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Wolves in the Throne Room - Two Hunters CD (album) cover

TWO HUNTERS

Wolves in the Throne Room

 

Tech/Extreme Prog Metal

4.13 | 53 ratings

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Conor Fynes
Prog Reviewer
5 stars 'Two Hunters' - Wolves In The Throne Room (90/100)

I could never call myself a fan of Wolves in the Throne Room, yet Two Hunters is among the most pristine black metal records I have heard in my short life. I've never taken issue with the fact the band tried to appropriate a cold, malefic form of art as something more life-affirming and inclusive, though to their credit, I don't think you would get a whiff of that listening to this album alone. As a general bottom line, I've just failed to be as captivated by anything since or prior from Wolves in the Throne Room. But Two Hunters remains as strong as it ever was. Disregard the pretence and ill-conceived notions of the band as would-be iconoclasts of black metal; on this album they really get it, and do it better than precious most of the bands that influenced them from across the ocean.

Wolves in the Throne Room's one truly great album easily earns its place with the genre's best. Though it lacks the blackened enshrinement of 'true' black metal (whatever that term even means these days) it makes up for it with a different sort of atmosphere, one that boasts a love of nature over hatred of man. Especially in the near-decade since this album's release, that entire mentality's come to be synonymous with Cascadian black metal, and I don't think anyone's come close to topping it. Part of the reason that Wolves in the Throne Room made the tonal shift from darkness to half-light work is that there remains a sense of devastation in the atmosphere.

They may not wish to harm or torment their listeners, but they're feeling harmed themselves. For the ethereal beauty and druidic flair of "Dia Artio" and "A Clearing", the band show their dark side most directly on "Vastness and Sorrow". While the album's closer "I Will Lay Down My Bones Among the Rocks and Roots" is the album's obvious centrepiece, "Vastness and Sorrow" is quite likely the best song the band has ever penned, bringing intense feelings of anger and frustration to light through an incredibly rich palette of melody and organic production.

It's not often I say this about an album (let alone a black metal record), but one of the greatest things about Two Hunters is the production-- the way it actually sounds. The band went into it with a pure desire for organic warmth in their recording. I don't think that's ever been a bad idea for any artist or album, but it's incredibly rare to hear a band execute it so well. "Dia Artio" is the best example of the way Wolves in the Throne Room have used the studio as a means of expression itself. With the bare minimum of digital manipulation, they have created a rushing wave of sound that could not exist in nature. Black metal intro tracks are painfully common, and if we can approach "Dia Artio" as such, it's probably the most beautiful and haunting exception I can think of.

Compared to the meticulous detail on the album's opener, it's almost startling to hear WITTR get so raw with "Vastness and Sorrow". From here on, there's a purported sense of effortlessness in the way the sound comes together. Aaron Weaver's drumwork favours intensity over technical craft, and though the guitars here are melodic and relatively focused, they're kept raw and fierce, as if the entirety of the album was recorded live off the floor. In pure terms of songwriting, Two Hunters does stand out, but I don't think I'd think of it as half the masterpiece, had the band not been able to frame their art so intensely. True to the implied dialectic in its name, "Vastness and Sorrow" is quick to lunging its listener between extremes. Sweeping melodies and moments of respite are interspersed between stretches of blastbeats and muffled shrieks. None of it is a novel concept to black metal, but that's sort of the point; Wolves in the Throne Room took a palette of very familiar traits and created a fresh atmosphere and aesthetic with them.

The atmosphere is heightened even further with "A Clearing". I don't think I'd be alone in calling it the weakest of the four pieces on Two Hunters, but it occupies an essential space in the album's arc. True to its name, it really does offer a clearing between the album's two harrowing epics. Jessica Kinney's voice soars sweetly atop waves of ambiance, and bears an authentically druidic ('druidic' is a term I think of a lot listening to this album) atmosphere. Returning abruptly to their black metal mainstay halfway in, WITTR continues the fury through to the album's eighteen minute closer. "I Will Lay Down My Bones Among the Rocks and Roots" has earned legendary status of its own, even apart from the album, and for good reason; how many black metal band (particularly those of a Cascadian inclination) have managed to fashion themselves a consistently engaging epic? The track's last moments feel a little unfocused and short of the raw perfection of "Vastness and Sorrow", but I can't help but feel struck with awe any time the song's triumphant central riff rumbles through.

I love Two Hunters. Ever since I first heard it, my other experiences with WITTR to date have been in the hopes that they'll recapture the organic magic and inspiration of this album. Celestial Lineage came somewhat closer than other albums, but I'm not really convinced they'll manage to top it. And who can blame them? Two Hunters isn't the sort of album that can be replicated step-by-step. The songwriting and performances are strong, but it's the way they all come together as a rich, beautiful tapestry that makes the album such a treasure. Even years after first hearing it, I remain amazed.

Conor Fynes | 5/5 |

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