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Wolves in the Throne Room’s Diadem of 12 Stars Turns 10

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The brothers Aaron and Nathan Weaver have spent the last decade as Wolves in the Throne Room, fleshing out an unspoiled natural world through their music. Their songs have no love for modern civilization, and instead devote themselves to nature throughout their five full-lengths. The first of which, their ethereal masterwork Diadem of 12 Stars, turns 10 today.

Such a lovely name does indeed do the music within justice. A mix of Hvis Lysett Tar Oss’ wonder, A Blaze in the Northern Sky’s abrasion and Vikingligr veldi’s theatricality, Diadem achieves a sense of awe that few bands have achieved since.

“Queen of the Borrowed Light” is palpable piercing and haunting, opening with grandiose guitars that hum like a winter wind. Containing towering riffs and an Agalloch-ish solo carries the song into delicate acoustics, where the Weavers exchange croaks over a coalescing soundscape. The melancholic atmospherics that permeate the two part, half hour “Face in the Night Time Mirror” dip their way in through your skin and consume like creeping hypothermia. Ascendant blast beats punctuate these moments but never stick around before descending into the roiling fog of Nathan Weaver and Richard Dahlen guitars. On “Part 1’s” ending moments, Diadem of 12 Stars exemplifies the style that Wolves followed on later albumsthe music is both contemporary and primal, the drums move with a chaotic though still militant cadence undercut by the mourning riffs and vocals.

At twenty minutes, “(A Shimmering Radiance) Diadem of 12 Stars” is its own composition entirely, opening with a muted triumph of sequoia-sized riffs that fall into an autumnal passage of falling leaf chords. Throughout the track’s scope a metaphorical passing of the seasons takes place: winter lays its beautiful, deadly embrace across the expanse of its midsection. The feminine vocals that permeate Diadem come most forward here, dancing harmoniously amid the celestial guitar tones. When the track reaches a blizzard fever pitch, Wolves plow through their storm as much as they create it. Like winter dying beneath the warmth of spring, Diadem’s thematic queues from “Queen of the Borrowed Light” come back around.

What makes Diadem so important, you may ask? Simple. For many of us, it was the first of its kind. Wolves in the Throne Room’s balance of sound and mood is unreplicable, though a handful of contemporaries like Panopticon and Botanist do come close in their unique ways. Their previous USBM forebears like Xasthur and Krieg were too enamored of their own self-loathing (and ultra lo-fi recording) to have anything pleasant or beautiful to say. Weakling had the beauty, but not the grandeur or childlike awe. Agalloch aimed for a similar space, but that band’s callback to 4AD goth music keeps them from sounding too much like Wolves (that The Weaver brothers would alter ape Tangerine Dream, not Fields of the Nephilim, illustrates how different their reference points for atmospheric music actually are).

The point is, regardless of what you think of the term, “Cascadian black metal,” means “sounds like Diadem of 12 Stars.”

There is a tangibility to the song structures on Diadem that allows listeners to immerse themselves in a primordial world, unmarred by human touch while also reaching out to human sensibilities. Diadem was the first time they opened the door to that unspoiled land. Throughout the releases that followed, listeners were invited deeper into that dark but wondrous place, and therein we found that Wolves in the Throne Room was something special. On Diadem, this Olympian trio both made their presence known to a wider audience.

Wolves in the Throne Room created music with a clear message; underhand the artificial beauty of civilization with the untamed euphoria of nature. That the Weavers are both so vociferously environmentalist lends their music some added social weight. They succeeded in taming this wilderness for themselves on Diadem of 12 Stars and continued in this vein seminal effect on Two Hunters and Celestial Lineage, before collapsing as a live unit and abandoning metal almost entirely in favor of ambient soundtrack-style music. On Diadem of 12 Stars they merely started their ritual, but few events can boast of an opening ceremony that can rival theirs. Even if they’ve dropped out of the ceremony, awestruck and wilderness-adoring black metal continues strongand it is stronger for their brief, brilliant existence.

—Bruce Hardt

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