Review Summary: The glory and the freshness of a dream."Ah, there it is."
It’s a bit silly how many times I said that aloud during my initial spin of this record. “This is Narnia”, “ooOOOOO”, “Swano and Bogren are gods”, “hahahahahahahahaha”, “the TONE”, it was quite the verbal experience. I wasn’t saying anything of consequence, but I was speaking
, and I was kinda reminded of my days reading Skulduggery Pleasant
as a youngster, audibly emoting my responses to the narrative ongoings. Derek Landy wasn’t the most original author on the planet, and Veil of Imagination
is far from the most original album of its ilk, but I think that’s part of why it succeeds. Skulduggery Pleasant
was such a focused effort, so dramatic in its usage of common tropes, and so driven by a very specific narrative voice (that being the cheeky, Irish candor with which Landy dictates his novels), that there was no room for breaks in the illusion. At its most lenient, the novels seemed to have a fairly soft system of magic, but the world still felt tangible throughout. It’s a sort of restrictive freedom that Wilderun use not only to effectively convey a simple narrative, but to mine said narrative of every ounce of gold hiding in the folds.
Sporting an hourglass-figure tracklisting might be a vapid point of praise but it’s honestly a perfect fit for the kind of storytelling Wilderun are attempting here. “The Unimaginable Zero Summer” is a 14 minute and 32 second summary of everything to come, not too dissimilar in objective from the “Ash Memory” suite of tracks found on their last record. It opens with narration ripped from the pages of high fantasy, and the curtains open on a trademark Wilderun acoustic passage; it rings with open notes, swaying back and forth with a whimsical tipsiness that is slowly undergirded by waves of strings. A core motif of the track subtly makes its first appearance just as the song explodes into a riff that’s melodically informed by the strings from before; a single lead note that’s pedalled to up the tension before the drop. And a drop it is. A blast beat rumbles beneath a rapid guitar line as the orchestration swirls overhead. The release surges with elation, even if the chord progression carries the same uneasiness and mystery as it did during it’s acoustic phase. The track crashes into an Opeth-ian swing, with an emphatic lead saddling the line between hooky and freeform; an important ability in the band’s toolkit.
Four minutes and 15 seconds in and the band brings out the guns. One, two, three, four
, five, six, and repeat; a thundering riff that’s rhythmically offset like the crack of an arcing whip pummels its way into the spotlight with no orchestrations to be found. The magic creeps in a couple of bars later as symphonic flourishes are subtly introduced to follow the leading lines. It’s a small change to the timbre but paired with the gutturals, the effect is quite powerful, especially within the grander context of the track. The next time the riff makes a return appearance, the choirs are out for blood, punching into frame the second the snare cuts through the air. Clarity and accuracy isn’t lost in the chaos, with every instrument and voice sounding out in perfect, ruinous unison. And so the story continues, with a sudden dip into acoustic territory. The narrative theatrics make a reappearance as Evan Anderson Berry’s low-register anecdote cues a foreboding build.
The melodic progression is regal and corrupt. A rumbling bass line simultaneously breaks the rising tensions and builds them to new heights; the giant doors of an ungodly domain are cracking open and blam
. It’s war. Blasts and rapid picking; roars, choirs, leads that run up and down the fret-board. It’s become quite apparent at this point that Wilderun are very good at avoiding a sense of finality when the situation doesn’t require it; every melodic and rhythmic idea feels suspended in limbo as the band refuses to resolve. Refuses to resolve. Refuses
to resolve. The battle comes to an agonising stalemate as Wilderun ride out the fight on a single chord over a single blast for one, two, three, four
, five, six, too many bars, and hiding within the chord is that initial motif. Our single note, chiming out as walls are collapsing and the earth is quaking. The chaos ends and the note continues. A moment’s reprieve, and then pure elation as the symphony makes a full return over the most resolute progression in the entire track, near nine minutes in.
I wasn’t exactly certain how the band was going to end the track at first. There were still 5 minutes to go, and I was already exhausted. It felt like Mount Doom had been scaled twice over. Yet, in the back of my head, there was a transitional riff that, on a good day, might
make a power-up reappearance. Much to my great pleasure, that lead line from the early minutes of the track, saddling the line between hooky and freeform, snuck its way into a beautiful, full-band, instrumental ballad (which is of course pre-empted by our much adored one-note motif) that the adventure comes to an end on. It’s a thrill. “The Unimaginable Zero Summer” almost feels like an entire narrative on its own merits. The peaks and valleys are highly complimentary, and the world consistency is airtight with a piercing through line holding everything together. It is simple, effective storytelling. I’d be inclined to believe the conceptually goofy idea of folksy death metal winds up perfectly sound in this setting. The attention to detail and care poured into every second makes for an unbreakable bond between these two conflicting elements.
And it goes beyond the writing. Jens Bogren and Dan Swanö took up production responsibilities for Veil of Imagination
, and I’m not entirely sure a better match for either this powerful duo or the band presently exists. Sleep at the Edge of the Earth
was a fantastic sounding record as is, but the dynamism and character of this new album is something truly wonderful to behold. It’s a very warm-sounding album, with harsher edges tapered off and more attention placed on how instruments enter and leave any given segment. On more than one occasion, a main distorted riff will lower not only in volume, but in physical attack; the pick strikes becoming notably softer as a song transitions into a quieter section. Even as orchestrations rise in velocity, these small details aren’t ever lost in the mix. “O Resolution!” puts production expertise on full display with crescendos brimming with life and oscillating timbres. Full-band stabs resound at every level. There’s enough room in the mix that notes of varying volumes manage to dwell together, and nothing ever overpowers unless expressly necessary for the sake of the story. The band’s technical prowess is constantly allowed to shine because the intricacies stand out.
Momentum has always been a standout aspect of Wilderun’s music, with songs like “Garden of Fire” and “Suncatcher” cycling through moments of intensity standing back to back with submissive interludes, alternating at the drop of the hat via some impressive melodic transitions. Jon Teachey’s performance behind the kit on Veil of Imagination
should be thusly commended as he not only provides a sturdy pulse for the rest of the band to rely on, but also creates rhythmic motifs that allow the band to bust out new ideas without halting immersion. The album’s main single, “Far from Where Dreams Unfurl” plays out like a campfire ballad on steroids. The verse hooks are built on an impossibly catchy drum pattern that accentuates the adventurous tone of the record, evolving into a furious double-kick offensive while holding the backbeat in place during the chorus. He brings so much power to the chorus gang vocals that it borderlines on the comical. And so it should; the song feels designed from the ground up to enforce comradery before a coming storm. The fact that Teachey is then able to mix up rhythmic ideas drastically in the second half of the song without stifling the mood is impressive as at its core, the song is one of the more straightforward on the record.
Come “When the Fire and the Rose Were One”, the sense of band cohesion is so uniform that you almost lose track of individual elements, even when they are as varied and well-produced as is possible for this kind of record. I think my eyes had glazed over by the seven minute mark, not with any ill will, but rather because the flurries of sonic wind being, in a moment, overtaken by images of petals cascading in an imaginary orchid (as described by arpeggiating staccato in the woodwinds and strings sections; the rest of the band taking a backseat for a moment to breathe it all in) were simply too damn magical for me to think consciously. It was like entering lucidity while awake but having all the control of a sleep paralysis-induced stupor. I’m seldom forgiving of a fadeout, but it felt like ailment for surviving the adventure more so than a cop-out; a corny yet effervescent freeze frame at the end of an old film. T.S. Elliot’s “Little Gidding” makes an apt appearance in closing, it being the origin of the song name, as a deeply disquieting acoustic passage points to something sinister that this journey is yet to uncover. It doesn’t end here.
And maybe demanding a sequel could be considered a cop-out. In all honesty, it’s the first time I’ve heard an album so directly demand for it. But the story arcs Veil of Imagination
does explore feel fully realised. This works firmly as a standalone experience. The illusion is never broken. It’s the product of an intense commitment to one vision, and Wilderun take every possible step required to make that vision internally consistent. I developed characters listening to this record, both in tandem with and devoid of the lyrical content. I could see the drama. It’s most certainly a fantastic, folksy death metal romp, but I also think it’s a step further than just its musical denotations. It is theatre. It is the result of a deep, deep love for storytelling. So aptly put by the opening narration of William Wordsworth’s “Ode on the Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood”, it is
The glory and the freshness of a dream