The best artists within metal seem to have an air of mysticism about them. Ronnie James Dio possessed it in spades. Ghost are doing it pretty well right now, despite everyone's attempts to decloak them. Even Kiss had an aura with the whole facepaint thing. And Enslaved seem to have the ability to rapture us all with the Norse Gods, Vikings and more. That's just scratching the service. I'm sure there's plenty of bands out there who carve their living from the air, the spirits and more.
While those bands aren't exactly connected to one another in many other ways, it serves to show that mysticism in metal takes many forms. If Wolves in the Throne Room don't give you that air at the beginning of 'Thuja Magus Imperium', what with the chimes and the operatic vocals from the returning Jessika Kenney, perhaps you're missing something. It instantly takes you to a cold, harsh and desolate landscape where hope comes in small quantities. Use of such cliches is tired and old, but entirely correct. It sweeps through several different phases from here, as brothers Nathan (guitar) and Aaron (drums) head on the attack.
You'll notice the running themes of nature, the afterlife and more within - 'Woodland Cathedral', again featuring Kenney's vocals and organ over a doomy riff, almost makes for a real out-of-body experience; whereas 'Astral Blood' has all kinds of surreal going on, starting as battering ram blackness before wind and atmospheric effects briefly take over, introducing a brief harp solo, before the darkness returns to complete the ritual; and the closing 'Prayer of Transformation' really feels like the final act of transcendence, with a slow guitar opening the song before tremeloing into life around three minutes in, with guitarist/vocalist Nathan hallowing a final call to the sky, awash with ambience and minimal percussion. Within 49 minutes, the spiritual adventure is complete. A perfect end to a fine album.
The Wolves sound is gritty and as raw as the wasteland it inhabits, yet completely in harmonious existence with it too. That mystical feeling I referred to remains throughout, and while happy to attract other components, it retains a distinctly uncompromising, yet entirely encapsulating feeling. The multi-faceted approach is so that any of their releases, and particularly this one, need to be listened to as a whole to be fully appreciated. The individual tracks are great, but the experience has to be one as a whole. Wolves in the Throne Room fully realise this and deliver with aplomb.