Review Summary: A welcome change of pace from the countless Viking-themed bands that populate the folk metal genre.
It's been three years since Wilderun's début "Olden Tales & Deathly Trails" made its subtle impression on the folk metal world. It straddled the line between the fun, lively sounds of bands like Turisas
and the more serious tone of bands like Skyclad
. All while incorporating traditional American folk songs into their spiralling compositions, telling tales of maritime adventure and tragedy. In a genre oversaturated with gimmicks and woefully thin on self-awareness, it was a breath of fresh (albeit salty) sea air.
"Sleep at the Edge of the Earth" picks up where the début left off, with sprawling, intricately orchestrated epics and beautiful, memorable melodies. The near-20 minute Ash Memory
suite that comprises most of the first half of the album makes the band's intentions clear immediately. Somehow able to sound absolutely enormous and delicate at the same time, it uses recurring motifs and a clever use of dynamics to evoke a uniquely sombre and triumphant atmosphere.
Frontman and primary songwriter Evan Berry has really outdone himself on this release. On the début album, the line between the band's original compositions and the re-interpretations of old American folk classics was already blurry. It is a testament to Berry's songwriting abilities and the band's arrangements that "Sleep at the Edge of the Earth", while using fewer (if any) explicit references to old folk tunes, still manages to sound like it was cut from the same cloth. If the catchy melodies of Ash Memory
and The Garden of Fire
weren't derived from folklore of centuries past, they sure sound like they could
Berry's vocals alternate between soothing and menacing. The singing is soft and comforting, eschewing the theatrics of most metal vocalists in favour of a folkier, more humble (yet still confident) approach. They range from powerful and soaring to fragile and restrained, much like the compositions. His harsh death metal vocals mostly take a back seat and aren't quite as outstanding, but are decently done, enhance the heavier moments and don't feel out of place.
As for the instruments? Each member displays both exceptional skill and restraint. No performance stands out from the rest, and this works in the band's favour. There's a true sense of collaboration between all of the instruments, which (beyond the standard metal instrumentation) include traditional folk instrumentation such as the mandolin, melodica, dulcimer and banjo. In addition to all of these instruments, there are layers of orchestrations and choirs used carefully (and tastefully) to enhance the more dramatic sections. Don't expect the obnoxious synth stabs and cheesy horns that plague other symphonic metal bands to appear here.
There is not a lot to complain about with "Sleep at the Edge of the Earth", though it does seem like it reaches its peak too soon with the Ash Memory
suite. That is not to say the other songs are lacklustre, as each one has something exciting to offer. Even the mix is great, especially considering the abundance of overly-compressed, disastrous production jobs in symphonic metal.
"Sleep at the Edge of the Earth" is highly recommended for folk metal fans everywhere. The passion that went into its writing and recording is immediately apparent and while folk metal is hardly a novel concept these days, Wilderun displays so much sincerity and confidence in their sound that every component seems necessary. While it is unlikely that the album will appeal to many outside of folk metal's fanbase, it is truly an outstanding example of what the genre has to offer.