There was a time when Washington’s Wolves In The Throne Room were vicious upstarts, threatening not only to usurp USBM’s then-kings but moreover to completely reshape what could be thought of as black metal. Since then, their sublime infusion of Cascadian brutality and natural beauty has spawned five albums and countless imitators who have never quite been able to grasp what made Wolves so special. Now on album six, the grandiose Thrice Woven, they have upped the ante once again with five songs of rage, loss and splendour. We spoke to drummer and co-founder Aaron Weaver to find out how this strange beast ticks.
Given the scope and complexity of it, I think a good thing would be to go through the album and discuss the composition and analysis of the themes.
Absolutely, that’s a great way to do it.
Well, the album starts out with “Born From The Serpent’s Eyes.” It’s a strong start and Anna (Von Hausswolf)’s voice works incredibly well here with your sound.
The thing that I go to first with that song is the lyrics. It paints a picture. It begins to tell the story of what the album is. That’s the important part for me, that image of a beautiful ocean and a ship upon that beautiful ocean dropping a hook deep, deep down into the water and trying to snag this huge serpent that lies beneath the depths. That’s what this album is about, that’s what that ocean is, the ocean is ourselves, it’s myself, going deep into myself and pulling forth my deepest truth and deepest feelings and putting it into the music.
How do you feel the themes are reflected in the composition itself? Is it largely down to the darkness and the density?
To me, this composition has a triumphant feel. Even though we’re plunging into the depths and the darkness, there’s this feeling of courage and readiness for the fight. No fear in it. That’s what I hear in the composition and Anna’s voice complements that so perfectly. Her strength has so much strength, beauty and courage; it’s so wonderful to have her voice on that song and it brings the whole album into focus.
Was it a struggle to find someone that could bring that sense of strength and power that the song required?
No, it was extremely simple. We made the connection via our producer, Randall Dunn. We’ve always depended on Randall to bring other voices onto our records. It was through him that we made the connection with Jessica Kenney, who sings on Two Hunters and Celestial Lineage, but Anna doesn’t sing like that. She brings this other voice, the voice of the Goddess, the voice of the moon. We always like to bring that energy to our records.
You are drawing on many strains of folklore, and of mythology and history on this record. How strong is your connection to this folklore?
It feels like my religion, like the stories that are deepest in my heart. It’s just stories we heard as kids, the stories that we draw lyrics and images from on this record, it’s all kinds of stories from Europe and from all over the world, really. It’s our dreams, the way our minds take these stories and images and Gods and Goddesses and lineages and legends that we all live with in this modern world and it’s our dreams that synthesise it and make it into something that we can communicate to other people, and we do it with music.
Moving on to “The Old Ones Are With Us” with Steve Von Till (Neurosis). How was the experience of recording that and how does this song continue the narrative?
Working with Steve was such a fucking honour. It was one of the greatest experiences I’ve had doing music. The best part for me was getting to talk to Steve and tell him how much, in person, how much Neurosis means to me personally. I saw Neurosis when I was 17 in the local punk venue in Washington, where I grew up, on the Through Silver In Blood tour, and that show just fucking changed my life. It blew my mind wide open to a spiritual, a vision, an energy – a lineage. In many ways, that’s the path that Wolves In The Throne Room has been on; doing the thing that Neurosis has done, which is finding their pure voice. There’s no other band that sounds like Neurosis and I can come out and say, there’s no other band that sounds like Wolves In The Throne Room.
I know that Steve quite often draws from his own Celtic lineage and I hear that that was something that you were looking to explore here. Were you able to play off of his own knowledge and experience?
Yeah, I think so. That song, for me, really brings up my grandmother. I think about my Irish grandmother whose parents emigrated to the Midwest – potato famine stuff, I don’t have the full story – but on this record I really felt her story.
This song feels like it contains some of the strongest folk influences that you’ve ever shown – folk, in a traditional sense, that is. Did you draw upon Irish or North American folk music in this work or is it a genre you particularly pay attention to?
I don’t think so. Folk music is something that’s always there. It’s always in the air. I’ve always lived with folk musicians, either living right next to me or in my house, and that music is just in me a little bit. It’s not something I listen to or seek out.
That feeling that folk music is something innate – is that an aspect that you see in Wolves In The Throne Room; the essence of something natural?
Yeah, I think so. We’re not trying to be anything, we’re not trying to do anything. We’re just trying to make the music that we want to make, and that’s kind of what folk music is. It’s the music that just happens, the music that comes up out of the land or out of peoples’ experiences. It’s music you make with your friends, too; that’s another part of Wolves In The Throne Room. We come out of a scene and a community, and there are a lot of other artists and musicians that we share the spirit with.
You have expanded your family with this record, bringing Cody in as an additional guitarist and permanent member. Does it feel like much of a change for you?
It feels so good. I’ll say on one hand, it doesn’t feel like a change because Cody has been playing guitar with Wolves for about seven years but at the same time, it feels different to have him fully in the band, fully welcomed into the clan. The energy feels different; it was two people, now it’s three. It’s a totally different thing and it feels so good.
Is there a possibility to expand more or was it just that it felt natural with him given the time that you had been playing together for?
We would never seek out a fourth band member. This feels like it.
Moving on to “Angrboda”, which revolves around Angrboda and Fenris. How are they been brought into this narrative?
That song is a really personal one for me. It’s a mourning song. I lost some friends during the recording of Thrice Woven and that song, for me, is a way of honouring their spirits.
How difficult was it for you to put something like that out into the open?
The way I approach it is through the drums, and so when I’m playing the music, emotion is flowing through me. Feeling is flowing through me and sometimes it’s really hard, sometimes it’s very sad or lonely, but I just keep playing the drums. I keep going and so what you hear is just the process.
“We’re not trying to be anything, we’re not trying to do anything. We’re just trying to make the music that we want to make, and that’s kind of what folk music is. It’s the music that just happens, the music that comes up out of the land or out of peoples’ experiences.”
The one thing you share with Neurosis is an incredible sense of spirituality, especially in your live performances. How much of that is ritual to you and how important is the ritual aspect to being able to properly convey the music?
We’ve never thought about our live shows as rituals, mainly because I don’t like to draw a line between ritual and the rest of my life. Whatever we do at a Wolves In the Throne Room show to bring a magical space, to be really clear about what spirit we’re speaking for, I do that in regular life too. There’s just no difference.
So the band is just an extension of your own personality and everyday expression?
You worked with Denis Forkas Kostromitin for the art for this record. As far as I’m concerned, he’s in another world, one of the most incredible artists working today. What was it like working with him?
It was amazing! He’s a magician and baffling and, absolutely like you say, he is in his own world in terms of the quality of his work and the magic and mystery of his process. It was such a pleasure and an honour and I am so glad he was able to create that painting. It means so much to me.
Do you see any connection between his and your own methods of composition – his magical, subconscious method of summoning his work?
I don’t know, I’ve never seen him work but I have a suspicion that we share similarities but who can say? Every musician’s process is his own.
What is your process of composition like? How much is subconscious and how much is just you guys sitting down together and hashing it out?
That’s just band process stuff. Every band writes their stuff differently. We the way we usually do it is I bring riffs to the table and Nathan brings riffs to the table, and we make songs out of those riffs. Once the song is composed, then I play the drums and then the vocals go on, but that’s going to change in the future because now Cody is in the mix so we’ll see what the new process is for writing our next record when the time comes.
Moving on again to “Mother Owl, Father Ocean”, it’s such an interesting development for you guys. How did this come about?
A very interesting journey, I’ll tell you. I think this song was our first real collaboration with Cody. He put on some guitar riffs on this record and he was there during all of the mixing and most of the tracking, so his voice is absolutely on the record, but I think “Mother Owl, Father Ocean” is our first real collaboration. All the soundscapes stuff, all the industrial soundscapes, that was all stuff that me and Cody created in our studio in Olympia. We’re both big fans of Coil so there was an opportunity to bring that spirit to the record. That song started as this crushing doom thing, like Skepticism or Corrupted, and then just through the process, it became what it became. I love that sort of thing; to start with one piece of material and then open up to the magic of the process and then see what comes out the other side. The song that you hear is what comes out.
Do you think that you could have moved in that direction without having Cody to take the journey with you?
I just can’t answer questions like that. Who can say? It would be a different reality. The music that makes it onto the record is a pure expression of this one moment and if you change one element, it comes out different and that happened in a different reality. It’s nothing I know about.
So how does it feel recreating these moments live? Is there a sense that you are changing to fit a live environment or are you trying to recreate that moment as accurately as possible?
For the most part, we do our best to represent the recorded song live on stage. Sometimes the recorded songs will change a little bit over time as we play them and dig into them on stage but they’re the same songs. We want them to conjure the same sort of spirit.
How would you describe the spirit of this album, especially comparing it to something like Celestite, which you had just come off the back of? They seem like such different animals.
Absolutely – I think animal is just exactly the right word. This album feels like a wolf, just tearing the throat out of something. I don’t know why, but that’s what it feels like to me.
Do you think it’s perhaps something primal about it?
Yeah, primal is a good word. Something that’s old.
Are you attracted to that kind of thing? Something with time and history, and that kind of life, behind it?
I think so. My whole life, I’ve always loved mythology. Watching on PBS but the teacher Joseph Campbell, The Power Of Myth – which is a wonderful book – but there was a PBS documentary on him which I watched at just the right age and that sparked a lifelong love of mythology and old stories, and then you get older and realise that those are just your dreams. The myths and stories, the old ones, are just the same things that happen in your dreams.
Is there any one strain of mythology or myth that particularly captures you and has always stuck with you?
The ocean – that’s the one that always comes up for me. Maybe going back to that image in “Born From The Serpent’s Eye”, that ocean – that’s where my dreams take place and that’s where the myths come from too. It’s that giant ocean that’s within ourselves.
Hearing that makes me think of Hemingway’s “The Old Man and The Sea”, where there’s a combative nature to the sea. It’s neither hostile nor welcoming, it just is. Is that your assessment?
You know, I don’t feel that way. We’re talking about two different things – there’s the ocean and then there’s the salt water that we know. We live right on the Salish Sea which is the southernmost tip of the saltwater that comes from the Pacific Ocean, but the water here feels different. This water welcomes us. It’s water that you can swim in and catch salmon in, it’s that saltwater; that’s our home, and that’s where Thrice Woven comes from.
So, “Fires Roar In The Palace Of The Moon” – how does this tie everything up?
That song for me conjures the image of a volcano and the biggest one around here is Mount Rainier, whic is the mountain that dominates the Cascade Mountains, which are the mountains to our east. The Olympic Mountains are to the west, and we’re between the two ranges. Mount Rainier is the dominant volcano in the Cascade Range and it’s where our water comes from. It’s the snow that falls on Rainier in the wintertime that feeds our streams and rivers in the spring and summertime and I just want to give honour to that mountain. Give honour to that water and try to do it in a respectful way.
It’s well documented that you do have this incredibly strong connection to the land around you there. With that in mind, do you feel lost or out of your element when you’re touring or can you recapture that connection to the land no matter where you are?
Every time I meet someone who loves where they live, I immediately feel at home.
Are there other places that have a similar spirit? I’m thinking of countries like Romania when I listen to your music.
It’s just the energy of a deep, deep forest. We live on the edge of an old, deep forest and there’s not many places in the world that have deep forests like this anymore. It is unique and it’s very special; it’s where the music comes from. It comes out of the cedar trees. We’re so blessed to live in a place where we can hear what those trees are saying and make music about it.
Complete departure but you recently had your performance with Drow Elixir at Roadburn. What’s happening with that at the moment?
Chaos. Drow Elixir is the Coil side of Wolves In The Throne Room so there’s no fucking rules, there’s no objective, there’s no criteria or judgements – it’s just what’s happening in the moment.
Is that at odds with what you do with Wolves? That you had to give them both a separate voice?
No, it’s just an expansion. We just have the capacity to do it. We have the capacity to fully invest in Wolves In The Throne Room and we have the energy left over for other projects.
Are there any other directions you’d like to expand in or do you feel that everything you want to say can be grouped in with either of these projects?
Well, I’m a music producer too and I record other artists so that’s kind of an outlet for me too. For the most part, those two projects can contain almost all of what I do. I think Nathan is the only one who doesn’t have a side project but he runs a music venue in Olympia so he’s very busy with that.
Has the business side of things gotten easier for you?
We’ve always been a DIY band and have done things for ourselves, so we understand how it works. We understand how to record a record and get it into peoples’ hands. It’s cool to be able to do that on our own and not rely on anyone else, though we did get a lot of good help. We work with really good people, like Lauren in the UK, and there’s people like her who help us get our music out there.