SBR enjoyed Wilderun’s magnificent 2019 album, Veil of Imagination, and described it as akin to walking ‘through golden butterfly meadows and hostile woodland swamps.’ As a re-release on Century Media in 2020, the last record set pulses racing and inflamed imaginations with its mighty choral approach and devastating metal assault. The Boston quartet are now ready with its follow up, and their ambition for Epigone is even more spectacular than the predecessor LP. This is a prog metal experience that changes colours with the alacrity of a chameleon.
The first thing you’ll notice about Epigone is its rich acoustic feel. This ought to be a drawback for a metal band, but Evan Anderson Berry’s melodious voice is the true heart of this album, and it will not fail to captivate you. Indeed, you might wonder if you’re listening to the same band when they settle into opener, ‘Exhaler’, in the mode of an acoustic version of the Smashing Pumpkins and start the follow up song in the same vein. Faint cellos and subtle steel guitars breeze through Berry’s delicate voice and enhance the amber radiance of the guitar strumming, but we don’t hear a sustained passage of rock overdrive until we’re six minutes into the record. At fourteen minutes in length, ‘Woolgatherer’, sets itself a mammoth task to retain your attention, but the sheer unpredictability and tumultuous architecture leave you gasping for more. One moment they’re brooding like Katatonia, yet the next passage will recall Dream Theater at their most expressive or Opeth at their most vicious. The cinematic splendour leading up to the black metal eruption towards the end is as climactic as a Beethoven symphony. Epic is not the word.
The outlines of Epigone start to take shape in the first four songs. These are the longest and most colourful compositions, and the ones most likely to challenge the existing fanbase. The nine minutes and fifty-eight seconds of ‘Passenger’ represent the first real foray into extreme metal, yet the lighter moments will remind you of Cynic’s last two records, and the addition of a male choir gives it a divine power that the band dare not control. ‘Identifier’ starts with an intimate flurry of finger-picking and crooning voice but transforms into a rock epic with wider lungs and more muscle in the guitars as the song evolves. Listen to the bi-polar madness unfold at 06:30 seconds. Where did that morbid and inhumane vocal come from? Close your eyes and this could be Edge of Sanity in their prime.
A glance at the song length for each track might defeat you unless you find a way to phase your listening approach. Fortunately, the band give you a clear bridleway to reach the end point by creating an album within an album, with the four parts of ‘Distraction’ taking the experience in a darker and more discordant direction. ‘Distraction I’ thrives on a floating sensation of distorted guitar shapes and dreamy vocals and might remind you of Cave In in their alternative rock phase. Berry’s switch to a frosty death metal roar ensures nothing is conventional here, yet you feel like you’re gliding through the skies and looking down upon the town below. ‘Distraction II’ is the song that The Ocean would be proud to own – skank beats and French horns compete against heavy staccato guitars and Berry’s illustrious tenor voice. It ought to be the crowning achievement, but ‘Distraction III’ snatches the honour with luscious strings arrangements and stadium rock soloing. You’ve found your funeral song as soon as the pitch bends run down your spine like cold drops of stream water.
Wilderun might enhance their sparkling elements and folk tapestry on Epigone, but they remind us that their heritage is extreme metal on final song, ‘Distraction Nulla’. We said the opening to this LP is unconventional in its acoustic zeal, but the ending is just as unorthodox in its discomforting darkness. The eerie ambience and dissonant guitar distortion conceal a muffled vocal roar that thrives on a lack of melody rather than an abundance of it. It’s a clever way to end the album experience and one that leaves you thanking them rather than begging for more.
How Wilderun match the ambition and musicianship on future albums will be one of the most intriguing developments over the next decade. Epigone is a monumental effort that’ll caress and crush you in equal measures.
Release Date: 07/01/2022
Record Label: Century Media
Standout tracks: Passenger, Identifier, Distraction III
Suggested Further Listening: Opeth – Blackwater Park (2001), Dream Theater – Images and Words (1992), Cynic – Kindly Bent to Free Us (2014)