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Wolves In The Throne Room - "Celestite" (CD)

Wolves In The Throne Room - "Celestite" CD cover image

"Celestite" track listing:

1. Turning Ever Towards the Sun (11:24)
2. Initiation at Neudeg Alm (5:58)
3. Bridge of Leaves (5:08)
4. Celestite Mirror (14:32)
5. Sleeping Golden Storm (9:02)

Reviewed by on July 11, 2014

"Think 80's style movie synths but with a darker bent. Take the weirdly retro soundtrack to the Tom Cruise flick “Oblivion” but add in some gloominess and a bit of a sweeping epic Cascadian metal feel and you're pretty much there."

Setting aside the harsh vocals and fast guitar riffs for a full release, Wolves In The Throne Room’s “Celestite Mirror” is entirely instrumental ambience with almost no trace of the band’s trademark U.S. black metal. Although that sounds like a huge departure, it’s actually not as big a deal as some have made it out to be. Wolves In The Throne Room already had instrumental, synth-heavy passages on previous releases, and here the band is just extending that idea for a full album.

“Celestite Mirror” is also by no means the first time a black metal band has gone that route, as there's actually a long tradition of this sort of thing in the metalverse where a one-off album serves as a palette cleanser offering a different take from a band. This has occurred in everything from Samael's “Xystras Xtras” bonus disc or the mostly non-metal “Era One” release to Ihsahn's latest experimental album “Das Seelenbrechen” (and not to mention all the bands like Katatonia or Anathema that morphed away from extreme metal).

So if it’s not black metal, then what precisely does it sound like? Think 80's style movie synths but with a darker bent. Take the weirdly retro soundtrack to the Tom Cruise flick “Oblivion” (or any of the 80s movie soundtracks it was influenced by) but add in some gloominess and a bit of a sweeping epic Cascadian metal feel and you're pretty much there. As the album moves towards the second half, it less sounds like a movie score and more brings to mind the horror adventure PC games of a previous era. A lot of the disc’s sounds would have fit right in on “Sanitarium,” “Still Life,” or “I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream.”

In some segments the album is predictably minimalist, but in others it adequately fills in the void with sound. The tracks frequently feature rumbling low tones going on for extended lengths before a sharper or louder sound builds up and echoes out of the backing silence before receding again. Additional elements are then added in over time to build up the sound towards a climax. While primarily atmospheric only, there is occasionally the rumble of a distorted guitar in the background intertwined with the synths. Halfway through “Sleeping Golden Storm,” the track gets a little more energetic and electronic, building towards a symphonic peak that will make you think of Artax and the sadness.

“Initiation at Neudeg Alm” might be the best offering on the disc, because it combines the two worlds rather than leaving the core sound entirely behind, and it gets the atmospheric ideas across without dragging on for 14 minutes like the quasi-title track “Celestite Mirror.” The over-eleven minute opener “Turning Ever Towards The Sun” likewise does go on to long for the ambient sound to hold up. This type of music obviously gives great backing atmosphere, but if you are actively listening to it, there's not really enough distinguishing elements to make it worth 11:24 of your life, and trimming it down wouldn't have hurt. Then again, existing Wolves In The Throne Room fans are already used to 10 – 14 minute tracks as the norm on all the previous albums, so die-hards will have less to complain about on that front.

On the whole, “Celestite” is an interesting instrumental journey, even if it does drag here and there on the extremely long tracks, but it’s worth hearing both for longtime fans of the band or anyone who digs ambient, synth-driven music.

Highs: It's an interesting ambient journey even without the black metal.

Lows: It can be heard for minimalist atmospheric music to hold attention properly over 10 - 14 minute passages.

Bottom line: It's not the black metal you're used to, but it is still a sweeping and epic journey through 80's style synths that's worth hearing.

Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls
3.5 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)