Wolves in the Throne Room / Shibboleth / Northern @ Sons of Norway Hall, Victoria BC, Jan. 7, 2011

Review and photos by Cara Cross

I’ ve been suffering from concert withdrawal ever since I moved to Victoria last November. It’ s quite costly for bands to ferry over to our quiet and quaint city, where the venues are small and the crowds unpredictable. Needless to say, I was excited to learn that Wolves in the Throne Room was playing here as part of their mini-tour of the Pacific Northwest.

The locals responded in earnest, packing the small but aptly-named Sons of Norway Hall for an intimate and intense show. But make no mistake — this ain’ t your daddy’ s black metal. Wolves in the Throne Room take the genre in a more progressive direction, both musically and politically. And no matter what one thinks of their ethos, there’ s no disputing the indelible mark they’ ve made on the American black metal scene.

I was impressed by the calibre of the opening acts — both local, both amazingly talented. Northern is an instrumental three-piece whose atmospheric music, reminiscent of the Russian Circles, captivated the crowd. Their songs are sprawling and organic, with melodies that expand and contract, converge and diverge in tune with the creative energy of the players. Bassist Kevin Smart grounds the band’ s sound with punctuated bass notes interspersed with delicate, strummed chords. Guitarist John McDonald layers on wandering melodic notes and urgent tremolo picking, creating a rich wall of sound. And drummer Dax Grindler skillfully wielded fills and changes that added a sense of play to the whole endeavour. An engaging and enjoyable listening experience. A band to watch.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, Shibboleth served up a beefy slab of classic black metal. Now, I’ m relatively new to the genre so I won’ t try to describe which bands they sound like or the subtle variations that distinguish them from countless others. But I will say I was impressed with their technical skill, their intensity and, for lack of a better word, the catchiness of their songs. While it was the guitar work that hooked me – a combo effort by frontman Mic and Devin – by the end of their set I had warmed considerably to this gruesome foursome. If you’ re looking for some good quality Canadian black metal I’ d recommend giving Shibboleth a listen.

Wolves in the Throne Room have described themselves as a ‘ live band’ — that they exist in order to play music in a live setting. This sense of purpose shines through in their performance, which at times feels more like sacred ceremony.

The stage is cast in smoke and shadow. Spotlights scale black tapestries depicting nature’ s creatures: wolf, owl, crane. At centre stage is an altar holding candles and a skull, hemmed in by trimmings from an aromatic pine. Behind it is the drummer, bathed in a warm yellow light. The silhouettes of two guitarists flank the stage, eerie streams of blue light emanating from their instruments.

From this mystical atmosphere poured forth a blistering and emotional performance in which the Wolves laid bare their energy, spirit and — dare I say — their souls. The audience quickly fell under their spell. We were no longer in a tiny, cramped hall in a Victoria suburb — we were transported deep into the forest, into the collective consciousness of the band.

The Wolves played for just over an hour, their set featuring both intense black metal screeds and stunning atmospheric interludes, a balance representative of their catalogue. Aaron Weaver’ s furious drum work conjured up visions of muppet Animal – a wildness focused by passion, dexterity and skill. Brother Nathan Weaver handled the lion’ s share of croaking vocals, trading guitar riffs and lyrical duties with Kody Moonsbreath (Fall of the Bastards/L’ Acephale). I was surprised there was no bassist, but the sound quality didn’ t suffer for it. Besides, the stage was so cramped I wasn’ t sure they could fit a fourth person up there anyway.

Highlights of the show were “ Ahrimanic Trance,” a song that failed to capture my attention on CD that was absolutely compelling live, and “ A Looming Resonance,” whose performance was more like ritual, with bodies swaying in time to the rhythmic lamentations, connecting on the deepest level to every single note. A memorable show, to say the least.

After this short tour, Wolves in the Throne Room are rumored to be preparing for their next full-length album. I’ ll be eagerly awaiting their return.