Wolves In The Throne Room really are kings of their art form at this point, having long-established themselves through long, epic, and captivating works of atmospheric black metal. To see the band live is to witness a ritual of nature and mythology unlike anything else. There’s props and yes, Nathan Weaver sometimes wears a cape, but the show all fits together so well that it crosses the barrier from cheesy to cool with relative ease.
And so it is with their music, from the classics Diadem of 12 Stars and Two Hunters, to my personal favorite Black Cascade, to 2021’s Primordial Arcana. It’s an unbroken pattern of crashing waves and lightning to the soul (well except for 2014’s experimental Celestite — remember the editorials saying that album and Alcest‘s Shelter were totally the future, we’re over black metal now, ok?).
In one sense, Crypt of Ancestral Knowledge feels like a really good sampler for people looking to get into the band. But in another sense, this fails to do justice to the extremely high level of artistic quality reached here. The EP opens with “Beholden to Clan,” an entrancing song that recalls the classic symphonic sounds of bands like Gehenna and early Limbonic Art while maintaining a punch more akin to bands like Kampfar and Satyricon.
I know this is a cliche phrase, but you really can lose yourself in this song, the music almost creating a movie in the listener’s imagination. And this seems to have been the band’s intention, guitarist Kody Keyworth remarking that “Journeying high atop a sacred mountain, the song recalls the importance of the sacrificed king’s cycle of rebirth through ancestral hallucinogenic rights of passage. It’s a wild trip. Hail Othila!”
Next comes the absolutely irresistible “Twin Mouthed Spring.” The band wastes no time getting right into the main riff, one which rises and falls in a way that could immediately tip anyone off, “Ah, this is Wolves in the Throne Room.” At key moments, the band uses synths to perfect effect, heightening the drama and grandeur of the song, at times even reminding me of Summoning‘s regal and ceremonial style.
The latter two tracks serve as an interesting contrast, providing the listener with a view into the band’s moodier side. This is the side you just vibe to, you might say. “Initiates of the White Hart” has a spooky and ritual-like feel, something you’d imagine being played at an autumn or spring festival. But NOT a Renaissance faire! Again, the band doesn’t fall into the trap of the folk-metal set of ages ago and fall into silly kitsch. Meanwhile, “Crown of Stone” fills the room with smoke and fog as the synths descend.
I’m of two minds about this release. It’s a great way to introduce someone to Wolves In The Throne Room, and you can tell the band relished in creating it. On the other hand, damn, wish this went on for an entire album’s worth of material. Maybe that’s what the band has in store for us next! Here’s hoping.