How do you follow up on a masterpiece? Wilderun graced us in 2019 with their brilliant Veil of Imagination, an album that has grown on me even since my initial accolades. And yet here the band is again with a new album with a gorgeous cover, and I wondered how they would fare. Epigone is releasing on January 7. How does it stack up?
Wilderun are a progressive metal band from Boston. I actually didn’t recall they were based in the US, as they feel far more eccentric and interesting than most US metal. The band consists of Evan Anderson Berry (vocals, guitars, piano), Dan Müller (bass, synths, orchestrations), Jon Teachey (drums), Joe Gettler (lead guitar), and Wayne Ingram (orchestrations).
If you aren’t familiar with the band, some of that last paragraph might seem odd. They have band members focused on orchestrations? Yes. Wilderun has an untamed, electrifying sound. While this is certainly progressive metal with death metal leanings, much of the music is primarily synth and orchestration. Some of the biggest moments of the album involve towering cinematic heights, rather than riffs. Not to say that the riff isn’t present here, but the band certainly focuses more on grand effect and illustrious weight than on heaviness. Well, this band possesses something more like heaviness of soul than heaviness of guitar.
Comparing this to Veil of Imagination is actually pretty difficult. That album was colorful, poetic, regal, and spine-shatteringly immense. Epigone is decidedly darker and more reserved. The loud-quiet dynamic is used deeply here with some tracks including portions that are mostly vocals and acoustics. In fact, the album begins this way and doesn’t launch into anything mighty for several minutes.
That doesn’t mean that this album is lesser, however. Epigone feels more personal and tumultuous emotionally, rather than musically. Believe me, there are many unrelenting walls of sound that are wonderfully mixed and painstakingly composed here. In fact, those moments of crunching riffs, heightened orchestrations, and imposing monastic choirs are some of the best on the album. So, the complexity and movement you expect are both here, but there is something more going on, too. There are more layers of expression, more connection to the earth and sky, more grounded ideas as opposed to fantastical. It’s a subtle feeling, but one I picked up almost immediately: quietude as musical ambition.
And Epigone certainly is ambitious. It spans a greater range of sound and feelings than its predecessor. So instead of extensive orchestrations that never seem to quit, we are treated to lone stringed melodies, as well. Instead of bursting through the musical gate at a full tilt, this album prefers to ease into the journey with grace and heart that the band hasn’t really shown us in past works.
What does that mean? Well, Veil of Imagination will always be a work of genius for me. I don’t know if the band will ever top it. Epigone, though, has its own place. Rather than trying to outdo the insanity of the last album, the band has shifted gears and found a speed that feels rich and detailed, like golden embrace or quiet whispers of night.
Choosing moments to highlight on this album is a fool’s errand, but I’ll try it anyways. Epigone flows as one. I was initially concerned because the singles felt, well, not like singles. They felt a little off to me. After hearing the full album, those songs have a place in the river, so to speak, and sound much better as part of the whole. The album has 9 tracks, the last four being a suite called “Distraction”, and what a song it is! Each track in this suite is perfectly placed and paced, transitioning through various sounds and textures. The first track has a medium pace, but moves into heavy harsh vox on the second track, yet the song then turns to its third track for cinematic orchestration before closing in the fourth track with a furrowed and blurred finish. It’s an epic ride, for sure.
I find my favorite moments earlier in the album, though. I really like the acoustic musings of “Exhaler”, the gentle opener. And I like it so much because the next track, “Woolgatherer”, is a 14-minute smoker. The contrast is palpable as this track launches a full-scale attack on our senses. I especially love the choirs on this one.
“Passenger” is another great one, probably possessing the most metallic sound on the album. I love the determined guitars and gravy vocals on that one, and its runtime being 4 minutes longer than the single version. I would also point to “Identifier” as a fantastic and fairly brutal track, especially since this album version is 5 minutes longer than the single version that was released recently. You get the point, though. This album has a bit of everything, and all of it is meshed into one flowing, beautiful stream of expression and artistry. And you know what? The marketing seems to try to hide a bit of the wonder, so as not to spoil it.
Wilderun has given us yet another wonderful record with Epigone. It might not have the color or madness of their previous work, but this album reaches my mind with other, more mysterious means, similar to their Sleep at the Edge of the Earth from 2015. In fact, maybe that’s a good way to describe it: Epigone gets a little sleepy here and there, in a good way. It certainly is a beautiful piece, and one that I think will only grow on me as 2022 progresses. Long story short, fans will be pleased, and listeners who couldn’t brave their sound before might find this album a little more accessible and delicious.
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