Home Music Wolves in the Throne: Room Primordial Arcana

Wolves in the Throne: Room Primordial Arcana

Primordial Arcana can’t help but feel like a retreat of sorts following Wolves in the Throne Rooms’ previous album Thrice Woven. After all, the Washington black metal group is returning from that record’s outer orbit, where they confronted the Eldritch Gods with Anna von Hausswolff’s haunting apparition and Steve Von Till serving as mediums between man and the Old Ones. But, and this is more crucial, on Thrice Woven Wolves in the Throne Room ramped up their sound, surging with a life-or-death drive to comprehend the Lovecraftian horrors.

Primordial Arcana is then a labored withdrawal to Earth. The group sound self-satisfied, which isn’t shocking. They climbed, communicated and contemplated their fate in the face of figments beyond human consciousness. They’ve gotta be a little puckered out. Sadly, that leaves them with little fire brewing under the heavier passages on Primordial Arcana. Their metallic components rarely evoke so much as they exist as segues. That’s a sad fate for one of America’s definitive metal bands over the past decade, and especially so after coming off the roaring fury of their previous LP.

Primordial Arcana’s direction is spelled out in its title; it is both prehistoric and antiquated, focusing on mysticism. The approach was hinted at on “The Old Ones Are With Us,” where the Wolves tapped Steve Von Till to document the naturalistic shifts that heralded the arrival of the Old Ones. It delivered on its foreboding fortune, like an Oracle divulging a bad omen.

Unfortunately, WITTR do not expand upon on this intrigue. While the opener “Mountain Magick” is the most energetic track on album, it mostly functions because of its track positioning. As the lead-in, it has no crescendos it is beholden to delivering. It doesn’t labor to act upon any climactic precedent. Its six-minute runtime leaves no room for the Wolves to pace around. There are still mounds of tension and release, but those waves recall the vitality of their definitive recordings.

Their metal peaks when it ebbs closer to a homely sound like it was produced in a hearth. “Primal Chasm (Gift of Fire)” is a mid-tempo battering ram that leans further into the atmospheric end of the atmospheric black metal equation. The groveling vocals and dingier tone are as satisfying as they are hearty. This earthier sound combines with WITTR’s metal inclinations in moments of carnage, like the breakdown of “Masters of Rain and Storm.”

Elsewhere, their heavy segments are toned down and aimless. They’d much rather indulge in side ventures, leaving their metallic outbursts either half-hearted or half-committed. “Spirit of Lightning” deflates into a lukewarm puddle as opposed to the intended throbbing undertow, mitigating any goodwill from the preceding “Mountain Magick.” Similarly, the ascending crescendo of “Underworld Aurora” limps before it even hops out of the gate, and “Through Eternal Fields” gasps at straws of epic proportions, but its belabored pacing can’t stick the landing.

WITTR play as if they’re being forced to adhere to their metallic influences. How much of this owes to poor performance or to the circumstance of Primordial Arcana’s conception is up for debate. After all, this is the first album where every aspect of the album – its writing, recording, production and mixing – was under the band’s thumb. Of course, this was all handled in their own studio Owl Lodge Studios, which is obviously located under the foliage of Washington’s forests.

Conversely, Wolves in the Throne Room refresh with their newfound fantastical touches, and they revitalize in their homier moments. Anytime they’re not playing metal is more interesting than when they are because they move in new directions. They toy with dungeon synth and folk in grounded pastures, which may sound like a retread on a larger scale. To hear that their best and most forward thinking pieces here are when they recall the Norwegian dungeon synth lineage is a tad mind-boggling. How is it that they progress by regressing to the genre’s roots?

You need to remember that their dungeon is a cabin in the woods. It’s a raggedy folklore retreat wherein they experiment with vials, trinkets and pine trees. It carries a similar dread as Thrice Woven but on a smaller scale. WITTR investigate the mists that swirl from their cauldron. The closing instrumental “Eostre” captures the humanistic appeal of the Cascadian landscape while rejoining it with Norway’s love of honky synthesizers.

With what shreds they have provided the trio should have forgotten the violence and embraced the rustic potion-brewing approach. They’ve already got the appearance and the setting. Why chicken shit out when the best parts are the elixirs they’re brewing through natural remedies like twigs and crows’ feet? Whether they are still haunted by the previous encounters with the beyond or not, Primordial Arcana frustrates by adhering to a style that Wolves in the Throne Room have outgrown.

Primordial Arcana’s direction is spelled out in its title; it is both prehistoric and antiquated, focusing on mysticism. It delivered on its foreboding fortune, like an Oracle divulging a bad omen.
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