Sometimes being a black metal fan is a bit like being the manager of an unfashionable football club; you’re frequently surrounded by people telling you exactly what you should think and explaining why you’re wrong, while you remain staunch and steadfast in your beliefs (even if they’re part of what’s making you unpopular), and it’s a damn sight easier when all the bullshit quietens down.
Put another way, Wolves In The Throne Room have gloriously reminded me how much easier it is to simply enjoy something when the circus has moved onto fresher pastures.
Wolves In The Throne Room were that rarest of things in black metal: genuinely great and beloved of the diehards, yet appeal to people who would under no circumstances consider wearing a Gorgoroth t-shirt. That first trilogy of records that spawned a thousand imitations founded the en vogue sound of the turn of the decade in black metal. The Dimmu disciples had fallen from grace, and the legion of bands who wanted to be either Deathspell Omega or Watain were still to emerge, and when 2011 drew to a close, there was hardly a cooler band in the underground than WITTR. And shitting tits, was it hard to blot about the bullshit and focus on the music.
The small army of completely uninitiated listeners that flooded in passed the confused guys in Weakling and Drudkh t-shirts wasn’t the problem (although there’s a fair few Drudkh fans – myself included – who didn’t think so at the time). On the contrary, fresh blood with fresh ideas whose musical prejudices and preferences weren’t fixated on Scandinavia, snow and Satan breathed a creative breath of fresh air into the subgenre that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.
Similarly, it wasn’t the problem of that “atmospheric” black metal sound becoming so commonplace you could barely swing a crow without smacking one of them in the ambient sample.
For one, the majority of those bands faded and died quicker than a fart in a flamethrower. By the time Altar Of Plagues released Teethed Glory And Injury and made everyone sensible realise that it was time to move on, barely 7 years had passed from WITTR appearing in the first place. Compare that to the DsO love-in that’s still going strong 8 years after AoP were one of the first to do it well, and bands like Ulsect and Ulcerate are part of a black metal sub-sub-sub-genre that’s now expanded beyond even BM’s borders, and has gone on far longer than anything WITTR were responsible for.
But more than this, most of those bands (possibly aside from Alcest) never got out of very small venues, so only people who really fucking loved that sound would have had enough exposure to get bored of it.
The problem, really, was that opinion followed Wolves In The Throne Room like guard dogs follow a rural postman’s van, yapping and snarling and making a bloody racket that became harder to block out with every album.
‘Born From The Serpent’s Eye’
When every metal mag and every metal site and every trend-setting hipsterblog was having their say to heap every increasing praise on them, it became increasingly hard to go into a new record without having heard 17 versions of what you should think about it (and how you were wrong if you disagreed, and were also probably elitist, poorly showered, mean to kittens, and rude to senior citizens). Naturally, this made the people that didn’t like them shout louder, which didn’t help either.
So it was bloody nice this time around to go into a Wolves In The Throne Room black metal album (as Thrice Woven so gloriously is) without having been told what I think about it first. I was able to buy it, stick it on, and find myself losing my shit with a tear in my eye quite under my own mental steam, for a change. I had, without trying, completely managed to go in without having had opinions wash over me like the smell of cheap eau de cologne in a nightclub. And it’s made me love Thrice Woven even more.
WITTR aren’t “cool” any more. They’re just “really fucking good”. Their talent and craft and heart and soul speak for them. The noise can’t get in the way. And while it probably won’t mean they’ll get that frothing passion from beyond their sphere the way they would a decade ago, speaking for myself, it’s much easier to embrace them.
With genuinely mainstream metal (the kind that gets spontaneous mainstream music coverage, not just bands who can play shows with a barrier), you train yourself to block it out. Of course everyone’s got an opinion about Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath, they’re bigger than entire heavy metal subgenres. Your brain is used to filtering them out.
But the mindset of the death/black/grind/sludge fan is different. We have to go looking for opinions, because the stuff we like won’t come to us organically. If we don’t dig, we don’t find. We do well if we get one or two coherent opinions about something we don’t know about yet, so when suddenly we get two hundred, it’s deafening, like turning the TV up really loud because Channel 5 are broadcasting a film really quietly again, only for that bloody advert for the credit score with the talking dog to cut in at the break at deafening volume.
WITTR aren’t the only example, as the like of Nails have exactly the same issue, and there are sure to be many more as long as hype is a thing. But thankfully, their time in the critical darling spotlight has passed, and those of us who stuck with them can enjoy them on our own terms. And fucking hell, is there a shitload to enjoy.