Wolves in the Throne Room + Tweak Bird @ Hare & Hounds, 22nd May 2010

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Fresh from catapulting Kings Heath into the cosmos courtesy of Chrome Hoof a mere two days beforehand, Capsule returned to terra firma to give us a much earthier proposition this time round. On an oppressive, balmy Saturday evening the Hare & Hounds played host to the intriguing lineup of Tweak Bird and Wolves in the Throne Room, both of them playing their sophomore gigs for the Capsule ladies. A curious lineup on paper, with the stripped down stoner of Tweak Bird up against WITTR’s heady, trance-inducing spin on black metal, but in practise it worked splendidly.

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Tweak Bird took to the stage at the almost ungodly hour of half past seven in front of a crowd who were appreciative of their efforts from the get go, certainly none of the stereotypical BM arms-crossed, brow-furrowed ‘grimmness’. After their blow-away slot supporting Lightning Bolt at the tail-end of last year it was satisfying to discover that nothing had changed from what struck me so much at that particular show, and most importantly there was a sense of familiarity with the material that I didn’t have last time round.

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Blessed by a full-throttle, take-no-prisoners sound mix, the sheer volume forced people to take notice, never mind the fact that it was impossible to peel your eyes away from the absolutely powerhouse drumming from Ashton Bird, coming across like a hyperactive cousin of Keith Moon and Wizard-era Mark Greening.

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That fact that Ashton was coupling his best Thor impression (seriously, each and every pound looked as if he was pulling the sticks from out of his back pocket) with his languid lead vocals made for quite the spectacle. With brother and partner in crime Caleb wrestling hefts of feedback drenched riffs from his guitar – seemingly belonging to a giant such was the contrast in size against his wiry frame – that filled the room and made the lack of bass player completely irrelevant.

Shorn of the guest flautist / saxophonist that guested alongside them at their previous Brum appearance, as a two-piece their sheer elemental power was allowed to shine, conjuring the likes of Mudhoney and Melvins on more than one occasion. Mixing tracks from their recorded catalogue such as ‘Them Bones’ and ‘White Lips’ with a smattering of new numbers ensured those familiar with their work were happy, although the Karp-on-happy-pills styled ‘Whorses’ and the raucous ‘God Help Us’ meant that newcomers remained suitably impressed throughout and put any notions that there would be little friendly overlap between the bands swiftly to rest.

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Having left the main room in between bands, I returned to find the venue transformed by the use of strategically hung backdrops into a cold, foreboding forest grove, a perfect atmospheric touch by one of black metal’s most unique entities, Wolves In The Throne Room. Eschewing the traditional BloodSatanDeathSatan lyrical obsessions of many of their contemporaries, WITTR let their inspirations come from within the Earth. Co-habiting together on their farm / band stronghold, central duo, brothers Nathan and Aaron Weaver fuse themes of ecology, spirituality and animal rights to cold, atmospheric black metal, meaning that whilst they may not be quite as musically unique as many reports claim them to be; their stance and overall aesthetic is defiantly so.

Immediately dipping into their latest opus, last years ‘Black Cascade’, they open the set as they do on the album with the bleak majesty of ‘Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog’. Illuminated by lighting impressive in its atmospheric minimalism, the animal visages daubed atop the banners enkindled and glowing, looking down on the caustic, Burzumic din being created by their protectors below.

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Despite being underpinned by the constant rhythmic undercurrent of drummer Aaron’s blasting, the chord progressions share the same sloth-like amble as many post-rock and doom bands, surely one of the main reasons for their considerable crossover appeal. Indeed, watching touring guitarist/vocalist Will Lindsay perform – eyes closed, entranced within the music, headbanging with serious power and intent – he could have been mistaken for a member of ‘Through Silver In Blood’-era Neurosis.

The epic all-encompassing melancholy of many of their riffs owes a great deal to the discordant sadness of the neo-crust sound such as His Hero Is Gone and Ekkaia, and the opening riff of ‘Face In A Night-Time Mirror (Pt 1)’ could be Crowbar if coupled with a BM sensibility. Wolves In The Throne Room take all these elements and more and weld them to a framework that is intrinsically and resolutely Black Metal at its core; the cold, foreboding atmosphere inherent to its sound – most notably that of the early 90’s Norwegian scene – enveloping their every recess in a trance-like haze, the blastbeats giving an important hypnotic edge to its potency.

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Surviving a glaring technical hitch early on that saw the band having to play out their set in almost total darkness, it ultimately increased the atmosphere, especially when it’s soundtrack is ‘Vastness and Sorrow’, which seemed even more so in the pitch black. As was the case with Sunn o))) last year, this is a band that’s actually better listened to with eyes shut, letting waves of austere power wash over you, making shapes and lights dance in front of your eyes. Certainly, those who indulge in a particular, peculiarly-smelling product of the earth (cough) will find much to love here.

The desolate, widescreen magnificence of ‘I Will Lay Down My Body Among The Rocks And Roots’ closes the set with its mournful, panoptic tides arguably Wolves In The Throne Room at their very best over the course of its eighteen, darkly ethereal minutes. It’s lyrics, telling the tale of a being going to eternal rest within the safety of the earth conjures visions of Alan Moore’s legendary, ecologically aware take on Swamp Thing, and again, with eyes closed you could be excused for believing its dramatic, achingly sad melody had come to life and was slowly entwining around your body from the legs up in the form of the Earth’s own branches.

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Once the set had concluded, the assembled crowd had the dazed look of road crash survivors washed across their faces, and it undoubtedly took a while to acclimatise yourself to the real world (and sharp bright sunlight) once you’d left the room. A truly awe-inspiring performance by a band that deserves whatever so-called hype they’re accused of receiving. And final kudos to Capsule for crafting a bill that turned out to be a perfect juxtaposition of earthy, primal roar and otherworldly, spiritual transcendence.

Review – Duncan Wilkins
Photos – Katja Ogrin

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