Review Summary: Practicing Awe
It hasn’t taken long for a litany of names to get thrown around with all the care and intent of any number of serial name-droppers that occupy the critique-o-sphere when it comes to the release of Wilderun’s latest record. Be it the interviewer, or Dan and Evan’s own willingness to contend with the question*, the answers “Addicted
is probably my most-frequented Devin record” and “Agreed on Addicted
” certainly don’t help with the propagation of a trend that’s persisted through much of Wilderun’s career, namely (LOL!) being one of constant comparison. It’s Opeth-lite! Disney Townsend! It’s every band Steven Wilson has interacted with since his transition to performing live with no shoes on! In turn, I do wonder how much of this record’s namesake is a direct allusion to the idea that a band with some of the strongest metal records of recent years can’t seem to catch a break. Does Heavy Devy hold a monopoly on the kind of regal bombast found in “Passenger”’s opening riff? Or the soaring balladry of the “Distraction” suite? Who invented the dulcimer and why aren’t they credited in the liner notes?
Navigating categorisation might just be a necessary evil for the inordinately dork-heavy fields of metaldom. There’s economy in dubbing Epigone
’s intro track, “Exhaler”, nothing more than a proggy, folksy start to an adventure, as seen on such notable records as [insert proggy folk metal record], and it wouldn’t technically be wrong (hell, it’s even got a red-herring outro to keep you guessing). “Distraction I” does sound like something you could find on Addicted
. Yet, I think a far more interesting question than who Wilderun stands as an epigone of would be one like “who are doing what Wilderun are doing this good”
. He who is without a discography slump cast the first comparison; here stands a band who is constantly trying to push at what our expectations should be for the sounds we’ve come to know over the years. When “Distraction Nulla” erupted in a malevolent wind at the one-minute mark, I was yet again
reminded of why mastery isn’t secondary to innovation. It’s the kind of controlled chaos that necessitates a reputation for year-on-year improvement. A flurry of cymbals and strings stained by a ghoulish fuzz brought on by some evil riffing, all underpinned by a melodic progression that reeks of cinema-pedigree villainy.
It’s the sort of conclusion that you could wax poetic about for hours without even needing to address who it may or may not sound akin to. Daniel, Wayne, Evan, and Jon really do seem to be aiming for mastery here. “Woolgatherer”, the record’s titan, feels like a culmination of everything the lads have learned over the course of the last three records, while not directly assigning its place among any of them. A decade spent practicing awe channeled into 14 minutes and 12 seconds of peaks, valleys, and love for the craft. Some might find personal utility in drawing 1:1s; I just wanna kidnap a random bystander and learn them of the many magicks to be found in the incredible transition from a sweeping orchestral swell three and half minutes into “Distinction II” to a rampaging breakdown that’s existence is adequately built up to via some chuggy flagposts laid in the minute leading therein.
Speaking of red herrings!, “Distraction II”, as with “Exhaler” (far) above, plays with the expectations pre-existing fans might have, sailing to a close on a pedaling lead note before drifting into a somber quiet. Wilderun don’t tread the same territory they did on their last two records, with these leads often making room for explosions of the extravagant variety. “Distraction III” takes its time to arrive, and the journey to its inevitable destination is one of a beautiful simplicity not often frequented in the hyperactive waters of all the genre tags we love to indulge our boys in. I really was taken aback. Weightless synths. Evan’s vocals barely
protruding over the horizon. It’s not inventive. It’s not obtuse. Every piece serves the larger whole, and this trend towards functionality is only bolstered when the apotheosis breaks and we are treated to one of the most impactful song arcs the band has ever written.
And so, what are we left with? If not the influences worn clear on their sleeves, what has Wilderun presented? A painstaking labor. It’s always funny to read band interviews and see how musicians hold themselves. They often sound much too human for the sounds they eject into the stratosphere. I’m sure there’s a degree to which much of the songwriting process for Evan & Co. comes naturally at this point; that Evan might be willing to quietly disclose “yea, track 3 came about one weekend when I was particularly hammered” after a gig, or something to that effect. Even with that all considered, this isn’t the sort of album that can come from nothing. There’s a care to the dynamism felt in the palm muting, in the fills, in the fluctuating Americana timbres and near-constant “holy fu
ck” moments. I’d be a fool to confidently consider any trajectory for these lads going forward, but in the meantime, here’s to finding a few more “damn, sounds like Wilderun” adages taking root across the metal community.