Tuesday, October 18, 2011

In case you needed reminding, this is why you sometimes still need to go into music shops; Wolves in the Throne Room, "Celestial Lineage"

I've been a black metal fan for about fifteen years.

The previous sentence is technically the truth, but it isn't particularly accurate. One might be inclined to assume, based on the claims of a person who claims to have been a fan of a type of music for fifteen years, that he regularly buys albums, goes to concerts, reads interviews and album reviews, and is halfway knowledgeable about said genre of music. None of those things apply to me and black metal. In a good year, I'll hear three or four albums. I'm intimidated by the sheer volume of metal out there (across a sprawl of subgenres) and have always felt too intimidated and too daunted by the task of trying to dig through it all. When it comes to journalism, I don't know where to start, all the reference points are unfamiliar to me, it's like I've fallen way too far behind to ever catch up. Metal is one of those genres that I never listened to growing up -- for instance, I didn't listen to 80's icons like Metallica or Slayer, and couldn't even appreciate Guns N Roses like most of my friends did. Simply put, I have no history with the genre. Trying to catch up on folk or country would be just as difficult and feel just as foreign. It's not like techno, where the mountain of music getting released every year might be gargantuan, but I already know the history and culture of the genre, know what I like and what I don't like, and can therefore disappear for a while and always slip right back in.

So if I hadn't walked into Aquarius Records on Valencia St. in San Francisco a few weeks ago, would I have ever heard about Wolves in the Throne Room? There's no way to know for sure. Sometimes it seems that a little bit of internet research and regular trips to a stock list of blogs and websites is enough to keep a person exposed to enough music to keep him or her scrambling for the time to hear everything that piques their interest. And yet all the Pandoras and blog links and Youtube playlists never seem to replicate the thrill of walking into a cool music shop and having your mind blown by a record you've never heard about getting played over the in-store stereo.

When it comes right down to it, all I'm looking for in metal is a killer Wall of Sound.

Across town, I was convinced that goth and metal should almost never be mixed. Ulver's "Blood Inside" (from 2005) was such a disaster that I never believed that a kitchen sink approach to black metal would ever be advisable.

I would have never believed the awesomeness of the intro to the opening track of "Celestial Lineage" if I hadn't been forced to hear it in Aquarius Records with my own ears. After three tense minutes of soothing chants, wind chimes, and sighing synths, "Thuja Magnus Imperium" smoothly segues into its guitar intro before erupting into a choral blizzard of guitars and drums. It's the most satisfying payoff to the long intro of an opening track on an album I've heard since ... well, is there a better one? I need some time to think about this. And only three minutes later, it's back to a Steve Roach lite interlude before exploding again. Spector made three minute operas for the kids, Wolves in the Throne Room prefer a full eleven minutes. Who's counting? Each track is exhausting, exhilarating, and inexplicably heartbreaking.

Give me an honest answer: how would you expect to feel at the end of a ten minute metal track called "Astral Blood"? I promise that if you listen to the penultimate track on "Celestial Lineage", you won't be disappointed that it doesn't match your preconceptions.

The nearly drums-free "Prayer of Transformation" is an elegiac extended hymn that caps off with a distorted drone of guitars that grows slowly in volume only to disappear abruptly. Shouldn't all metal albums end like this??


Leee said...

Dude, you were in the Bay?

You make WitTR sound a lot more appealing than the 5 minutes I spent listening to "Thuja Magnus Imperium."

Barry said...

I was in the Bay for a few days on a combined work/fun trip, I wish there'd been more time to look people up.