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The Enduring Spirit of “Two Hunters”

two hunters

Still basking in the starlight of their debut full-length Diadem of 12 Stars, Wolves in the Throne Room returned to serious acclaim not a year later with Two Hunters. If Diadem of 12 Stars established Wolves in the Throne Room as a promising new band with unlimited potential, then the four tracks comprising Two Hunters were the realization of that potential. The band had discovered a winning formula with their first album, and Two Hunters did little to deviate, delivering on-brand content of matchable quality. They’re not the same record, though: Two Hunters saw increased fastidiousness, variety, and magnificence, reigning in Diadem of 12 Stars‘ wild energy and honing the band’s signature walls of noise (and softer, melodic asides) for more acute impact.

Today (and in the wake of the recently-released Thrice Woven), Two Hunters turns the big one-zero. That’s interesting because Two Hunters finds itself, now, amidst a veritable ocean of “Cascadian-inspired” black metal, much of which owes itself to Wolves in the Throne Room’s first two albums anyway. Does Two Hunters sound dated, then, or less “fresh” amongst soundalikes? Actually, no, quite the opposite: it sounds like a tale told by wise, old grandparents. Matured and distinctive, Two Hunters has something to teach newcomers about the coloration, texture, and ambiance of proper “Cascadian” black metal. Within its sub-50-minute runtime, the band covers incredible ground, their persistent chorus riffing and synth overlays drawing out the temporal experience — a feature always present with the band, but to a significant extent on Two Hunters.

The sheer, dark majesty of Two Hunters is an energy which cannot be precluded or diminished. With a 6-minute ambient/noise introduction, the album sought to establish an ethereal headspace, one where time dissipates and an extreme presence overwhelms you. This was in anticipation for the triumphant explosion of “Vastness and Sorrow,” the album’s loudest and most aggressive track, but also to relax your consciousness… to press you into a more detached mode of awareness. This is evident on the especially meditative track “Cleansing,” featuring guest vocals from Jessika Kenney, both harrowing and inspired, i.e. something to “carry you away.” They feel at one with the album, an integrative part expanding the album’s artistic scope rather than a gimmick or add-on — in fact, in a world of gimmicks and add-ons, Two Hunters overall stands proudly as a straight deal.

“Most people are utterly divorced from anything that is real and spiritually pure. This is profoundly sad. Working to feel the magic in nature is perhaps the most immediate path to accessing that which is meaningful,” said drummer Aaron Weaver in an interview with around the time of Two Hunters’ release. Certainly, if Wolves in the Throne Room had a partypiece or shtick, it’d be their connection to nature. Theirs is spiritual: nature deified, but sans religion. A reverence not for what/who (supposedly) gives and takes life, but for life and death themselves, a morally indifferent cycle both beautiful and uncompromising. As far as Two Hunters is concerned, its final track “I Will Lay Down My Bones Among the Rocks and Roots” captures this ethos both lyrically and musically. Its final lines read: “I will lay down my bones among the rocks and roots of the deepest hollow next to the streambed / The quiet hum of the earth’s dreaming is my new song / When I awake, the world will be born anew.”

Whether Two Hunters is the best Wolves in the Throne Room album is entirely subjective (and probably irrelevant), but it remains fact that it is a profoundly important one for the band. With a lineup change and six years since Celestial Lineage, this year’s Thrice Woven is in some ways a departure from the sound the band staked into the ground on Two Hunters. Two Hunters sounds like how it feels to see Wolves in the Throne Room live; whereas, in some respects, Thrice Woven is more of a headphones listen (at least in this writer’s opinion). Weaver noted in another interview around the time of Two Hunters’ release (with Ravishing Grimness) that: “We exist in order to play music in a live setting. I think that we are most successful in conjuring the energy we seek when we are able to loose [sic] ourselves in the deep catharsis that comes with the emotional outpouring of live performance.”

It matters that Wolves in the Throne Room can, to an extent, recreate their signature live experience on record… but again, each listener will be different. If at least one of their records calls to mind the incense, lighting, and moody theatrics of their dramatic live show, then may their work be considered complete. For many of you, Two Hunters will be that record. Allow it to illustrate that while time can be a destructive force, music is a stronger one. It has the ability to not only transport listeners to a different place, but also to instill the real meaning that the place has for those who call it home.

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