Wolves In The Throne Room, Washington’s own all-natural Black Metaler’s, have been around the block. Twelve years as a band has sharpened Wolves In The Throne Room into a music machine, churning out excellent slabs of atmospheric, naturalistic black metal. Yet, in order to grow, one must move past the old. Their newest album, called Celestite, is droney, spacey ambient music, a far cry from the blast-laden metal on their previous albums. The operative word for Wolves In The Throne Room is renewal.
I talked to Aaron, brother of WIITR’s other half, Nathan, about the band’s new direction.
So you said this was a companion piece to your last record. Would you say it is connected thematically or musically, and did you find it difficult to create a companion piece for an album that is three years old?
Um, let’s see, two questions. I’ll take the first one. Celestite exists in the same sort of musical universe as Celestial Lineage. So it’s a companion in that regard. It shares the same sort of imaginal framework. When we make our music, for us it is very visual. When we close our eyes, we’re transported to the world from which the music emanates, or the world that the music creates. It was quite easy, actually, because even though we’ve taken a bit of a break from playing music after many, many years of hitting it really hard… as soon as we began the sessions for Celestite, we got back into the sounds and got back into the musical world and it all opened back up for us. It was all right there the way we left it, and we were pleased to be able to take it into this new direction.
That ties into another question I had. You mentioned the visual aspect. You close your eyes and you see something.
A physical world.
Right. Right. A physical world.
Do you feel the aesthetics in Wolves In The Throne Room play a big part in your music? When I buy a Wolves In The Throne Room album it’s a unified experience beyond the music. You get the cover art and you get, as you described, a feeling of a world seperate from our own. Is that something you consciously try and create?
Oh of course. The visual aesthetics are maybe not as important, but are extremely important to us as a band. That holds true for the album packaging, the cover artwork, the pictures in the booklet, as well as our live performance. Where we also like to bring a strong visual aesthetic into the spaces we play, which is important for us to do because when you’re on tour, oftentimes you’re playing spaces that don’t have a lot of atmosphere to them. Just your standard black block kind of club. It’s our goal to take those spaces and bring some sort of energy to them, our own world, our own little bit of home.
Regarding your live show, your new material is very synthesizer-based. Is this something you will pursue playing live.
No, no, absolutely not. We’re starting a tour in July. We’re actually spending today preparing the set. It’ll be material off of our previous albums, from Diadem of 12 stars, Two Hunters and Celestial Lineage. Celestite was conceived of as a studio project. it’s music that emanates out of the studio, out of having a musical relationship with the equipment, with the recording console, with the banks of outboard gear, with the synthesizers, and that’s not the kind of thing we’d want to do live. For us playing live is very physical, a very cathartic process. No one wants to see someone standing up there with a synthesizer, you know? We’ve always had space on our set for more improvisational, droney elements and we plan on expanding on those in the set on the west coast. I’ll bring some synths with me in order to bring some of the energy of Celestite onto the stage but for the most part we’ll be playing the black metal version of Wolves In The Throne Room.
I noticed a lot of, as you said, droney elements in your black metal. I thought that the progression to synthesizer-based music was very natural. Did you guys sit down and decide that the next album would not be Black Metal. How would that come about?
When we were recording Celestial Lineage we had the idea to do the record that became Celestite. That has to do with the process of making records, at least our process. When we were mixing Celestite, we had every sound up on the console with their own fader. During mixdown you mute certain sections, mute the drums, the vocals, so you can focus on a different aspect of the mix, raise the EQ, or what have you. When we muted the guitars, drums, and vocals we were left with this soundscape of synthesizers, psychedelic guitars, and ambience, a place of pure sound disconnected from a song. We thought it was really compelling. It really spoke to us. That’s where the concept of Celestite came from.
You put out this new record on your new label, Artemisia productions. Are you still working with Southern Lord?
Our contract with Southern Lord was up after Celestial Lineage. We did three records. It seems like a natural thing for us to do, to release music on our own. We’ve always had a DIY ethic. We like to do things on our own and we’re capable of doing it. A lot of bands aren’t. A lot of bands are trashed or just can’t get it together but me and Nathan work really hard at this. I’ve never been happy with commodifying music the way we do, turning our music into something you would buy and sell, but that’s the world we live in. That’s rock n roll. That’s how things are done in this day and age. I think that by removing the record label, this entity between us, the band, and the audience, it makes that relationship more direct. This is something I feel good about. The music comes from us, the people contact us, they pay us. That relationship feels much more honest and much more in keeping with the spirit of Wolves In the Throne Room.
Is the label going to be releasing anyone else’s music?
I don’t think so. I’m not gonna say never, but for the time being we don’t want to get any demo tapes. Running a record label is basically a shitty desk job. It’s answering emails and phone calls and packaging mail and doing a bunch of mundane crap. That’s the kind of music we’re willing to do for ourselves, for our own music, but I don’t want to make it a bigger enterprise.
It’s probably been said to death, but your music is very connected to nature. I was wondering if this connection is spiritual or if it comes about because you are surrounded by it every day. I’m not going to say paranormal, but is there a religious context to your love of nature or is it just that you enjoy nature and you write about what you are surrounded by.
There is this world that we live in that is filled with physical objects and is ruled by the laws of physics, and there is another whole world that lies just beyond the veil. That is the world we work in, that is the world our music exists in, that is the world our music comes from. I guess you could say it’s a spiritual world. I don’t really like that word. It doesn’t mean very much. There are a lot of ways to get there. Human beings have always had a relationship with that world, with that plain of consciousness. Music is one of the most ancient ways of making contact. For us it’s music, of course, but it’s through nature, being in nature, opening yourself to it. You’ll hear things. You’ll hear voices, songs. You’ll feel a presence. You’ll open yourself up to energies, forces, and entities that, on one hand, are a part of you. They are emanating from your psyche but you could look at it from the perspective that they are outside of you. That they are the forces of nature, spirits. For us that is very much a reality.
I always thought that was a part of the appeal of Black Metal, that it is not a part of the world as we know it.
Right. In many ways, it is about conjuring another world, about using music to change this one. Or to try and call a different future into being. That’s the role of music and art. It’s there to imagine a different life, a different set of possibilities, to imagine being healed if you’re sick. That’s the role of music in human history, especially in a shamanic context.
I find your music, personally anyway, to be very life-affirming. Is that accurate? How would you describe your message or tone?
It’s not life-denying. Not like, I don’t know… Watain. Watain calls for the destruction of all life, which is an extreme position to take and yeah, as you have intuited, that is not our position at all. We are deeply entranced with this life and the beauty of this world and everything that comes with it. The longing, the misery, the beauty and the joy, and all the other feelings that we experience as human beings. We’re in deep with those feelings and, of course, it is expressed within the music. I don’t see any point in the life denying impulse. It’s an old impulse. It’s the impulse of a man who goes out into the woods and holds their hand up into the air until their arm atrophies. That’s a really old path. That’s not the path for us. We’re engaged in the world. We’re enraptured with it.
July 2, 2014 at 1:52 pm
Good interview, and I thought it was pretty cool that they were like ‘Yeah we’re trying out a different sound for the band but nah the live show is going to be the black metal stuff and even some stuff from Diadem.’ Like, they know *how far* to push it, unlike say Opeth. People are going to have their opinions about Celestite but I think it’s reassuring that even people who think ‘Eh, not my kind of thing’ know that when they go and see WITTR live that they’ll still be able to hear the black metal stuff, and that this isn’t necessarily going to be the future of WITTR. That seems to me to be a fantastic attitude.
That said, I haven’t listened to Celestite in full yet so I’m not going to try and offer any opinion on it other than that I’m intrigued by, and cautiously optimistic of, the idea based on their experiments in that direction on Celestial Lineage.