"There was this fateful moment where we were like, 'Fuck this shit! Hippie commune? Black metal band? Let's do this!'<0x2009>" Wolves in the Throne Room drummer Aaron Weaver says, describing the synergistic beginnings of his group's music and their 10-acre working farm, Calliope.
WITTR is living every nature-loving hessian's dream. Not content with the icy, masturbatory satanism of Scandinavian death-metal forebears like Mayhem, or with the politics of the dogmatic punk scene from which they spawned, or about to hold hands and coo "Kumbaya," the three-piece from Olympia, Wash., has united a scathing brand of metal with inspired ecological spirituality. Say what?
To enviro-heads concerned with planetary destruction and nuclear apocalypse, and metalists banging their heads to songs about violent destruction and nuclear apocalypse, the connection is obvious.
"If we had to boil our band down to one thing: we're just so fucking miserable and pissed all the time about the stuff that is going on in the world, just this wholesale war against anything beautiful or good or whole or pure," explains Weaver by phone from his little house across the courtyard from WITTR's practice space.
Running counter to the activist tendencies of its punk cousins, the traditional metal scene has generally recoiled from politically correct statements. WITTR blends the two, embracing eco-feminism and radical ecology on a spiritually intuitive level rather than an overbearingly didactic one. Their second, latest album, 2007's Two Hunters (Southern Lord), creates a dynamic continuum not unlike nature itself by pointedly channeling the sorrow and deep rage of a planet in crisis. Bookended by buggy chirps of the witching hour and twittering birds, the four tracks slowly creep with a plodding, atmospheric tension, climaxing in speed-of-light picking, drums to move mountains, and the throat-raking terror screams of Weaver's younger brother and guitarist, Nathan.
Is this how Mother Earth would sound if she could respond in minor chords and time signatures? WITTR's lyrics too are one with nature. As Two Hunters' 18-minute closing saga, "I Will Lay Down My Bones Among the Rocks and Roots," goes, "The wood is filled with the sounds of wildness / The songs of birds fill the forest on this new morning / This will be my new home / Deep within the most sacred grove."
Production-wise, WITTR carries through a similar awareness and intricacy, intent on crafting meticulously layered recordings. "The black metal aesthetic is just what we happen to use, but the main goal is to create soundscapes," Weaver says, noting that a typical song has about 20 guitar tracks. Earth producer Randall Dunn gave Two Hunters a palpable warmth, working primarily in analog at Aleph Studios in Seattle, and the band is planning to collaborate with Dunn again on its third full-length, due in February 2009. On it, touring bassist Will Lindsay will take over as the vocalist and second guitarist from new dad Rick Dahlin.
In a sense, WITTR's devotion to re-awakening an ancient spirit rooted in their home turf is nothing new. Black metal is steeped in bioregional qualities, whether exuding a chilly clime and calling on Nordic deities or reading tarot cards and summoning the melancholy, intense quiet of the Pacific Northwest's mossy old-growth forests. "That's always been the explicit goal, to really express the spirit of this place, which has a very specific feel to it," Weaver says. "It's a really dreamy kind of energy."
So next time you put on WITTR, remember it'll sound best if you're snug within a sacred grove and make sure you have a lunar calendar and a Jepson Manual on hand.