YOUR AVERAGE PORTLAND black-metal fan of drinking age would have to agree that last October's intimate Watain show at Rotture was one of the year's most vivid gigs. The Swedish vanguards arrived with corpse paint and satanic conviction, leading the crowd down a candlelit path of eviscerating nihilism. "Sworn to the Dark" grew from title to chorus to chant, weaponizing the militant song-march, while the lyrics see the superman narrator "pounding now through flesh and bone, like a hammer through a child." It felt like holy war igniting. But the next day, Watain's music just felt empty.
On paper, Olympia's Wolves in the Throne Room might seem as narrow as Watain. The Americans play black metal overtly influenced by the music of Burzum, the one-man Norwegian band conceived by convicted murderer and arsonist Varg Vikernes. It's music of stripped primal howls, occult shrieks, and raw atmosphere—a possessed man's punk rock. On WITTR's new full-length, Black Cascade, rugged picking and organic, lumbering drums meet progressive-rock duration. Folkloric storylines are punctuated by psychedelic double-vision vocal hiss. The album is a bar-raising black-metal haunt—not child-hammering—and to place WITTR in the wolf's lair of right-wing black metal would be a mistake, says drummer Aaron Weaver.
"I think we're the only band who is working within the black-metal arena who has specifically and explicitly said we're against the very idea of racism or adamantly opposed to the notion of militaristic fascism." Not that he is saying what WITTR are for. Theirs is a world without lyric sheets, a world where recording and touring are personal conduits into altered consciousness. "The goal of playing this music is... to achieve some sort of transcendent state," he offers, "and through achieving that transcendent state, we are able to touch some sort of transcendent awareness or receive access to some sort of transcendent wisdom."
Long ago, Burzum reached for "other planes" in the song "Lost Wisdom" but couldn't touch them. There's a lesson in here somewhere.