On the last few releases from Wolves In The Throne Room (save for their move into ambiance with 2014’s Celestite), there has been a humble warmth buried in their earthly tones. If their music was a season, it was a crisp winter day with the sun shining just enough to melt a few icicles off barren tree limbs. That glare is largely missing from Primordial Arcana, as a bitter chill rests over their sound, at times flirting with symphonic black metal with its consistent arrangement of synths providing a cinematic touch.
Whatever frost forms over this album coats a solid sheet of ice that’s already there, as the forest has been sapped of life by a belligerent blackened blizzard. For the first time on any of their albums, they only have one track that goes over 10 minutes, a feat that puts their restraint on display. There is no heavy experimentation besides the acoustic guitars on “Masters Of Rain And Storm” and a throwback to Celestite with “Eostre” and bonus track “Skyclad Passage.”
With Primordial Arcana, Wolves In The Throne Room have proof that they don’t need double-digit lengths to be monumental. In half the time they normally take on a song, they weave a tapestry of naturalistic slumber that deals in matters of this planet and beyond. They reach for the cosmos on “Primal Chasm (Gift of Fire),” as the creation of the sun is given its just due in a way that’s far more ambitious than its five-or-so minutes suggests.
It’ll be curious to see if this had anything to do with some of the new approaches the Weaver brothers took in the development of Primordial Arcana, from the DIY approach that had the band recording, producing, and mixing the album in their own studio to having guitarist Kody Keyworth involved in writing material. Keyworth, a live member for years until he was brought in full-time in 2017, has a songwriting perspective that meshes well with the atmospheric black metal that has been the band’s signature for almost 20 years.
Wolves In The Throne Room have never tried to make themselves accessible to anyone who doesn’t have the tenacity to embrace their rustic roots, yet Primordial Arcana is the record that could come the closest to being accepted by a wider range of listeners. The shorter songs help, as does the distinct pacing that makes the full-throttled “Mountain Magick” and the delayed explosiveness of “Through Eternal Fields” work well together. They don’t reinvent themselves, but the band does tinker with their sound to make Primordial Arcana a viable addition to their essential discography.
(released August 20, 2021 on Relapse Records)
Heavy Music HQ Rating:
Watch Wolves In The Throne Room – “Mountain Magick” Video