Wilderun – ‘Veil of Imagination’

By Fiachra Johnston

There’s a balance to be struck in folk metal. With a genre so delicately perched between accessing ancient heritage through music, and heaviness through modern metal, failing to achieve harmony between the two can lead to music that feels unsure of itself. Too hard into modernity and you risk muddling some of the more unique aspects of the genre in layers of electronic soundscapes. Too hard into tradition, and your calling may end up being better suited to bardcore remixes of popular songs. With a special vinyl release of last year’s ‘Veil of Imagination’ out this month, Boston group Wilderun reminds us that this balancing act, to them, is child’s play.  Full of wonderfully unique instrumental choices, this is an album that celebrates the past, but is far from beholden to it, one that puts an American spin on a European metal staple.

Opening with the monstrous 14-minute ‘The Unimaginable Zero Summer’ is something of a flex from the quintet, acting not just as a goliath of an opener but as a sandbox for the band to demonstrate everything it has to offer in the genre. Featuring an opening monologue reciting William Wordsworth (“The things which I have seen I now can see no more”), melodic acoustic instrumentation breaking into sharp electric guitars and blistering drums, clean vocals transitioning in and out of guttural growls, and supported by spectral synths and lightly modulated vocals, a precedent is immediately set for the rest of ‘Veil’. Wilderun somewhat shows their entire hand here, hitting all the high notes that the rest of the album strikes similarly well, so if this isn’t enough to entice you there’s a fair bet the rest of the album will struggle to draw you in, too.

Given what’s on display here, however, it’s difficult to not be enticed. It’s almighty and operatic in sound and scale, and moving into ‘O Resolution!’, its opening strings and deep howling vocals carry that momentum forward with an energy reminiscent of a final boss encounter. With lyrics like, “We fight the wind as if it were mortal”, it’s safe to say Wilderun has no shame in leaning into the stereotypical warrior tropes of the genre (in the best possible way) when it suits, but it’s never overdone to the point of causing staleness, and given the band’s focus on shifting away from the tropes of the genre, it feels almost tongue-in-cheek at times.

It’s around this point you realise Wilderun’s insistence that they’re indeed not beholden to these folk tropes – that their talk of escaping that Scandinavian mold – is not just talk, but action. Though it doesn’t rewrite the metal playbook, those medieval, eastern european tinges to the acoustic side of the album, the more slavic elements that permeate the heavier elements, both create an atmosphere that feels unique to Wilderun. The instrumental ‘Scentless Core (Burning)’, and its follow-up ‘Far From Where Dreams Unfurl’ demonstrate this with extreme gusto (and subtle brass) . There are always quiet nods to the Scandinavian greats, traces of bands like Nightwish and Opeth, but they never derail Wilderun’s own style, which is laden with wonderfully symphonic moments where vocalist Evan Berry is accompanied only by piano or string section.

Production feels light and spacious on ninety percent of the record, but can occasionally become a little too cramped come the harder-hitting sections. ‘The Tyranny Of Imagination’ is a wonderfully jaw-cracking penultimate track but ends up falling somewhat flat due to Evan Berry’s roars getting lost in the cluttered instrumentation. When compared to how well his cleaner vocals come across on the acoustic side of things, the disparity between the two sides becomes a little more noticeable. This isn’t enough to cause detriment to the closer, though, another behemoth track in ‘When The Fire and the Rose Were On’. It feels like something of a companion piece to ‘The Unimaginable Zero Summer’, one that finishes the album with stellar piano and strings and bookends it with more wonderfully light-yet-sinister guitars and vocals, and a second spoken word quotation. Though these two tracks are their longest, both set the gold standard for the album, using every trick the band has in their arsenal to deliver a salacious operatic experience.

‘Veil Of Imagination’ is an adventurous record, and not just in the terms of its scale, but in theme as well. It invites you into its world with sails unfurled and sword raised, and while marred by the occasional hiccup on some of its production and a lack of risk taking throughout, its slick instrumentals, tear-jerking quieter moments, and smooth-as-silk transitions between soft and savage help demonstrate Wilderun’s talent in balancing modernity with tradition, as it stands as one of the strongest metal releases of the last year.

FIACHRA JOHNSTON

 

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