Revolver teamed with Wolves in the Throne Room for a special vinyl colorway of their new album, Primordial Arcana, which sold out immediately. Don't sleep on scoring the 2LP version of WITTR's debut, Diadem of 12 Stars — or our other exclusive extremely limited vinyl offerings.
Wolves in the Throne Room have always looked towards the lush, outright-magical scenery of the Pacific Northwest as a source of inspiration for their brutal, yet resolutely beautiful black-metal sound-scaping. This may be all the more apparent on the Olympia, Washington–based band's new and seventh full-length release, Primordial Arcana.
Take "Mountain Magick," the epic lead-off single where Nathan Weaver (lead vocals, guitar), Aaron Weaver (drums, synths) and Kody Keyworth (vocals, guitar) channel the rush of the Olympic mountain range's chaotic, cascading waterfalls through blast beats and fluid, trilled guitar licks. In the music video, Keyworth even performs his solo while standing in front of the splendid fury of towering rapids. Lyrically, he ponders nature's countless mysteries, while also contemplating how death will eventually, harmoniously, merge us with the earth: "Hair turns to mycelium/Blood to sap/Flesh to ore."
On a more immediately tangible level, Wolves in the Throne Room retreated even further into the wilderness this time around by fully recording Primordial Arcana at their Owl Lodge Studios, which they built out in a remote stretch of Washington's temperate rain forest. "It's so good to be in the forest," says Aaron Weaver, "the place that is our source of power and inspiration." It's also the first to be fully recorded and produced by the band, with the synesthete drummer explaining that he'd work on the mixes at Owl Lodge until they hit the "deep, dark, orange-red" vibrational frequency of the region's ancient cedars.
While speaking with Revolver, ahead of Primordial Arcana's August 20th release (via Relapse Records), the drummer often praises the forest backdrops, towering mountain ranges, and life-giving flow of water that make up their Pacific Northwest surroundings. Though grateful for the gift of water, Weaver also notes early on in his talk with us that he's recently cut out another liquid that was apparently key to the creation of Primordial Arcana: coffee. With the line-up now congealed around the core songwriting trio of the Weavers and Keyworth — with additional bass work on the album from Galen Baudhuin — the drummer gets into the essence of Wolves in the Throne Room's latest elemental offering.
WHY DID YOU STOP DRINKING COFFEE?
AARON WEAVER Primordial Arcana was a very coffee-influenced record. It was because we recorded it ourselves at our own studio. I did the mixing. It was a challenge. I was on a learning curve, going deeper into the craft aspect of recording. I just worked long, long days. Coffee was [the solution].
I quit drinking coffee, and [now] I'm drinking this stuff called Rasa, which is all these adaptogenic herbs. Roasted burdock; dandelion root is the base; then with he shou wu, chaga, ashwagandha, reishi extract, a bunch of other stuff. Man, I'm just flying high.
Every record has its own plant ally — we were smoking a lot of weed through the Thrice Woven era, though I don't anymore. As we're moving into a new phase, I feel some new plants coming on that are going to support the next round of creative endeavors.
WHAT DOES RASA PROMOTE?
I think the most powerful thing in there is ashwagandha, which is one of the primary herbs in ayurvedic medicine, the traditional medicine of India. It's really subtle. As I get older, I want to work with less and less powerful plants. When you're young — for me at least — it's good to blow your mind on mushrooms, or whatever. But as I get older, I'm admiring and appreciating more subtle sensations, both in my psyche and inner spiritual world. It's almost a challenge to see what you can feel [when you] take a tea of mugwort, for instance, and work with the really, really subtle aspects of how it affects your dreams. It's doing something.
WHAT HAVE YOU NOTICED, THEN, SINCE SWITCHING TO RASA? HAS IT BEEN AFFECTING YOUR DREAMS?
I find ashwagandha affects my waking life more; it definitely increases my awareness of my inner energetic. I can see inside myself easier, and see the chi or prana moving around —whatever nomenclature you want to use. It's just become much more visual; I can just close my eyes and see what's going on in there. It's quite illuminating.
YOU JUST HINTED AT INGESTING MUSHROOMS IN YOUR YOUTH. THE NEW ALBUM'S "MOUNTAIN MAGICK" SEEMS TO BE THEMED AROUND THE GIVE AND TAKE OF NATURE'S LIFE CYCLES. THERE'S THIS ONE PARTICULAR IMAGE OF SOMEONE'S HAIR TRANSFORMING INTO MYCELIUM, THE VEGETATIVE PART OF A FUNGUS. HOW IMPORTANT IS IT FOR THE BAND TO CONNECT WITH THOSE NATURAL SURROUNDINGS?
Going up into the high mountains, or into the old forests where we live, is an opportunity to connect with the land, yes, but I also feel the spirits of the land. To me, the river has a spirit; this stone has a spirit; this particular tree has a spirit. And they're all different! They have different teachings and songs; different medicines, you might call it — things that they can offer, if asked in a respectful way.
I think the lyrics in that song hint at merging with the forest, which is something that I think we've all experienced. Most people have experienced transcendence in nature, whether it's in their back yard or on top of a mountain — sensing the power and possibility of connection to these ancient, elemental forces.
WITH THE VISUALS IN THE "MOUNTAIN MAGICK" IN MIND — THE WATERFALLS AND FOREST SCENES — WAS THAT SHOT NEAR HOME?
Some of it was filmed in our back yard, because we live up against an ancient cedar forest that goes down to the saltwater — a really special, hidden patch of woods — but most of it was filmed up in the snow, up in the high places of the Olympic mountains. The old-growth forest was on the upper Big Quilcene trail, which is on the eastern slope of the Olympics — a bit in the Rain Shadow; drier than the western slope.
HOW DOES THAT VISUAL STIMULUS AFFECT YOU, WHETHER ON A PERSONAL LEVEL OR THROUGH THE ART THAT YOU MAKE WITH WOLVES IN THE THRONE ROOM?
The visuals are very inspirational and important to us. If you come across an old cedar stump that's decomposed, the material — which is not quite soil yet, but also not wood — is this very deep, dark, orange-red color. That color, to me, was in my consciousness during the mixing process. I would be working on the mix, pushing things this way and that, and in my mind the music would turn that dark, deep-red color — that's how I knew, "Oh! It's good, I'm just going to leave it right there." I felt as though it had the sort of vibrational frequency akin to the cedar trees, and their roots that go down to the deep earth on which we live.
TAPPING INTO THAT DEEP ORANGE-RED "SOUND" — IF WE'RE TALKING A SYNESTHETIC EXPERIENCE, HERE — WHAT KIND OF EMOTION DOES THAT REPRESENT WITHIN THE MUSIC?
Well, it's almost beyond emotion, but for me it's a deep feeling of peacefulness, of being grounded — rooted — in something very old and wise; a deep transcendence beyond the ephemeral flitting of human culture. It's been here, always. The cedar tree is a teacher and an ally, an entity that allows me to tap into that grounded-ness. That's what guides the music, for me.
ARE THE WOODS BY YOUR PLACE PROTECTED? FURTHER UP NORTH ON VANCOUVER ISLAND RIGHT NOW, THERE HAVE BEEN PROTESTS FOR WEEKS AROUND THIS OLD-GROWTH LOGGING TAKING PLACE — PROTESTERS BEING ARRESTED EN MASSE FOR TRYING TO PROTECT THESE SACRED TREES.
The woods that we're up against are owned by the local university, and they are protected. It's heartbreaking, though, that old-growth logging is going on in Vancouver Island. It's insanity; there's just no reason to do it. I should learn more about what's happening now, but forest defence is something we'll always support.
THIS IS THE FIRST WOLVES IN THE THRONE ROOM ALBUM TO BE FULLY RECORDED AT YOUR OWN OWL LODGE STUDIOS, THOUGH YOU'VE HAD THIS ON YOUR GROUNDS FOR A WHILE, NOW. HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN WORKING ON THE STUDIO?
We built it to do some of the tracking on Celestial Lineage, so that would've been 2011. Ten years! Every time we do a record, we do another round of construction, upgrading the audio/tech side of things. We did one more big push and got all the gear we needed for Primordial Arcana. This made the space much more functional and beautiful. Everything you hear was recorded right here at home, which affords us so many benefits. For one, it's so good to be in the forest, the place that is our source of power and inspiration. It gives us time as well. We're able to get things the way that we want them to be. We're super grateful to have this space and the opportunity to do it this way.
YOU BUILT IT FROM THE GROUND UP, RIGHT?
Yes. Before we were touring all the time, I worked as a carpenter for this really good friend of mine. He's an old hippie guy who is kind of the godfather to all of the other hippie carpenters here in Olympia. This really good friend, Tibor Breuer, taught me about carpentry and building, and about life and spirituality as well. He's a true mentor, teacher and elder to me.
WHAT'S THE VIBE LIKE IN THE STUDIO? ARE THE AESTHETICS LIKE THE ALBUM COVER — THIS NATURALISTIC TABLEAUX OF SKULLS, KNIVES AND CANDELABRAS?
Yeah, the album cover looks like the studio. Indeed, a lot of the items that are on the altar of the album cover are things that I'm looking at right now in the studio; I can see them from the recording console. It's a beautiful space.
We like everything to look like it sounds. I can look at a piece of recording gear, a guitar, or a drum set, and I almost know what it'll sound like because of the aesthetics of it. The luthier that made the guitar has a heart, and that comes through the [design of the] instrument. We tried to make the studio the same way. A lot of red and gold; live-edge cedar [decor] from some trees that we felled behind the studio. All of our acoustic panels are made out of cedars that were just ten feet away.
HOW ABOUT SOME OF THE ITEMS ON THE COVER? WHAT'S THE STORY BEHIND THE CEREMONIAL-LOOKING ANIMAL HORN? THIS ALSO SHOWS UP IN THE "MOUNTAIN MAGICK" VIDEO...
That came from my maternal grandfather, who emigrated from Russia around the turn of the [20th] century and moved to Sterling, Colorado, out in the eastern plains. He was a cattleman out there. That horn was from his house, and [then] my mom had it at her place. We borrowed it from her for the album cover to honor that side of the family, that lineage.
HAVING NOW FULLY REALIZED THE SETUP AT OWL LODGE, WHAT DID IT MEAN FOR THE BAND TO HARNESS THAT ENERGY IN THIS ONE SPOT, THIS HOME THAT YOU CREATED?
I think it made things more deliberate. You might know that all of our previous records — with the exception of our first record, Diadem of 12 Stars — were recorded with [producer] Randall Dunn. There's a big body of work with him. He's also been a great mentor to me, and a great friend — the person I've learned from the most about the craft of recording. But our approaches are very different. His approach is Zen, almost, but also very chaotic. His approach is to capture the rawest moments. I almost think of a Taoist garden, this tradition of finding a stone on a mountain and presenting that as this imperfect piece of art that was created by the earth. I definitely adhere to that approach, in terms of allowing for chaos and creativity to flow, but I also think we're very meticulous. Everything that's on the record has been honed and crafted, and very carefully placed within the sonic tapestry with great intention and care, because we've had the time to do it.
ONE OF THE STRIKING HOOKS ON THE ALBUM MAY ALSO BE ONE OF ITS SIMPLEST. I DON'T KNOW IF IT'S A SYNTH OR SOME SORT OF HAMMER-DULCIMER TONE, BUT THERE'S A RECURRING, ONE-NOTE PERCUSSIVE HOOK THAT DRIVES "SPIRIT OF LIGHTNING." WHAT'S THAT SOUND, FIRST OFF?
A lot of the sounds on this record are from my ASR-10 sampler. We don't sample other people's music, but we'll sometimes make a piece of music and then sample it [for another song]. That tone is from some piece of folk music that I was working on. I just took out this one little piece and put it into the sampler, and then made another piece of music with it. Originally, it's a dulcimer of some kind, [but] it's been digitally sampled and re-sampled so many times that it's kind of become its own thing.
BEING THAT, AS YOU SAID, YOU WERE RAMPING UP THE CAFFEINE INTAKE THROUGHOUT THIS RECORDING SESSION, DID THAT JACK UP YOUR BLASTS AT ALL?
The tempos are a bit faster on this record, but that was not caffeine-induced. I think it was more a decision to up the bar and move outside of our comfort zone — both physically, and in terms of how we were working.
THE RECORD'S "EOSTRE" IS BASED ON THE GERMANIC GODDESS OF DAWN OR SPRING, RIGHT?
It is. That song is Nathan's vision. He explained it to us as a waterfall goddess. That's something he talks about again and again — the spirit of the waterfall. Is there anything more beautiful, graceful or powerful than a waterfall? That's something that's just so important to us. That song is trying to pay homage and draw strength from that feeling that you get from a waterfall.
THERE'S ALSO THAT KEY SCENE IN THE "MOUNTAIN MAGICK" VIDEO OF THE GUITAR SOLO IN FRONT OF A CASCADING WATERFALL. "EOSTRE" LIKEWISE ENDS ON THAT SAMPLE OF RUNNING WATER. WAS THAT SOURCED NEAR YOUR GROUNDS?
I think that's a field recording that Kody had; super beautiful, man. Water is so sacred. There's a practice that I try to adhere to, which I learned from my teacher, Tibor. One thing he's always told me is that whenever you drink water, take a shower, wash the dishes — whatever — just connect your heart to the spirit of water, and give gratitude for it. I've been doing that more and more recently. I feel that blessing in my life, and appreciate it. We all drink water every day, or brush our teeth. It's just so crucial, one of the most scared and important things on this earth.
THIS ISN'T THE FIRST ALBUM TO FEATURE KODY IN THE LINEUP, BUT IT'S THE FIRST ONE TO HAVE HIM FULLY INTEGRATED ACROSS THE ENTIRE PROCESS. WHAT'S THE DYNAMIC LIKE BETWEEN YOU THREE?
Well, we couldn't have done it without Kody, that's for sure. There needed to be three people in the room. If you were to leave me and Nathan to it, I think we'd end up killing each other. And then there'd be no record! So having a third voice, another unique way of seeing and feeling the music, is important. Kody brings that. He's fully in it with us — spiritually, energetically, aesthetically. We always have the same vision. It's a blessing that he's chosen to raise his sword with us.