notes from the coast: Wolves in the Throne Room. Chelsea Wolfe. Echoplex. 01.26.12

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll already know we’re big fans of Chelsea Wolfe and Wolves in the Throne Room. Both acts topped most of our lists last year in almost every category. So it’s with extreme jealously that I present Genji’s review of the joint bill at Echoplex last Thursday night.

There’s a certain backlash against underground bands, particularly in the black metal genre, when they start to gain popularity and rise out of obscurity. In my day we called the popular masses poseurs, because they didn’t support these underground bands from their early beginnings, but rather would jump on the bandwagon as the bright lights began to shine on them. As stupid as this may sound, it’s always existed in some form in the metal universe. In black metal these days, if you’re a popular band, especially in the US, then you are considered “hipster”. Unfortunately, Wolves in the Throne Room have become one of those bands who are so good, and have gained so much popularity, that they’ve assumed a reputation as a “hipster” black metal band. Whether you buy into that idiotic ideology is up to you, but in the grand scheme of things, I really couldn’t give a shit if someone thinks the music I like is “hip” or “kult” or whatever other crap you want to assign to it. What I like is what I like and if it happens to become popular, so be it. Wolves in the Throne Room are a fucking great band and for those that missed out because they were worried about damaging their black metal cred, I say good riddance.

Granted, the audience that packed the Echoplex Thursday night were not your typical black metal show goers, but so what? Seriously though, as I’ve gotten on in age I’ve realized I really don’t have the energy to pay that kind of crap any mind, nor do I care, so the more the merrier….

What I didn’t expect was just how fired up the people were to see Chelsea Wolfe. Having never heard of her until last year when our beloved blogger Kevin interviewed her on this very site, I listened to her album The Grime and the Glow and was very intrigued with her sound. What I heard was the rawness of a young PJ Harvey with more of a goth background, the emotional delivery of a Dax Riggs mixed with the sensual voice of the beautiful Mazzy Star. Live, her music really took on a bit of a rawer edge than the record, which I really liked. The band certainly fed off the energy of the packed crowd and played with an enthusiasm that really drove the songs while Chelsea herself seemed to really get caught up in the emotion of them. You could tell just by watching her that she puts every ounce of energy and passion into the delivery of each and every song and she did a fantastic job mixing up the setlist too. The slower songs really mesmerized the audience while the more upbeat songs really kept the mood from getting too somber. Her performance was top notch and I really enjoyed watching her. I would say my first experience with Chelsea was a great introduction and I really look forward to hearing some more brilliant stuff from this rising star in the future.

There was definitely an electricity in the atmosphere as everyone was in serious anticipation of watching the northern wood dwellers in action. Just 4 years ago I saw them play a free show with a fraction of the people compared to the numbers in attendance tonight. Their brilliant Celestial Lineage made my top 5 albums of the year for 2011, so it certainly wasn’t a shock that they’ve managed to pick up such a huge following since the last time I saw them. The great thing about them to me is that they’ve improved with each album, the true mark of a great band, and it was great to see that all their dedication and hard work earned them such a well deserved full house.

As the familiar haunting strains of “Thuja Majus Imperium” started to fill the place, everyone surged forward to get a peek at the darkened figures as they commenced with their black sermon. Drummer Aaron Weaver sat majesticly behind his kit, pounding away with a ferocity that set the tone for the show, while brother Nathan immediately grabbed the audience by the scruff of the neck with his buzzsaw riffs, and dragged them along willingly on his journey into the darkness. The background was bathed in pale blue moonlight as the band delivered their blackened odes to the forest and the night. The audience fell deeper into the dark recesses with Black Cascade opener “Ahrimanic Trance” hypnotizing everyone with riff after hypnotic riff. My favorite moment of the set was the performance of the epic “I Will Lay Down My Bones Among the Rocks and Roots”, the devastating closer from the Two Hunters album. The band executed flawlessly and the raw emotion of the music really jumped out at me. When I listen to them I go far away to another time and place and seeing them in a live setting really enhances that experience for me. They eventually closed out the set with new album closer “Prayer of Transformation” which is a great closing song for the album and ended the set perfectly.

As the show came to a close, I really stood back in awe at just how good they’ve become. As far as I’m concerned the sky’s the limit for these guys, but I was a little sad knowing that as progressive as they are, they certainly won’t stagnate and keep doing the same, amazing stuff, they’ll surely move on and transform into something different, perhaps better, perhaps not. All I know is that I’m glad I got to catch them at the peak of this stage of their brilliant existence one more time. Catch both of them while you still can.

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