Aaron Weaver of Wolves in the Throne Room about the mythic levels his band operates on
Since 2004, Wolves in the Throne Room (due tonight, September 30, at Rhinoceropolis) has established itself as one of the most sonically innovative black metal bands going. Rather than imitate the Viking spirit and aesthetic of its Scandinavian brethren Wolves have written music rooted in the band's own experiences as people living in the Pacific Northwest.
Allison Scarpulla Wolves in the Throne Room
Rather than articulate an overt critique of the modern world as we know it, this band has chosen to try to create an otherworldly experience for itself and its audience with its songwriting and its performances. Some black metal bands attack organized religion and society as we know it. Wolves in the Throne Room bypasses that entirely and writes songs that speak to the yearning in each of us to be free of a civilization that places unrealistic demands on all of us and thus the world.
The members of Wolves in the Throne Room aren't anarchist or environmentalist ideologues, but, as you'll see below, they're artists exploring ideas about what might be more sustainable outlooks on the world and a deep connection with the land immediately about you. Yes, the band's music is dark, heavy and often bracing, but it serves to challenge the listener to avoid complacency in a time when so many social forces encourage helplessness and apathy. This band's songs sound like the perfect antidote to the malaise of our current era.
We spoke with Aaron Weaver about the mythic level at which his band strives to operate, the significance of creating a parallel culture and the end of its current trilogy with the release of its 2011 album, Celestial Lineage.
Allison Scarpulla Wolves in the Throne Room
Westword: A couple of years ago, you did an interview with Brooklyn Vegan wherein you said that the modern world view is "missing acknowledgement of spiritual reality." Which seems to be absolutely true. In what ways do you think this has hurt modern civilization and how do you think doing the kind of music you do and the life you lead addresses that issue?
Aaron Weaver: I think that's what black metal is all about, whether it's the way we interpret it, or whether it's the more extreme, nihilistic, sometimes even Satanic, black metal that a lot of people are used to. It's music that's intrinsically spiritual. It's music that's striving to operate on the mythic level. It doesn't have the sort of everyday, humdrum concerns that most pop music or rock and roll has.
If anything, it's incredibly pretentious -- that's something that a lot of people think. People have a hard time taking it seriously sometimes, but I have no problem indulging those sort of pretensions. I think it's really good and useful to try to work on a mythic level. I'm sure it's not always successful but it's certain our goal to do so.
What experiences brought you to the realization of that the modern world is missing something, and how would you say that your view of the world differs from that of say religious fundamentalists? On a surface level, it could be argued you're making the same case.
Totally, yeah. That's another sort of fundamental theme that runs through black metal. It's this sense of paradox and ambiguity about tradition. On one hand, we're very interested in trying to connect to something that we think is older and deeper than the culture we're handed as modern people. But at the same time, we recoil against the church, we recoil against political conventions, we recoil against social conventions and very much want to forge our own path and do our own thing.
I think it's in that liminal space, that space of contradiction, that the power of the music resides. I think that's why black metal is sometimes so despondent and melancholy. Because you can't have it all. I think there's this sense that we've lost something and we can't have it back. And maybe it's not something we ever wanted to begin with. That sense of despair and loss and you don't even know what you lost. That's one of the central themes in black metal and that runs through our records as well.
How did you become aware of what mainstream society would call radical ecological groups, and how did their ideas influence you and what you do? Has the thinking of Derrick Jensen, John Zerzan or Daniel Quinn had an influence on your own?
Yeah, absolutely. Maybe not so much now that I'm in my thirties. But definitely those were the ideas that were very much in the cultural ferment in the underground scene that Nathan and I grew up in when we were young teenagers in our early twenties -- ideas of radical environmentalism. You know, I hate being pigeonholed as some "environmental band," if we're talking about recycling or reducing our carbon footprint or something.
The philosophers that you mentioned are suggesting something much deeper -- that it's not a matter of reforming modern civilization; it's the notion that there's something fundamentally wrong with modern civilization. That there's been some sort of rupture and humanity has strayed off course and embraced a materialistic and radically non-spiritual way of living that's going to eventually end in our destruction. And along the way we're going to destroy a great deal of the natural world.
I think that's absolutely true, and I think that most modern people, if they really think about it, agree. I think that most people know in the back of their minds that this materialistic culture can't exist forever. I think everyone knows that oil's going to run out and that the earth is not going to be able to sustain ten billion people living Western lifestyles. But, of course, that's a very hard think to accept because our lives depend on modern convenience and it's a very hard thing to shift your consciousness to think about another way of living.
Yeah, and Daniel Quinn, in particular suggested that maybe we can't go back, but that, indeed, the way of living we've cultivated -- no pun intended -- for the last ten thousand years, especially since the industrial era, is not sustainable.
If anything, Wolves in the Throne Room has a bit of a New Age agenda, in that, if I had my druthers, there would be transformation of consciousness that the hippies were talking about in the '60s and '70s. That there would be some sort of next evolutionary step in human consciousness. Similar to the transformation that occurred at the advent of agriculture and the advent of the printing press and the Enlightenment, the industrial revolution and the technological/digital revolution. All of these are huge shifts in, literally, the way the human brain works and the horizon of our possibility.
I think that's what a lot of musicians are doing -- especially out there on the fringe -- is trying to imagine that shift taking place. Maybe it will only exist in the world of art, music and ideas but that's the role of art, music and ideas -- to explore possibilities and fantasy and maybe some of those ideas will push themselves into the physical world.
Like a parallel culture that may influence the mainstream world.
Absolutely. That's something that really annoys me is when people critique our band or critique another band that has this sort of outlandish visioning of things. They say, "That's not realistic. How can people be expected to go back to living in some sort of pre-industrial way?" Well, that's not what our band is about. We're just presenting an image. We're presenting an artistic idea. We've got no political agenda. We've got no sort of roadmap about how to improve things. It's purely art. People can take from it whatever they wish.
This next question might be the longest question possible.
I give the longest answers possible to match up.
To me, your music has always been very life affirming and primal rather than nihilistic. And that black metal itself, at least early on, has been an attempt to reach to some deeper level of human consciousness, maybe a connection to the archetypes that Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung talked about. Even the church burnings that became so publicized seemed like an attempt to uncover the roots of a culture -- a kind of radical cultural ecology, maybe. Did you have these ideas about what black metal was about before you did that music, or did you discover that and how to articulate those ideas, as you were doing it?
I think I've always been aware of black metal and that there was a connection between the black metal culture that was emerging in Norway and the underground culture that we were a part of in the Northwest. There was some sort of profound connection, some sort of resonance. I think that maybe the central idea, if I really had to strip it down, was the idea of uncovering the occult or the spiritual or the energetic reality of place. Being deeply connected to a place and creating music and art that rises up out of a landscape.
Not in that the music is about the weather or the things that happen in Norway or the Northwest but rather it's trying to represent the spirit of the place. I got that idea very early when I heard the first wave of Scandinavian black metal and it was very clear that we could apply it to our own situation here in Cascadia.
It was also very clear that the themes of misanthropy and a certain apocalyptic sensibility that exists in the thoughts of those radical philosophers you mentioned -- John Zerzan and Derrick Jensen -- I think is mirrored in black metal. I think it's a really different perspective but it's coming from the same place. This sense of disgust with humanity as we go down this really foolish and short-sighted path.