When Wolves in the Throne Room announced their hiatus just after the release of 2011’s magnificent “Celestial Lineage” there was an understandable outbreak of mourning among those who worshipped at their pine-scented, primordial altar. But after a lengthy period of introspection, the Weaver brothers have decided to venture out of their den and return to making music. However the music in question is radically different to the light-speed, atmospheric black metal that made their name, for instead they have decided to go all ambient on us with “Celestite”, a forty-six minute ‘companion piece’ to “Celestial Lineage” that takes the bands’ sounds into entirely new and magical realms.
While it may be a cliché to claim that anyone can produce ambient music, it is certainly true that certain bands have used it as a stopgap or a fence when their creativity has dipped. It’s also true to say that when bands get it wrong; this type of music can be utterly unlistenable, as the horrendous new Burzum album demonstrates. The key is to produce music that draws the listener in and keeps them entertained despite being at the more subtle end of the spectrum. Wolves in the Throne Room achieve this on so many levels on “Celestite”, with the dreamy and ever-evolving opening track ‘Turning Ever Towards the Sun’ slowly but surely working its ethereal magic on your subconscious over the course of eleven minutes. A jittery and restless synth flourish opens next track ‘Initiation at Neudeg Alm’ before the first guitars of the album emerge like black ships through a night fog; dense and ominous drones that instantly create a sense of danger that the incoming proggy synth lines only serve to exacerbate.
With up to four synthesizer players at work on some tracks it’s natural to wonder if it isn’t a case of overkill, especially on the gentle mirages that make up ‘Bridge of Leaves’ which follows a similar pattern to what has come before, with the band hinting at travelling down darker passages before seemingly losing their nerve and heading back to Tangerine Dream style territory. However the subtle majesty of the whole thing really becomes apparent on the shimmering radiance of ‘Celestite Mirror’ which explodes in golden light in a way that seems thrillingly truthful and revelatory. We are even granted a few repetitive melodies to help maintain the flow and by the time the lush dark ambient of closing track ‘Sleeping Golden Storm’ arrives we know that the Wolves have been right to trust their instincts.
While there will inevitably be those who mourn the loss of the scything guitars and blastbeats (which will return in the future, apparently) most fans of this very special band are intelligent enough to realise that freedom has always been their modus operandi, and it was inevitable that a record such as “Celestite” was going to come along. This is something we should all be thankful for, as this is a record with so much to discover and that will reveal more of its soul over repeated listens. The Weaver brothers deserve massive thanks not only for rescuing dark ambient from the mess that Vikernes left it in, but for showing how an established band can evolve in such extraordinary ways.