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Wolves in the Throne Room – Celestite

Wolves in the Throne Room have long been a personal favorite among North American black metal bands, both due their environmentalist aesthetic and the resulting shamanic twist they apply to the genre. 2011 saw their last major release, the grandiose, otherworldly Celestial Lineage, shortly followed by the announcement of a hiatus for an unspecified amount of time. Fast forward two years and the throne room began stirring again. There was a fire in the hearth, the drip of fangs echoing on stone floors, with the throne itself bearing the heat of occupancy once more.

Once I heard “Celestite Mirror” though, the first track from Celestite, I was taken aback, prone to internal monologues such as “what is this?!” or “this surely must be an interlude.” As time progressed, it became clear that Celestite was not the WITTR I was used to. With continuous listens, it became clear, however, that this was still WITTR at its heart. The group veered their style down a path taken by acts such as Katatonia and Ulver, whose departures from doom metal and black metal, respectfully, took their sounds on fascinating, albeit radical, new ventures. Unlike Katatonia’s self-mourning rock and Ulver’s avant-garde progression, WITTR is much the same beast, crafting a wordless sprawl that nearly reaches the star-scraping heights of their back catalog. Utilizing nothing more than guitar and synthesizer to conjure lush soundscapes from a primordial past, Celestite is an astral projection of Celestial Lineage, acting as a reinterpretation of that album, its songs reformed into ghostly caricatures. It exists as a disembodied heat shimmer, fluctuating between longings for a reincarnated existence while retaining a semblance of its former self.

Celestite shifts, at times jarringly, between transcendent and mediocre. “Turning Ever Towards the Sun” and “Celestite Mirror” echo of WITTR’s elegantly schizophrenic approach taken with their metallic endeavors, but in their emptier moments lack those same endeavors’ abundant feeling of purpose. In other sections, the collection is reminiscent of a long lost third soundtrack to the film Legend, a slice of mid-’80s fantasy cheese replete with a scrapped Jerry Goldsmith score for its director’s cut and the requisite Tangerine Dream score for its theatrical release. In that way, WITTR attempts to force the fantastical on a cinematic scale with middling results across variants grafted end-on-end to each other. Celestite is by no means a mess, but it can be messy, with the Weaver brothers doing an admirable job to replicate the atmospheric fury that they themselves once claimed mastery of without experimental boasting.

Celestite is far from a disappointment, though a letdown nonetheless, but still a testament to the promise that WITTR are capable of progression. Black metal is a style that often resists reform, a task Wolves in the Throne tackled a decade ago beginning with Diadem of 12 Stars and continued through the following three albums. Celestite has the capability to be jarring for long time fans, it also possesses characteristics that will keep people talking and their past efforts endearing.

— Bruce Hardt

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