Long before Deafheaven redefined black metal with Sunbather, Wolves In The Throne Room were already beginning to stretch the limits of what the genre could mean. They cut away the bombast of the Dimmu Borgir era and moved things closer towards trance and dark ambient. At first, black metal seemed opposed to these styles. Cut forward fifteen years and it is clear Wolves In The Throne Room have won. They’ve spawned a movement that includes Deafheaven, Alcest, Myrkur and Astronoid. Atmospheric black metal has been the dominant creative form of black metal for most of a decade at this point. They probably didn't expect this, but the Weaver brothers Aaron and Nathan have become a driving force in heavy metal’s future.
After pushing things into complete ambience on Celestine, Wolves In The Throne Room returned to black metal on Thrice Woven in 2017. Primordial Arcana blends the best of both worlds, letting blast beats sit comfortably beside folk instruments and melodic piano. Gone are the ten-minute run times, the soundbite-sized interludes and the sudden tone shifts between sections. It won’t please the corpsepaint crowd, but Primordial Arcana is the most accessible Wolves In The Throne Room have ever sounded. It’s not sad like the depressive suicidal black metal Wolves In The Throne Room are often mixed up with. It's one of the most uplifting things they have ever written.
“Mountain Magick” sets things off with a psychedelic occult vibe, before the drums kick in to remind us who we are dealing with. “Spirit of Lightning”, “Through Eternal Fields” and “Underground Aura” take the album down a mournful path. All three make great use of synthesizers and choral effects to conjure the atmosphere Wolves In The Throne Room are known for. The songs don’t overstay their welcome. They use crushingly slow riffs to maximize heaviness without losing anyone’s attention.
There’s a cinematic quality to Primordial Arcana. It’s like we aren’t listening to an album as much as we are hearing the soundtrack to a scene Wolves In The Throne Room are describing. The Weavers have always said they capture the feeling of their Washington state home. It has never worked better than it does here. The album climax “Masters of Rain and Storm” will make feel like they were standing on a mountaintop during a thunderstorm. This is a cathartic song of hope that builds through a series of epic set-pieces before crumbling into an acoustic dark-folk section.The song uses its ten-minute length to expand on ideas hinted at in other parts of the record. Uncrowded by similar long runtimes, it feels more special this way.
Wolves In The Throne Room are clearly into atmospherics and ambience. But they can also write a killer straight headbanger track. “Primal Chasam (Gift Of Fire)” sounds like Behemoth during their Satanist era mixed with Wolves In The Throne Room’s 2007 Two Hunters. It might be the tightest track the duo have ever written. It’s weird to think of this band sitting down to write a single. But it's looks like it finally happened. A definite staple of any future setlists and a possible hint of things to come.
Wolves In The Throne Room have been waiting to write Primordial Arcana. They sound fresher and more creative than ever. The Weaver brothers are finally venturing out of the underground and up into the light.