By Jason Jordan
Despite the limited, positive reactions to Wolves in the Throne Room and 2005 Demo, no one was quite prepared for the full-length. In fact, BM aficionados were floored when Diadem of 12 Stars landed this past February via Vendlus Records, which before then had little to no experience with black metal. The press, however, has been all positive – a few even singling out the debut as an early contender for the best release of 2006. I had a chat with a member of the trio, who chose to remain nameless, and what follows is an honest account of how an underrated USBM band approaches a subgenre that is often on the brink of criticism and controversy, if not already in the thick of it.
Congratulations on the release of Diadem of 12 Stars. I like the record very much, and was also impressed by the preceding demos. Tell me, why did you opt to reuse 2005 Demo’s “Queen of the Borrowed Light” and “(A Shimmering Radiance) Diadem of 12 Stars,” even though the latter is shorter this time around?
Well, we intended on our demo on being just that – a demo! We had planned to re-record some or all of the songs on our 2005 CD-R once we could get in to the studio. It’s just one of those situations where the musical vision was limited by the technical side of things. This is a constant concern in our band: channeling emotion and will through our cranky, old tube amps and rickety, falling apart drum-kit is challenging. I chalk it up to our poverty.
The artwork of the new album is quite astonishing. Wolves in the Throne Room seem to place emphasis on nature, and perhaps that’s one reason the folk/organic bits work so well. Still, if we don’t count the insert under the CD tray, there’s no logo and no album title on the front cover, nor is there a clear band picture. There aren’t lyrics in the inlay either. Are there reasons you wanted the record to be this way?
We aren’t interested in notoriety at all; in fact we would rather that our identities remain permanently off the record. It is also representative of the fact that our band is caught in the classic and predictable conflict between art and commerce. We made the choice to release our music through a record label, buy a tour van, have a fucking MySpace page – all of the “band” bullshit. Honestly I’m not convinced that it is the right thing to do. We would rather have no dealings at all with the Internet or any of that rubbish, but we have chosen to do the whole “band” thing – why not do it all the way? It is a huge embarrassing situation really, playing the music we do while fiddling away on the Internet, cell phones and the like. It is really upsetting to me that our CD has a barcode imprinted on it. I hate the fact that we travel in a gas-guzzling van on the interstate highway system. I don’t know about any of this. We’ll see how long we can keep it up before we retire to our farm. A loud voice in my head tells me that we should only play this music on the winter solstice, drunk on mead and cider, burning torches to remind us of the long-forgotten sun.
Another reason we would like to keep identifying marks to a minimum is the centrality of mystery to our music. It seems to me that the catharsis of playing and listening to brutal, powerful black metal is akin, in some small way, to a shamanic experience or a trance. Creating a space where consciousness can be transformed depends on mystery; that is to say the creation of a psychological space where the conscious mind can be bypassed and our deeper selves can be touched. This is nothing that hasn’t been said about rock and roll before, but we take the notion very seriously.
Describe for us, if you would, how you entered into a working relationship with Jamie (Hammers of Misfortune) and Dino (Asunder), as they both contribute vocals to Diadem of 12 Stars.
We met Jamie and Dino while playing shows with their respective bands. We are really grateful to both Dino and Jamie for contributing their talents to our album; both of them are incredible musicians who have a lot of integrity. Going into the recording studio, we were really interested in creating a whole and cohesive album, as opposed to a collection of songs. The contribution of guest vocalists greatly contributed to an ebb and flow of energy, intensity and sound, I think.
On a similar note, how did your partnership with Tim Green (The Fucking Champs) come about? Since you’re undoubtedly familiar with Weakling, does his production and mastering job further draw out the similarities between Wolves and Weakling? I’m sure you’re cognizant of the fact that you get compared to them all the time….
We knew Tim a little from when he lived in Olympia years ago. He recorded a lot of lo-fi punk records in this studio he had in a grungy old basement. We loved those old records, and all the bands he has been in over the years. Definitely the stuff Tim records at Louder (his studio in SF) sounds amazing, especially the guitars.
As to the Weakling
comparison, we have definitely heard this a lot, although we don’t really agree. Weakling
is a band that comes at black metal from a similar vantage point; that is to say we are all “punk” musicians playing metal on our own terms, for our own reasons. I’d imagine that we might share similar musical influences and similar backgrounds. That being said, I think that a crucial difference between our music is the urban/rural factor. Our music is a product of the forests of our home and our personal spirituality; in the Weakling
record I hear the fog and the noise of San Francisco. I really think that the energy of the two bands is really, really different.
Honestly, I don’t know how much Tim’s production contributed to the sound of 12 Stars
or Dead as Dreams
. He isn’t really a fan of black metal. I think that in both cases the bands pushed for the washed-out and icy sound that is the hallmark of the genre.
Besides Dead as Dreams, what are some monumental USBM albums? Are US black metallers working to surpass those recordings, or should they be more concerned with providing nice complements?
Surpass? I guess that we don’t think about music this way. Black metal has this strange macho obsession with being the “best,” the “elite.” I can only speak for our band, but we don’t consider our music in relation to that of anyone else. It is private, personal and local. We definitely don’t consider Wolves in the Throne Room
within the context of any BM grand narrative.
I think that there is too much choice and variety in music – commodification makes for extensive and wide-ranging record collections, but it also takes art out of context and throws it willy-nilly into the whirling vortex of modern capitalism. Hence, the barcode on the record and the MySpace page. I would rather that music remain local: music about a certain place, for a small group of people. This is all fantasy of course; the world is as it is. I suppose if my Luddite dream became reality, we would never have heard Burzum
in our adolescence and our band would never have formed, or at least it would sound quite different.
Considering that Wolves in the Throne Room hail from Olympia, Washington, you automatically meet the one major criterion for fitting into the USBM scene, yet I believe you’re often left out of the mix when this topic arises. Some may say that your sound is more in tune with European black metal than US. Why or how did this development form?
We arrived at our sound in total isolation. We honestly believe that our music is an aural expression of the energies of the land around us – both an exultation of the magic and power of the forests and mountains and a lament for man’s continual folly. Our motivations are profoundly local and personal. I don’t know if we fit in with the so-called NWOWCBM – we certainly are aware of the music of Xasthur
and the like, but I think that those other artists are trying to do something completely different, perhaps staying more true to the utter misanthropy and Satanism of the BM tradition.
Nor do we have much in common with European BM. To my mind, “true” BM is another culture’s music that emerged from a particular time and place. In America, we cannot have that same connection to land and cultural history, thus we cannot identify with the culture of Norwegian BM at all. Black metal is unique because the music is secondary to the exploration of northern European spirituality and right-wing political ideologies. The BM tradition posits a return to community rooted in racial identity, a renaissance of pagan spirituality that will usher in a new and glorious Reich, free from Christian morality and the pernicious influence of non-Aryan elements. But is this realistic or desirable? From our perspective, the Viking paradise offered by BM is but a shadow of a mythic, pastoral existence. I am thinking, for instance, of the drawings that accompany Burzum
’s albums: it is that deformed, sadly twisted vision of his homeland that is conjured in my mind’s eye when I listen to BM.
I think that in a lot of ways our music is lamenting something deeper than the destruction of one culture – it is perhaps more universal, maybe more connected to deep ecology than myth, which is but a construction of man. To deal with this sadness, we feel that we need to forge something completely new rather than pine away for what has been lost, for what we never had. Perhaps that is our only option, as we are interlopers in this land. The logical thing would be for some disaffected youth from the local Indian nation to start a black metal band and burn my
On a similar note, there are several characteristics that do indeed separate you from many of your US peers. Aside from stylistic variations – though the beginning of “Queen of Borrowed Light” and the mid-section of “Face in a Night Time Mirror Part 2” are very USBM-esque – you don’t use pseudonyms, you don’t wear corpsepaint, and you don’t collaborate with other USBM bands/individuals. Please comment on those statements, as well as provide us with any additional differences you can muster.
I think that all of your observations are true. We have a lot of respect for our West Coast contemporaries, but I think that we are trying to do something completely different. We have absolutely no interest in trying to recreate a Darkthrone
record. Corpsepaint and the pseudonyms that have always been the mark of BM really don’t mean anything to us. This brings us back to the crux of the matter – Wolves in the Throne Room
is not black metal, or, more accurately we play black metal on our own terms, for our own reasons. Essentially, our black metal is the product of our personal and specific history and as such is its own entity, to be understood unto itself, irrespective of other bands that share certain stylistic elements.
Norwegian black metal is completely unbalanced – that is why it is so compelling and powerful. It is the sound of utter torment, believing to one’s core that that winter will never end, that spring will never come. It is really music that can only be made by bitter and rage-filled teenagers. It is powerful and important to have these kinds of feelings of deep misanthropy and misery while one comes of age, because our age is sick. I don’t think, for instance, that a 35-year old man could make a record as great and pure and Filosofem
. BM is about destruction, destroying your belief system – it is a cleansing fire that opens up new possibilities for thought and feeling. In many ways, it is a first step, not the alpha and omega.
There is certain logic to the insistence among BM partisans that one stay “true” to the cold, grim, and evil aesthetic developed by the progenitors of the scene. One of the tenets of “true” black metal is the total denial of life and light as an elemental part of the universe. But this is a fallacy: one cannot deny the inexorable cycle of the seasons, the reality of growth and evolution. I think our personal manifestation of black metal is rooted in the notion of moving beyond that first, brutal psychic dislocation of realizing that the world around you is a façade and everything you have been taught is a falsehood.
In our lives, the apocalyptic fantasy that is BM is tempered by the very real need to plant seeds at a certain time, to split wood and build shelter. When one lives with a more immediate relationship to the earth, one is forced to confront the reality of balance in the universe. The universe is not “extreme,” nor is it always cold, grim, and evil. Maybe living in a city is the factor that hides this seemingly obvious reality of life. In many ways, I am unconvinced that one can play compelling BM music while living in the suburbs – the phrase “arm-chair Viking” springs to mind.
Are you looking at eventually bridging the gap between your fellow countrymen? Is there even a gap in the first place? Or, do you see yourselves as too far removed from the scene (style-wise, characteristic-wise, etc.) to ever be completely involved with it?
I don’t see us becoming involved with the USBM scene in any deep way. If anything, I see our music becoming less accessible and more personal, in that our musical expression is so closely tied to our lives. Maybe we will do two more black metal records, then move on to something else. This is what Ulver
did, after all. You certainly won’t see us donning corpsepaint in an attempt to fit in or sell more records.
To be honest, I was kind of surprised when I heard Wolves in the Throne Room signed to Vendlus Records because I was used to their very eclectic roster, which didn’t really gravitate toward the heavier side of the spectrum. By signing V:28, re-releasing a few Audiopain records, and grabbing you guys, they’re changing their image. How did Vendlus catch your fancy?
I seem to recall that Aesop from the Bay Area band Ludicra
was instrumental in connecting us to Joseph, the head of Vendlus. We were immediately taken with his honesty and passion for music. Working with Joseph has been great all around.
Numerous underground black metal groups don’t tour at all, or keep it to a minimum. What are your touring plans now that you’ve got a great full-length out in the open?
We come out of an underground scene where playing live is de rigueur
. We definitely consider Wolves in the Throne Room
to be a live band – we take pride in the energy and emotion that we put into our live performance. We have nothing but disdain for the drum triggers and limp posturing that is all too often the case with live metal. Where is the emotion and power? We have toured the west coast a few times, playing a lot of great shows with bands like Asunder
and Graves at Sea
and we are currently considering a number of offers for tours in the summer and fall.
Still, we are concerned that driving around in a van and hanging around in bars trivializes the music to a great degree. We are considering a long tour in the fall, but are very concerned about the integrity of our art – not to mention our physical and emotional health. Even so, we are tentatively planning to tour the whole country before next winter.
Anything else you’d like to add? The parting words are yours, then.
Thanks for the thoughtful questions and the space to express our ideas. If there are readers out there who are moved by the emotions and the ideas inherent to black metal, I would suggest that you learn more about the Earth Liberation Front and the plight of certain people who have been recently implicated in “ecoterrorism.” We all need to do something to help those who (allegedly) had the courage to take ideas to the next level, and are now paying a brutal price.
UM’s Review of Wolves in the Throne Room – Diadem of 12 Stars
Official Wolves in the Throne Room Website
Official Vendlus Records Website