band’s Cascadian black metal were put at ease once the lead single “Born From the Serpent’s Eye” dropped along with the band’s first ever music video. It didn’t take long for the metal community to apply the “return to form” narrative.
To tell you truth, the label just doesn’t stick. Countless veteran bands have been stuck with the tag and more often than not it really just means they’re out of ideas. Wolves In the Throne Room are back to playing black, but they’ve never done it this way before. The album’s black metal elements are more like templates. They’re used as a base meant to provide structure for a much larger vision at work. Through the course of Thrice Woven, the band juxtaposes jaggedly angular black metal, world devouring doom, regal folk, and otherworldly ambient ruminations. The Wolves In the Throne Room on Thrice Woven are hungry, revitalized, and overflowing into unfamiliar territory.
What we have here is the most complex Wolves In the Throne Room piece to date. Thrice Woven pushes along with the winding fluidity of changing river systems. These tracks trickle up from ancient aquifers, flow along the landscape, crash over the rocks and empty out into the bottomless oceans of Anna Von Hauswolff‘s voice and Zeynep Oyka‘s harp. It’s all too fitting that the album ends on the sound of waves driving into the shore. Along with the new found malleability, Thrice Woven is a surprisingly light affair. Well, relatively speaking.
I wouldn’t go as far as calling Thrice Woven a happy record. If you listen to this album and crack a smile, I’m truly envious of how you experience music. There is, however, an underlying sense of optimism. The running theme throughout Thrice Woven is life and progression. “Born From the Serpent’s Eye” is the violent creation that leads “The Old One’s Are Still With Us”. The second track’s defining characteristic is a spoken word piece form Neurosis’ Steven Von Till. The passage begins as a eulogy for the winter and quickly turns into a celebration of the of the Vernal Equinox. Von Till ends with “We are becoming”, an uncharacteristically hopeful sentiment for him and black metal. Von Till eventually comes back at the end of the track’s ethereal drift, this time singing. It’s the most content he’s ever sounded. From there, the band tracks along the seasons into Autumn and the album closer “Fires Roar In the Palace of the Moon”.
“Fires Roar In the Palace of the Moon” fits in with the Wolves In the Throne Room tradition of closing on the epic. Not only is it the longest song here, it’s also the most ravenous and experimental. Nathan Weaver lets loose with blood curdling intensity while horns and ambience coexist with blackened ferocity. The album’s final lyric is “Death comes in Fall”. I don’t hear any negativity in that. The album’s binding thread is life cycles. The natural world’s degradation into winter is a necessary force in Earth’s progression. In a way, it’s a necessary force in our progression. Steven Von Till will be back. The plows will be charmed. Seeds will awake. Once again, we will become.
I spoke with Wolves In the Throne Room drummer Aaron Weaver. We discussed Thrice Woven, Norse mythology, and the Earth.
Blocland: Over the last few years, black metal has been rich with bands that have cited Wolves In the Throne Room as a main influence. It’s safe to call you guys a black metal institution. With that in mind, what do you do to keep pushing the band forward?
Aaron Weaver: I just never think about it like that. The only thing I think about is: is it time to make a record or is not time to make a record? That’s all there is to it. The music, for me, comes up out of the Earth, comes out of my life, this connection with this beautiful place, with all the trees and animals that live here. If it’s time for a record, we make a record.
Blocland: How do you know when it’s time to make a record?
Weaver: When its burning inside. There’s a feeling that there’s a spark that needs to happen. When you make black metal you need to go to a very dark place inside yourself. A place that needs light and love.
Blocland: Thrice Woven is the followup to Celestite. Did making a full-on ambient album affect the way you approached metal?
Weaver: No, not really. We introduced synthesizers and a lot of ambient guitars on Two Hunters and worked with things we hadn’t done. It’s been a part of what we do.
Blocland: You released the album’s first single, “Born From the Serpent’s Eye” with an accompanying video. What made you guys want to do your first ever music video?
Weaver: The visuals are just so important to us. Wolves In the Throne Room is everything. It’s the music, the lyrics, the album artwork, it’s the live show. It’s just another realm to work in.
Blocland: What was making the video like?
Weaver: It was so fun. It was a fast drop into a real intense collaboration. I’m used to making records where you have a year to work. Making a music video is much faster.
Blocland: Speaking of collaboration, the album features contributions from Anna Von Hauswolff, Steven Von Till, and Zeynep Oyka. What did the three of them bring to the record?
Weaver: I can tell you a story about each one. Me and Nathan [Weaver] had written the record. We had all the guitars laid out with Randall [Dunn]’s help. We knew we wanted the voice of a man on the record, the voice of an elder. Someone wise who could speak about the Earth and how much we love the Earth. How much we love the old ways, about paying attention to the seasons and trying as best as we can to live in harmony. I said that to Randall and he proceeded to mention Steven Von Till. So that’s how Steve got on the record.
The same goes with Anna. We knew we wanted a woman’s voice that sounded like salt water and winter. I said those words to Randall and he said “Oh, we should work with Anna”. And Zeynap plays harp. She lives in Turkey and the way she came on the record was we plained on doing hammer dulcimer for the part we ended up doing in harp. The dulcimer player canceled at the last second. So, we were stressed out in the studio trying to figure out what to do to solve this problem. At that moment, Randall’s cellphone rang and it was Zeynap.
She said the situation was very, very bad in Turkey. They’re experiencing government oppression and violence. It’s a scary place to be an artist and she needed help. The best way we could help her was get harp strings. They’re very expensive in Turkey, right now. That’s what she brought.
Blocland: Nature has obviously always been an important component to Wolves In the Throne Room. After all of this time, has your relationship with the natural world changed at all?
Weaver: No, it’s just gotten deeper. Because I got the joy and privilege to live in the same place I grew up. It’s a great blessing. There’s so many people in this world right now that are having to escape persecution and violence. They’re on the move from great suffering the same way my grandparents were escaping violence, the potato famine, the Bolshevik Revolution. There’s racist attacks. I’m just so blessed to live in peace and safety. It’s a great blessing.
Blocland: You’ve mentioned government oppression and state violence a few times. Did things of that nature have any kind of influence over Thrice Woven?
Weaver: No, not really. The music is the music. We try to keep our mystic state and the land of our dreams. The world is the world and the music is the music. There’s connection to the forest, but it’s a different world where the record is happening.
Blocland: There seems to be a lot of references to Norse mythology throughout the record from “Angrboda” to the Fenris Wolf cover art. Where did you find inspiration in Norse mythology?
Weaver: I’ve always loved those stories. Those were stories I learned when I was a kid. It’s always been a part of my life, part of my spirituality. It’s about how to live a human life.
Blocland: Has mythology always been an influence over the band?
Weaver: Yeah, I think so. Me and Nathan love Celtic mythology and Northern mythology so much because it’s our connection to our ancestors’ source of wisdom that we can tap into in a good way.
Blocland: Is that wisdom something you strive for on a record?
Weaver: Yeah, I think so. We have gratitude for that wisdom. We have gratitude for elders, story tellers, and people who set us on the path. Steven von Till is one of those people. Me and Nathan, our background is we grew up in Olympia, Washington in the 90s. When we were 14-15 years old, we were listening to heavy metal made by the gods. Metallica, Morbid Angel, people we only knew about from looking at the album artwork. We had the VHS of Headbangers Ball.
Then we were doing punk music too because the town we grew up in had a very vibrant punk scene. There was a venue downtown that we worked at when we were kids. That’s were I first saw Neurosis. I helped them load in and watched their show when I was 17. That was a moment that changed my life forever. I loved being able to tell Steve that. Just having gratitude for showing me a way to do music that’s so honorable, full of integrity, and shows great respect for the Earth and ancestors. Also justice. Justice for the Earth, justice for all people. That’s what the cover art is about. Just justice. It’s Tyr who’s placing his hand at the mouth of Fenris Wolf with great courage. That’s what the record is about.
Blocland: What was working with Steven Von Till like?
Weaver: It was fun. I was blown away by his musicianship and craft. It’s just been amazing to be friends with the guy and learn what he’s all about. It was a really fun part.
Blocland: In an old interview, one of you mentioned the late 80s and early 90s Wax Trax/ Industrial scene. Do you think any of that has bled into Wolves In the Throne Room?
Weaver: Oh, definitely. I love techno music because it’s trance music. The bass drum in Wolves In the Throne Room is moving time around way deep down in the Earth, but it’s different. At a Wolves In the Throne Room concert people are head banging and freaking out. There isn’t the same kind of dancing like at a techno concert, but there’s a lot of the same feeling there.
Blocland: Do you see much of a distinction between black metal and techno?
Weaver: Yeah, of course. It’s totally different with the aesthetic. Wolves In the Throne Room is a metal band. We’re very proud of that. We honor what metal is: guitar and drums. But we push it in our own direction.
Blocland: Some of us at Blocland are big fans of Wolves In the Throne Room’s first 2004 demo. We think there’s a lot of charm. It’s an interesting snap shot of a band figuring things out before they’ve gotten to where they are now. Is there any chance of a reissue?
Weaver: Definitely! That record reminds me of the fact that there’s always been a third member in Wolves In the Throne Room. We started the band on that demo with Nick Paul. Then it was Rick Dahlin, a wonderful person and musician. Now it’s Kody Keyworth playing guitar. He’s the one who’s going to be with us until the end.
Blocland: What does Kody Keyworth bring to Wolves In Throne Room?
Weaver: He just is Wolves In the Throne Room. He’s in the band with us. He brings the true spirit of the band. The spirit of respect, honor, strength, love, open-heartedness. That’s what the band is all about. To me, that’s what metal is all about. Freedom. Freedom to live a good life. Yeah, man. Kody, he’s a true brother.
Blocland: I just want to say that it’s nice to hear a black metal musician, like yourself, talking about love and openness.
Weaver: Yeah, man! Metal, that’s what it is. It gets into your heart and lifts it up. It makes you cry sometimes. It’s about love.
Blocland: What do you suggest we at Blocland and our readers do to combat the disappearing honey bee population?
Weaver: Backyard hives.
Blocland: Is that something you have going on?
Weaver: Yeah, we do. Well, to tell you the truth, our friend who did the hive let them go South so we have to revive those little buggers. Oh! I’ll tell you one other thing: fucking don’t put poison on your lawn. Stop using bug poison. Don’t use pesticides. Just use basic shit!
Blocland: Summers over and Autumn is here. That means back to school. What advice can you give to our younger readers for a successful 2017-2018 school year?
Weaver: (laughs) Wolves In the Throne Room doesn’t believe in school.
Thrice Woven is out now on the band’s own Artemisia Records.