A lot’s happened Stateside in the three years since Wolves In The Throne Room last released an album. Trump’s election has shifted politics to the right, and his party have brought in a generally regressive agenda, with climate change denial proving particularly painful for this band. Their elemental black metal gains so much power from their deep connection to the majestic forests enshrouding their hometown of olympia, Washington, known to its inhabitants as Cascadia.
“It’s agonising; I cry about it all the time,” says drummer Aaron Weaver, the sincere spokesman for the band he formed with his younger brother, guitarist/vocalist Nathan, in 2003. Yet despite these environmental concerns, he makes it clear that discussing politics isn’t on the agenda.
“I don’t wanna talk about that shit,” he asserts. “our music is mythic; it’s not operating in this world. For me it’s personal, it’s a feeling of grieving and sadness, and that feeling turns into music. The earth will abide, no matter what happens to human beings.”
Lamentation is but one part of the force and magic of forthcoming sixth album Thrice Woven, a collection of songs born of feral urge and spiritual instinct, rooted as much in their homeland as in the ancient european folklore that so inspires them – a key part of the escapism so vital to black metal’s ability to transport listeners away from normality. It’s all articulated with the gnashing of teeth that made an indelible impact upon the release of their 2006 debut, Diadem Of 12 Stars.
“Black metal needs teeth; this is the sound of a wolf tearing the throat out of its prey,” affirms Aaron, proud that his band is regarded as spearheading American black metal, their aggressive sound and enlightened perspective paving the way for the likes of Deafheaven, building on foundations laid by the emotive extremities of countrymen Neurosis (legendary guitarist/vocalist Steve von Till even lends his weathered wisdom to a spoken-word piece on The Old Ones Are With Us).
Their Norwegian black metal forbears also played a massive part, WITTR embracing the distinctive sound of the black flame while leaving some of the distasteful elements by the wayside. “When I was a left-wing crusty back in the day and I heard [solo project of notoriously right-wing black metal progenitor/murderer Varg Vikernes] Burzum, it seemed like a story – that was the part that touched me, this mythic quality, the part that comes from the realm of dreams. That’s the magic of art – a disgusting person can make art that touches you. Fuck Varg and his preposterous political agenda. It’s so far from where we are spiritually and ethically.”
WITTR took these mythic inspirations and built upon black metal’s romanticism of nature’s wilds, forging a unique voice. “It felt like music we’d never heard,” reflects Aaron. “of course there were bands that influenced us directly in terms of taking black metal into a new context, but that was about it – we just did our own thing.”
Don’t be misled into seeing the band as loners wandering the wilderness, however. A sense of community is important to them, tied into their love of their environment and a yearning to feel connected to ancient tradition. The band have embraced a DIY ethic from day one. They run their own label, Artemisia, and 2014’s Celestite was the first album they recorded in full at their own studio they built within their ‘compound’ – the beating heart of the band.
“It’s an amazing place,” enthuses Aaron, his words alight whenever talk turns to home. He lives right upon the edge of 500 acres of huge cedar and fir trees. “The forest was cut down 110 years ago and has grown back wild. The ravens, deer and salmon are returning. When the touring band is here, we all live and cook together. We have salmon roasts, drink mead and work out the material. We have amazing neighbours with cool kids that come by sometimes.”
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To hear him speak of it is inspiring, conveying a sense of togetherness that is sometimes lost amid today’s accelerated lifestyle. “That’s the thing that I want most in my life – that sense of a village,” Aaron says earnestly. “I realised as I got older and became a parent that that’s all humans need – connection.”
Aaron’s son will soon be four, and fatherhood has had an indelible impact on his music. “It opened my heart wider,” he explains. “If anything, being a parent lets me get into more terrifying places creatively.” Darkness is an omnipresent force in black metal; an ancient power source writhing within us all, that allows those unafraid to explore and wield it as effectively as WITTR to connect to something nameless – something deeper lurking within its sanctuary. “It literally comes from the body,” muses Aaron, “from a deep, dark place that you can’t attach a name to. It comes from the formless void; it gets you into that space. For me, it’s a healing space; a nourishing space.”
It’s a way for them to tap into elemental forces of nature, Thrice Woven’s reverent savagery an attempt to blend their Cascadian worship with a love of ancient tales, creating new mythology for future generations. “Those are the stories we love, the stories I tell my son,” says Aaron. “The stories about Cú Chulainn, the hero of Ireland, or about the Norse gods. I make up stories about salmon and cedar trees, the unique magic of this place.”
Despite Aaron’s reluctance to discuss the pressing issues of the day, they fester in his mind. As empowering as black metal is, it’s a thought space to which we can only escape momentarily. Until death takes us, he reckons we must all ask ourselves what we can do to make this realm a better place, to instil community, to respect others and the world around us. With WITTR, he’s trying to answer those questions himself.
“This is a complicated thing – what’s my good work in the world?” Aaron asks himself. “music – that’s how I respond to things. I feel so blessed and privileged; I have so much gratitude for our fans. I always tell younger people: find out what your work is – what’s the good work that you can do in this lifetime?”
Thrice Woven is out on September 22 via Artemisia.