Wolves in the Throne Room dispensed with the usual stage lighting at The Black Sheep. The Olympia, Washington-based black metal band retired from the standard touring circuit several years back partly because the environment didn’t suit the music or the experience the band wanted out of playing live shows for itself and for fans of the earthy, transcendent beauty of its music. This time out the band was touring in support of Thrice Woven, its first full-length album not tied to a previous release since 2011. Some of us would have loved to have seen a live performance of 2014’s all-synth Celestite, the companion to 2011’s Celestial Lineage, but that will probably never happen.
At any rate, Thrice Woven is the first album following the trilogy of Two Hunters, Black Cascade and Celestial Lineage and the album, and the live show, felt like a band that had to pare back and reinvent itself using the parts it had lying around in the wake of what some critics might have called career suicide when the band announced its last lengthy tour in 2011. There’s something majestic and accessible about Wolves in the Throne Room that reached a wider audience than many of its peers—the kind of accessibility that was propelling the group to wider audiences including people who otherwise had little interest in metal or heavy music in general. The material for Thrice Woven is probably too long format for people conditioned by the brevity of pop music to find fully engaging but for this tour, Wolves in the Throne Room created a stage set like a pagan holy place with structures and patterned design work to enhance the sense of the intimate yet otherworldly with the illumination provided by lights imitating the orange of campfires and braziers burning the incense to clear the space of unwanted influences. In the background, a blue stage light cutting through oranges, reds and purples and reds like stark moonlight penetrating the haze that made the figures on stage indistinct. The latter effect seemed to hint that the band wanted the identities of the players to matter less than the music and the experience itself—a shared ritual to dissolve, for an hour or two anyway, the demands and destructive culture of the modern world.
Something about the relentless, sometimes abrasive, flood of sounds from stage was indisputably uplifting and cathartic. Like a cleansing of the mind through the tribal sounds and a sense of having participated in an experience crafted to express a mystical experience. With songs with titles like “The Old Ones Are With Us,” “Mother Owl, Father Ocean,” and “Fires Roar in the Palace of the Moon” it seems apparent that a certain meaning, not merely an aesthetic, was being conveyed suggesting a reminder of our ancient roots as a species that unite us, a connection that holds potential for a positive future. There wasn’t much stage banter but that would have just broken the spell and WITTR tends to be good at not ruining the moment.