Wolves In The Throne Room + The New Black Metal + (By Stefan Raduta)

 •  Posted in: Kogaionon Interviews

What is the true essence of Black Metal? Have you ever, truly asked yourself this question? What is this music that sets fire to our souls?
How is this entity, so insanely chaotic and punishing, so demonic and filled with despair, capable to offer us comfort? What voids does it fill? And what wounds does it heal, only so that it can keep opening them up again, and again, and again? And more importantly, why?

Maybe you never had to, because it went straight for the very roots of your being, the answer to questions that were never raised but always lied in there, waiting to surface. I’m absolutely convinced that inside every person who truly understands and lives albums such as Transylvanian Hunger or Filosofem either lies a great madness or an ancient spirit that’s been awaken. Nietzsche once said Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you. In 1998, Funeral Mist’s debut Ep had a message: By supporting Black Metal you support the glorification of rape, incest, war, murder, drugs, oppression, fascism and corruption. If that’s not the abyss looking back into you, I don’t know what it is.

Enter Wolves In The Throne Room. Under this banner, Nathan and Aaron Weaver, two American brothers from the isolated forests of Olympia, Washington, have managed to turn an entire diehard scene upside down with their new vision. A band that uses Black Metal’s abrasive sound, but sends a completely new message. Romania’s Negura Bunget did the same long before them, but their music has been somehow harder to decipher for outsiders, because it evolves around their own heritage, embodying elements of their own folklore. WITTR however, is universal. It’s as basic and straightforward as it can get and that’s what makes it special, I guess…it just takes a single listen to a song like Cleansing for example, to realize that these guys are different. What they’re doing really channels what’s hidden in man, in his roots and conscience.
A music so pure that it provides a link to the cosmos inside each of us, a platform to escape our limited condition and reach a higher level of consciousness, a journey that transcends mind and spirit. It could be seen as Earth’s a last call for man to return to simplicity, a desperate reach for human humbleness. An acceptance of our insignificance in this world, in the face of time and space, a reunion with nature and what’s really essential in our lives, their music really breaks new boundaries and sends a clean message, one of eco-spiritual awareness.

This interview was made a few weeks before their third album Black Cascade was released, but due to personal issues I was unable to give it the proper attention. It turned into a really emotional conversation, one that will be very hard to forget. I’d like to share it with you now. Drummer Aaron is on the other end of the phone line. Enjoy!

Stefan: Please tell me everything about your past in the music scene.

Aaron: We come out of a punk background. And you know, there’s something I have to say about this. In Europe punk music is such a specific thing, it’s a squatter punk sort of thing, a left wing movement. And you know, that’s not where we’re coming from. Our roots are in an underground community that’s galvanized around ecological issues. In Europe if someone becomes involved in a punk movement, their main motivation would to fight fascism let’s say, have altercations with the police, that sort of thing…. 

Stefan: Right, they’re very political…

Aaron: Correct. That’s never been the case with us. The sphere that we come out of has always been involved with more metaphysical and spiritual issues, that have somehow found a manifestation around ecological struggles. You know, trying to prevent the logging of the forests, or demanding that society changed in a very radical way, so that it will integrate a ecological awareness into the way human beings live nowadays…that’s our background.

Stefan: Was there a name for your band?

Aaron: Well, the name we had before, and this was over ten years ago, was The Lords Of Lightspeed. Both my brother and I played in this band. It was a rather interesting avant-garde hardcore band, and our vocalist, Joshua Plague, was a very eccentric and mystic person, who was also a punk kind of guy, but very involved in magic and the occult, and making these sort of cultures come together.

Stefan: The fact that you’re outsiders doesn’t come as a shock to me…for a Black Metal band to come out of the blue these days and sound so differently and fascinating, there’s a catch. The name Krallice comes to mind, they’re sort of similar to you guys..

Aaron: Very interesting band, we’ve played with them many times…I’ve known Nick Barr (ed: Ocrilim, Octis) for many years now, he’s an amazing guitarist…and he also comes from a different scene just like us, an indie rock scene , a punk scene; but he’s always been interesting in something deeper, to him it’s not just about being hipsters and drinking in bars and what not, he’s interested in the occult, in deeper meanings, in what lies underneath.

Stefan: So what happened after all these years, who came up with the idea of starting Wolves In The Throne Room, what were the circumstances? 

Aaron: Well, it was around eight years ago and Nathan was at the first Earth First gathering…are you familiar with it?

Stefan: Actually I’m not.. 

Aaron: Earth First is a radical environmental movement.You can just type “Earth First” in a search engine, it will come up and you’ll get a lot of information…every year there’s a convergence of radical people who are interested in taking extreme action in order to defend and protect wildness, wild life and places. This particular year the gathering took place in the Cascade Mountains which is very near from where we live. So Nathan and some of his friends, who were also coming from a sort of punk underground, were camping and they were talking about taking things to a different level, and creating a music that has a very serious, spiritual dimension.

Stefan: Right, something that puts things from a different perspective...

Aaron: For sure. A serious evolution and a serious break with the way we view the world of the past. At the same time Nathan and his piers were listening to these Scandinavian Black Metal bands, and began making some connections between this sort of Cascadian north-western ecological consciousness and Black Metal, which to me is so obvious…we’ve always been interested in this music. To us, Black Metal is a way to awaken an ancient spirit, and people can do with that what they wish, take it in any direction they want…that’s what fundamentally what it is…

Stefan: Yeah, I’m with you. It seems that your music does indeed do just that, awaken something that’s always lied hidden within, a will, an identity…

Aaron: Yes, and it’s also good to come out as an outsider, like we have, because maybe it brings a different perspective. If you have someone who was born and lived in northern Europe all his/her life, and really loves Emperor and Darkthrone and really loves that tradition and wants to preserve it, to stay true to it. It’s only natural. But by recreating that music again and again, I feel that at a point, you’re just scratching the surface rather than maybe really truly try to understand the hidden significance, the deeper significance of the music…That first wave of Scandinavian Black Metal is best understood as an eruption of energy from another world, from another reality, another level of consciousness and awareness. And the people who played in these bands were really just the tool, the instrument needed for this sort of spontaneous eruption of energy to take place, to take form. And I think that’s hard for a lot of people to understand or believe, but I think it’s fundamentally true. I believe that when it comes to all great artistic movements, in their infancy, in their beginnings, their energy is coming from somewhere else. You know, it’s not just some pissed off teenager in Norway, having a good idea and starting a band….in reality he’s inspired by something that’s universal and comes from beyond.

Stefan: So that’s what happened, you identified with that energy and applied your ideas to it, gave it a new meaning, a serious purpose…

Aaron: Yeah, because we heard this powerful energy in that music. We truly identified with it, we felt it. We weren’t interested in the Satanic elements. And we weren’t interested necessarily in the Northern European heathen elements either. Because you know, that’s not our culture, we’re not from those places. Nathan has a Thor’s hammer tattooed on his arm, but it’s because that image has universal significance…that local northern Europe image expresses something that I think it’s beyond just the local culture, and it’s cosmic really. The transcendent needs to be quantified. People have these spiritual experiences…and you need to put them into a context that you can understand and relate to, so that people who live in your community can understand them; the universal spiritual experience - which I think is accessible to all people everywhere - takes on these local forms…

Stefan: Black Cascade is a very focused, one dimensional, straightforward effort…I am literally blown away by what these four songs create as a whole. Sounds almost like you finally found it, it’s probably what you wanted from the beginning…

Aaron: Yes, it is definitely our intention to make a record that is as you said, very focused. We could have made a very dreamy and ambient record, and we might do that in the future…but we wanted this to sound just like the band sounds live, which is very loud and very intense and very physical. It’s our intention that from playing this music live, to create the possibility for transformation of consciousness. And I think human beings have always used these techniques to transform themselves….rhythmic, drumming and intense physical movement…this goes back to Shamanism and the very first explorations into a spiritual dimension. And so this record is one that we can perform all the songs live, without missing some sort of crucial element. On Two Hunters we had very beautiful guest vocals by Jessica Kenny and log, ambient synthesizer passages. And these are things that sound very beautiful on a record, but they are difficult to recreate live

Stefan: And have it sound perfectly…

Aaron: Yes, for sure. These songs, we basically played them live in the studio, as we recorded the album…and we of course added layers to create the proper atmosphere. But for the most part, what you hear on the record and what you’ll see live will be almost identical…that was our intention. 

Stefan: Why haven’t you printed your lyrics on any of your albums? For a music that’s so honest, I feel that the lyrics have to be equally beautiful…

Aaron: For us the music is a personal thing, a personal ritual. We play for ourselves, to transform and embark on a personal journey. We also choose to play the music live and release records. But we don’t want to have a message. We don’t want to imprint too much of our own ideas of the music. We’d much rather play the music and then individuals can have their own sorts of unique experience. They can take the music and interpret it as they want…they can take it seriously and use it as an opportunity for inward journey, or they can show up and listen to the CD and go back to their normal life….that should be a personal choice.

Stefan: I think you just answered my next question. You speak of an inward journey, so your music really is introspective rather than outrospective…and ultimately, the listener has to look and reach within himself to accomplish this transformation...

Aaron: Yes that’s what our music is trying to do, and I think that’s what all great Black Metal does. That’s the purpose of this art form. It’s not about moshing, thrashing about, getting wasted and having a good time at a concert. It’s an opportunity to get deeply emerged in a sort of mythic place...

Stefan: It creates a platform…

Aaron: Yes, it’s fundamentally a form of meditation, it’s the best way to describe it. And it’s important for us that a lot of people need to understand this. At our shows there is no moshing, or jumping around…people stay with their eyes closed and meditate.

Stefan: I find it to be extremely sad at the same time…

Aaron: Yes it is very sad, and there’s something else that I should mention. You know, I think that here’s a lot of music that does something similar as to what Black Metal that does…I think that the music that came out of the hippie music in the late sixties and early seventies, when people were really questing modern assumptions about reality and were looking deeply for more transcendent ways to live and seeking a new spiritual awareness has a lot in common with it.

And a lot of the music that was created in the underground during those times should be compared to Black Metal, both in the ways that it’s the same and the ways that it’s different. And the most obvious difference is that Black Metal is a deeply sad music, it’s a heartbroken music. I feel that things are becoming more and more desperate…the mainstream world is moving more and more away from an acceptance of the spiritual reality, it’s becoming more and more lost…and the music becomes more and more intense, more and more desperate.

Stefan: Yes, it’s really trying to grasp whatever it can grasp.

Aaron: Yes, it’s sort of a last desperate attempt…

Stefan: You know, this is so true…I am really enjoying this conversation.

Aaron: Yes, me too it’s always really good to talk to people who are thinking the same sort of things and makes us feel not so isolated.

Stefan: We can not be islands…

Aaron: No we can’t. And that’s a really good thing about living where we live. We have a lot of people who do the exact sort of thing. We’re really trying to move beyond this simplistic way of looking at things, the political way, and trying to integrate a spiritual understanding into things that we do.

Stefan: It’s obvious that you are truly an unconventional group in the Black Metal genre, to say the least. You don’t deal with gimmicks such as corpse paint, leather, spikes, or menacing attitudes; you actually dress like hippies, and use female vocals on your records. It’s so refreshing, it really seems like you guys are so sincere about what you do, and you don’t show off, you just let the music speak. Is this some sort of a statement at the same time, that this amazing genre has always lacked modesty and humbleness?

Aaron: Well, I can say a lot of things about this…where do I start. First of all, I’m not against the idea of corpse paint, spikes and this sort of thing. I think that especially when these ideas were new, they had a lot of significance, because by adopting this sort of visual expression, you’re really attempting to create a ritual space. You’re saying I’m no longer just a person. I’m now trying to do something powerful, I’m now trying to manifest something, I’m now trying to practice magic. So for that reason, I think that the traditional theatrics of Black Metal can be very effective. Another thing that I should say about it is that Northern European Black Metal is really trying to channel a certain sort of northern European spirit….this tribal, warrior-like spirit that you might see in Beowolf or the local literature…

But with Wolves In the Throne Room, we are not trying to do that. Like I said earlier, that’s not where we’re from, we don’t have a connection with that culture. We are interested in to something that’s more universal, so for that reason we do have a humble attitude, because we feel humble in front of the Universe…

Stefan: You’re aware of your total insignificance

Aaron: Yes absolutely. We’re just trying to express some small echo of a cosmic energy, and our music is just a pathetic sort of shadow, of something that’s much greater than any human can create or possibly understand.

Stefan: I know your personal lives reflect themselves in your attitude and music. You live on a farm, and I know you cultivate your own plants and live stock. Where did you live before and how has your life been affected by this change?

Aaron: Nathan and I both grew up in Olympia…we went to high school here, and became involved in the underground, and that sort of thing. And then we both moved on to other things…I moved on the East Coast for a while…I wanted to get a normal job, and just be a part of the world. But I had a sort of a crisis, and maybe an awakening. I realized that it’s just not an option for me. I wanted to find a way to live that feels connected to tradition, and feels in harmony with nature. I think that there’s a lot of good things about living in a city. But you can’t deny that this sort of living, in such an artificial environment, you’re cutting yourself off from the natural world. You’re living in a world entirely of man’s creation, which I think in the long run is something very unnatural and unhealthy.

So I felt that I could find my peace somewhere else…I decided that my life had to change, so I made that step. I knew it would be an extreme change, but it had to start with the very way I lived, to the very act of living in the middle of nature, to the very act of growing your own food and really becoming immersed in that process.

Stefan: I really admire that, I think it takes a lot of courage to make such a move…ultimately, the things you own end up owning you, and nothing is never enough, we always want more…when in fact, less is more. But where do you draw the line?

Aaron: Well, that’s the issue, the line is being drawn for people. And the line is always moving further…and now you need an iPhone because the old one is not good enough, and ten year from now people will still be told what they need…so where will it end? And that’s just a very simple observation, an unimportant example…I think Oprah could make that observation. I think we want to say something more extreme than that…I think we want to say that the reason why people are driven to accumulate more and more things and are being drawn away from a transcendent experience of reality…is that there’s demonic forces that are driving that…there’s the occult aspect that’s driving this sort of on-rushing technological onslaught. And that’s what we’re doing as a band, we’re trying to understand and expose that, rather than talking about banal sort of things. We think that there’s something deeper going on, that should be exposed, and people should be aware that it’s there.

Stefan: Do you feel like you even belong in this scene? Black Metal’s always been about releasing the demons within man, about channeling all that is negative and self-destructive, and giving it the most repulsive, unearthly and unapproachable form. When I think of Black Metal, I think Funeral Mist, Watain, Deathspell Omega, Mord, Leviathan and so on. Yet at the same time what you guys do makes so much sense…where does Wolves In The Throne Room fit?

Aaron: That’s a very important question, and one that I have a difficult time answering. I agree with you, these three bands your just mentioned, they’re very consciously Satanic artists. They are in many ways really expressing what you’d call a true Black Metal spirit. At the same time, Wolves In The Throne Room expresses something that is uniquely Black Metal. Even if we’re not conventional, and we’re coming out as outsiders, I think we have a certain right to that heritage.

Black Metal should be about evolution, it should be about something personal, about smashing the existing order and building something new upon it, and I think that’s what we’re trying to do. You know, if people say that we’re not a Black Metal band, that’s fine, the label is really not that important to us…

Stefan: While you are not a political band, you’ve said in some interviews that you adhere to a left wing ideology, if anything. In the Black Metal scene, some fans probably even bashed you because of it. Yet, you’ve had three shows cancelled in Germany because of accusations that you are a right wing, neo-Nazi band, which is beyond absurd.

This problem started with one particular interview when even if you specified that you are not political, and you think racism and anti-Semitism are backwards and worthless ideologies, you did make a very valid observation, that in Europe, radical environmental movements are associated with right-wing beliefs. And you rightfully stated that northern mythological symbols like Thors’ hammer, should not be associated with fascism, and people should be able to claim them back, because they are sacred. I couldn’t agree more.

But it got taken completely out of context, and you were labeled as neo-Nazis, how stupid is that! It’s so obvious that in Germany, people are way too sensitive about these things…

Aaron: Okay, so you know the whole story and the controversy. It was very, very surprising to us, and I lost a great deal of respect for the German underground scene, the pub scene, or whatever you want to call it. Anyway you look at this situation, this is completely ridiculous. We have always explicitly opposed the very notion of racism, the very notion of anti-Semitism or militaristic right-wing nationalism – and there we were, protested against as neo-Nazis. It came as a complete shock to us. But the more I talked to people in Germany, the more I talked to the people who owned the pubs that were hesitant to put us on the stage, the more I understood where they’re coming from. In Germany, as soon as you talk about anything spiritual, or anything transcendent, you’re immediately right on the edge of being considered a Nazi…

Stefan: I know man, they are afraid….they don’t ever want to deal with that again

Aaron: Yes they have this attitude of never ever approaching these subjects…

Stefan: Because they associate it with evil

Aaron: Yes they do. And it goes so deep with them. And in many ways I understand where they’re coming from…I mean, the Third Reich was such a bizarre and deeply evil entity in history, it was so out of this world, surreal almost. It has a lot to do with German culture and history, there’s a certain spirit that lies there. So most people will not even touch this anymore, because it puts them on the edge of a cliff. But you know man, that’s just no way to live…and it’s so sad that it’s created such a situation that you can’t even discuss heathenism, that subject is completely off limits. As soon as you say that there’s something in our heritage, in our history, you can immediately be branded as a fascist, a right-wing, or neo-Nazi. 

Stefan: Romania’s Negura Bunget, who are very much like you guys, totally worshipping nature and creating art that exclusively deals with man’s duality, transcendence and the relation with the Universe, also had to deal with the same issues…it’s ridiculous.

Aaron: I have great admiration for Negura Bunget. You know, it’s interesting you’re mentioning them because we played a show in Germany and I had the opportunity to meet their touring bass player, his name is Michael. He’s German. He’s not a full member of that band, but it’s safe to say that the conversation I had with him after the show was really amazing. He’s so involved in what they do, in their spiritual mission, their ideology. We spoke for hours, and I was really blown away by the ideas he had about Black Metal and its true significance, that it’s so much more than some sort of nihilistic rock n’ roll.  And Michael is well aware of the situation…and you know, these people claim to be free thinkers, but they are the fascists when they declare certain ideas off-limits, and saying that certain ideas are just tabu.

Stefan: Yes, people should be think freely…

Aaron: You know, these people are so crazy, and extreme in their thinking…I think that everyone outside of that very small radical left scene in Germany has to realize that they are completely ridiculous. But something really put it into perspective for me, is the fact that Noam Chomsky has a great deal to do with this…are you familiar with this name?

Stefan: Sorry, I can’t say that I am, but I really want to hear this…

Aaron: Noam Chomsky is an American Jewish radical-left intellectual. In America, he is the most left-wing public intellectual out there. His whole existence is based on attacking fascism and attacking militaristic right-wing tendencies in the US and Europe. He’s an extreme left-figure. In Germany, he’s not allowed to speak. If he’s known to give a speech somewhere, punks will show up and have a violent protest. Because in Germany he’s renown to be a dangerous anti-Semite fascist. The reason being, is that Chomsky tends to side with the Palestinians in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He will say that the Palestinians are oppressed, or that they are the victims of a powerful right-wing state. And even if he’s Jewish, even if he’s known to be a left-wing anti-fascist intellectual, you just cannot say that in Germany.

You just cannot say that Israel is an oppressor….because what happened in WWII. So as soon as I heard that, as soon as I heard where they’re coming from, I was like, you know what, then I don’t give a fuck about your ridiculous accusations and what you think, because you’re clearly intellectually dishonest, and you’re clearly caught up in some sort of dogma, and you make no sense…

Stefan: That’s really keeping them in chains…I had no idea about this, but you’re right, it’s messed up…

Aaron: Yeah it is…and it’s all I’m going to say about this…people can judge for themselves, but it’s more than obvious that the accusations they brought against us are so out of reality…it is so absurd…we’ve never had anything to hide.

Stefan: I’ve seen you play live and it was one of the most surreal moments of my life, I literally felt like I almost left this world…and I realized that only when I got out of the venue, everything around me felt so strange. How important is playing live, for you?

Aaron: Playing live is the reason why the band exists, that’s why we do it. We look at it like at an opportunity to journey somewhere else, to receive some sort of knowledge, to receive some sort of transfusion of energy. And so, our shows are as intense and as physical as possible. We play as hard as we can and I think that the outcome is very powerful. The blast beat has a very strong archetypal significance…it’s about the same tempo and the same sort of intensity as traditional Shamanic drumming, which is something that is common to all people everywhere, there’s something about that hypnotic drum beat that can be a portal to another consciousness.

So we like to seize control of what goes on, and really try to create a ritualistic atmosphere…we demand that the venues turn off all lights, and we just use our candles and smoke…in the future we might include projections, we’d like to have our own lighting rig that’s linked with the music…we’re using a very traditional rock n’ roll palette, guitar, bass, drums, pa, lighting rig and smoke machine in order to create something new.

Stefan: I know that after your European and US shows you’re planning to put the band on ice for a while. May I ask why? You have something that people are really, really interested in…and you have such a momentum, with this brilliant new album…yet you want to take a break. Why?

Aaron: Because every day that I’m away from my home, and every day that I’m not working on the land, or working directly with my hands, I can feel my connection to a transcendent reality being slowly severed. I think that flying in an airplane, traveling in a van, and being in a new town every night is a very deeply unnatural act, and it’s one that we do, in many ways, hating it. Because I really do feel that when we’re not eating our own food that comes from our farm, and when we’re out of contact with our ways of life, that weakens the spirit of the music. And I’m just unwilling to do that.

Another reason why we don’t want to push this further is that we just don’t want to be consumed by the music business machine. There’s so much pressure on WITTR to put out new records, be on the road all the time, do all these interviews, play these corporate rock events…and we just don’t want to do it. It’s not our goal to be professional musicians, it’s not our goal to achieve fame, it’s entirely our goal to remain true to ourselves and expand our own spiritual selves, that’s what it’s about. And I think that if we over did it, we’d run the risk of losing things that are important to us.

Stefan: That makes a lot of sense. You and Nathan are brothers…do you think that because you have such an organic connection, when it comes to the process of creating music, that plays an important factor, and it sets you apart even more?

Aaron: Yes I think that it does play a role. We have developed a very strong music connection during the years we’ve played together. We can create music very spontaneously…we don’t need to talk about it, because we already know what we want to achieve. So that’s definitely a good thing…on the downside, it makes it difficult to integrate other people, because often times band members will feel like they are outsiders, so that’s something we have to struggle sometimes

Stefan: That’s why you need to play with musicians who understand that it’s all abut creating something unique, achieving a higher goal, something that has an ultimate purpose

Aaron: Yes, that’s why it’s so different than an ego-driven rock band. We don’t deal with issues such as ‘these are my songs, or this is my solo’, etc. The band is an energy. And as long as you understand this energy, you can be a part of it.

Stefan: So if I get it right, Wolves In The Throne Room, more than anything, is a concept, a message: Leave the reality you know aside, forget everything you think you know, and discover who you really are…

Aaron: Yeah, I think that makes a lot of sense, I guess you can put it like that.

Stefan: Did you or your brother Nathan pick up the first instrument, and what band really influenced you at the time?

Aaron: I think he started on the guitar. My first instrument was actually bass, and I started playing drums a few years later…we were very young, fifteen I think, and we were really interested in Morbid Angel.

Stefan: If you could choose any band, who would you like to play live with?

Aaron: Well, one band that I have a lot of respect for and are inspired by, are Neurosis. I think they are a band that in many ways is creating a new path, they’re moving beyond a simplistic punk way of looking at things, and they’re integrating spiritual a search, they’re integrating traditional wisdom. Another band, which we happily played with at Roadburn Festival, is Negura Bunget. I’ve always been so interested and impressed by their words and music, and by the philosophy that drives their music, it’s really something spectacular. There was talk of us touring the States about a year ago, but they never managed to come, it’s complicated I guess.  We’re exciting about playing with bands that are really pushing the boundaries, and have a very serious agenda, beyond just rock, something powerful.

Stefan: Recommend me something that I may not have heard of…

Aaron: Sure. There’s two bands that are very similar to Wolves In The Throne Room. First, I would recommend Fauna…their style could be called Shamanic Black Metal. They are willfully obscure, their live rituals are incredible…I know that they are big fans of Negura Bunget. Also, Sacrificial Totem…

Stefan: Thanks a lot Aaron!

Aaron: Thank you, this was a good chat. Be well!