(NCS writer BadWolf was on hand in Columbus, Ohio, earlier this month to witness Wolves in the Throne Room live — and he brought with him photographer Nicholas Vechery, whose awesome pics illustrate this review.)
Wolves in the Throne Room are, without a doubt, the best smelling metal band I’ve ever seen. I say that with honesty and seriousness. They smell amazing.
But I’ll get back to that later. First things first, I saw Wolves alongside Thou and local openers Vit at Columbus’ Ravari Room, and thank god the place was empty when I got there so I could get a good look before the floor was completely packed with bodies.
Someone could get lost in that comely place, with its abundance of dark corners. Everything about the bar felt apropos for an underground ritual—burlap-wrapped red and orange lanterns hung from a high wooden ceiling, but the atmosphere was thick and dark. Huge brick arches framed the bar and every alcove. The place could be the remains of an illegal gin distillery from the 1920’s, with all of its vitality and character.(more after the jump . . .)
And speaking of character, Vit have it. These four Ohioans released their “-“ album via bandcamp over a year ago[physical release via Music Ruins Lives in May of ’11] , and while that record is excellent, it feels very restrained. Live, Vit left me breathless. Folk twang and perhaps a touch of early Led Zeppelin serpentine through the slow hardcore skeleton of their music—think a rust belt cousin of Isis, or a less metro, more trucker Have A Nice Life. Their vocalist thrashed and screamed in the crowd. Kudos to him for rocking on all cylinders, even during the long stretches of instrumental vamping that filled most of Vit’s time.
Unfortunately, Thou did not sync with me in a live setting. Thou are a band who’ve gotten a healthy dollop of critical acclaim in the last twelve months but I don’t hear it—the sound is there but not the songs, unless of course they are covering Nirvana. In Colombus, the six Louisianans played to one another instead of the crowd, with the exception of the vocalist, who struggled to keep a steady tone. Their rocking and bobbing carried enough spirit, but their myriad tones muddled one another in the air, leaving just that awful plane-takeoff-plus-drums sound (you know the one!). I hate to harp on a band that clearly loves their own music, has a DIY attitude and releases through a label that began in my hometown [Gilead Media], but I feel their blades need sharpening.
Then, Wolves set up. The band lit oil lamps and set them around the stage—all other lights, except for one beneath the drum kit, dimmed to near-darkness. They laid pine boughs over the stage, and everything smelled fresh, regenerated and transformed in some way. Then, they filled the room with smoke and, moments later, the sound of epic black metal lullabies.
Wolves in the Throne Room play stripped-down and tight in a live setting; there was no bassist; there was no female vocalist and therefore none of their operatic tracks; the audience was barely acknowledged; all the synth backing played through a Macbook, leaving no room for jamming or improvisation. Paradoxically, the feel of their show is gaseous. Both guitarists headbang so much and are so shrouded in artificial mist that they seem more like entities than men. LED lights shone up both guitar necks and cast huge shadows of their gyrating fingers onto the wall and ceiling. When they turned, the bright blue beams swept out over the crowd like the signals from two distant lighthouses on an unseen shore.
Wanderer(s) on a sea of fog indeed. Wolves in the Throne Room is all about setting a mood and following it to some obscure, ultimate conclusion—introversion is the point. At the side of the stage, a few people sat cross-legged and meditated to their music. I had to wonder, who are these people? Are they part of the same spiritual group Wolves is? More importantly, do they ‘get it’ more than I do?
Those meditators made the show for me: There is more to Wolves’ music than I currently understand, and because of them I want to get deeper. I will be seeing Wolves in the Throne Room again when they return.