Thursday 30 January 2020

Wilderun - Veil of Imagination (2019)

Country: USA
Style: Progressive Metal
Rating: 9/10
Release Date: 1 Nov 2019
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Wilderun, a progressive metal band from Boston on their third album, ranked number one on two end of year lists that I know about: from Angry Metal Guy and Metal Storm. Clearly I should check them out before I run out of January to do it. I like what I hear though there's so much going on that it takes a few listens to come to terms with the sheer ambition of this band.

Rather similarly to the Nektar album I reviewed yesterday, this is a lengthy affair, running six minutes over an hour but only including eight songs, the longest being the bookends at fourteen and twelve minutes respectively. Also like Nektar, this feels a lot shorter than it is because the music is highly engaging and immersive, not to mention varied.

The poetic aspirations of the songwriters are clear in the song titles, all vivid products of imagination that need insight to understand. Where is Far from Where Dreams Unfurl? Who are the Sleeping Ambassadors of the Sun? What were the fire and the rose When the Fire and the Rose Were One? Just to set the poetic nature of the album in stone, it opens with Doug James reciting Wordsworth and ends with him taking on Eliot.

In between those spoken word bookends is pure ambition. Just attempting the sort of thing Wilderun does here takes balls and the reason they're topping end of year lists is because they do a damn fine job of it. The best bucket to throw them into is progressive metal, but that isn't close to all of it. The Unimaginable Zero Summer moves from poetry into pastoral prog folk with an orchestral swell a few minutes in. Then it hits high gear just like that and we're firmly in symphonic metal territory, with the vocals combining an era or three of Therion, mixing lead death growls with a choral backing.

Clearly what Wilderun do best is dynamics, exploring peaks and troughs like this is classical music, but with rock instrumentation. Evan Anderson Berry is the lead vocalist and his range just within this opening song runs from death growls to a quiet introspective section to piano accompaniment which sounds like a musical number, albeit not a soporific Disney tune that would play to the lowest common denominator and land an Oscar in the process.

This opener is a fantastic song that never loses our interest, even at over fourteen minutes. O Resolution!, at a mere six, is even better still, with a confrontational choral section and orchestrations that underpin and elevate the riffs wonderfully. It finds time for dynamics too, what could easily be a cantata shifting into quiet singer/songwriter territory then adding heavy guitars without any apparent notion that these changes are unusual.

And so we go. A first time through Veil of Imagination will blur all these songs together, not because they sound the same but because they contain so much variety that it's easier to see them as many parts than a single song. Also, many of these songs end in a way that resembles the start of the next more than some of its own parts, so it's easy to hear this as one diverse piece of an hour plus than eight individual songs. All this starts to shift into form with each further time through.

There's so much going on here that I think I need another half dozen listens just to figure out what my own favourites are. Sleeping Ambassadors of the Sun is darker and more cinematic. Far from Where Dreams Unfurl is symphonic folk. The Tyranny of Imagination is a swaggering power metal song, heavier because of faster riffs and more death growls, but simultaneously lighter in orchestration and with some vocals swirling around in middle eastern style. There's even a classical section in the middle of When the Fire and the Rose Were One.

Wilderun hail from Boston and have only been around for less than a decade, conceived in 2008 but not properly formed until 2012. Veil of Imagination is their third album, following Olden Tales & Deathly Trails in 2012 and Sleep at the Edge of the Earth in 2015. Clearly I should check both of them out as soon as is humanly possible, because this is fantastic stuff.

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