(Andy Synn delivers a SYNN REPORT for the month of May, focusing on the discography of the Colorado band band Wayfarer.)
Recommended for fans of: Agalloch, Panopticon, Oak Pantheon
One of the great things about writing The Synn Report over all these years is how much variety has been involved since its inception, with the collected entries (now nearing a cool one hundred) covering a wide swathe of the Metal landscape as well as a solid proportion of the globe.
Heck, in just the last ten entries we’ve had entries from Norway, Germany, Finland, Sweden, Canada, Poland, and the USA, featuring a mix of Black, Death, Sludge, Thrash, and Post-Metal, and I have plan to visit many more countries and a variety of other genres (and sub-genres) going forwards.
This month’s entry however, as well as being a day late, just so happens to mark the second entry in a row hailing from the good ol’ US of A (Denver, Colorado, to be exact)… and next month’s might just end up making three in a row if things carry on the way they are doing… but I think you’ll find that the strength of the music on offer easily justifies this decision to stick around in the putative “Land of the Free”.
CHILDREN OF THE IRON AGE – 2014
While their newest album is undoubtedly the band’s best work, their debut is still a rather stirring introduction to the group’s central sound and musical philosophy, one which blends the force and ferocity of Black Metal with the solemn moods and sombre melody of American folk music.
Following the arid introductory ambience of “The Earth Only Endures”, the band kick off a maelstrom of swirling percussion and bleak, melodic tremolo lines in the form of “Forests Ash by Dawn”, a song as rich in brooding ambience as it is in blackened eloquence, which uses its extensive ten-minute run time to construct a gorgeously grim, yet undeniably beautiful, musical landscape for the listener to explore.
Both “Towards Mountains” and “The Elemental” (clocking in at 10:42 and 10:29 respectively) offer some similarly expansive and expressive vistas for the audience to journey through, but differentiate themselves from their predecessor(s) in subtle ways.
The former, for example, incorporates some primal rhythms and some dark and doomsome riffage, in a manner which frequently recalls an intricate arrangement of influences drawn from In Mourning, Agalloch, and Daylight Dies, while the latter goes for a somewhat heavier and more aggressive approach, with some truly taut and tightly-wound riffage weaving its captivating spell before a backdrop of cathartic howls and pulse-quickening percussion, and interspersed with moments of mournful melodic calm.
“Stormcall”, the album’s shortest song (not counting the intro track) is a haunting piece of tribal, tom-heavy drums and rippling acoustic guitar which provides a much-needed palette cleanser after the opening triptych have finally finished raining down upon you and which leads us nicely into the simmering fury and multifaceted metallic/melodic fretwork of the title-track.
The triumphant “A Place Among the Stars”, is the album’s penultimate song, and again finds the band going for a choppier, riffier, approach, intercut here and there with moments of tragic melody and engrossing atmosphere, after which the ambitiously epic “Skysong” (all fifteen minutes of it) sees the group stretching their creative wings to craft something which remains utterly enthralling throughout, whether or not it’s delivering a deluge of raging riffs or a wistful breath of mournful melody.
OLD SOULS – 2016
At only seven songs, two of which (“Frontiers” and “The Dust Lakes”) are instrumental pieces, and fifty-one minutes in length, Old Souls is a (relatively) more streamlined release than the band’s debut, but just as (if not more) rewarding, with the quartet clearly making great strides in simultaneously expanding the scope of their sound while also stripping away what little excess fat remains, in service of their overall vision.
Sublime opener “Ever Climbing” adopts a slow and methodical pace at the beginning which really allows its shimmering ambience and meditative atmosphere to breathe, before eventually giving way to a much more forceful, yet still fascinating, approach, which really highlights the impressive drum work of Isaac Faulk, alongside the powerful riffs and plaintive melodies which ring out from the guitars of Shane McCarthy and Tanner Rezabek (making his final appearance with the band on this album).
Following the undulating acoustics of “Frontiers” Old Souls continues down this bolder, more bombastic path with the fiercely blackened barrage of “Old Souls’ New Dawn”, which channels the spirit of classic Dissection both during its sombre opening (and similarly forlorn mid-song acoustic interlude) and its powerful blending of electric tremolo lines and epic riffery.
By way of contrast to its more extravagant predecessor, “Catcher” offers a concise, four-minute procession of mid-paced, galloping grooves and supple melodic string work (as well as some notably dense and dramatic bass), which eventually builds towards a rivetingly intense finale, after which the doomily progressive strains of “Deathless Tundra” find the band returning to their more atmospheric roots, teasing out lengthy passages of evocative riffs and enigmatic melody, where the vocals don’t make an appearance until nearly three-and-a-half minutes into the track (and yet their initial absence only makes their eventual appearance all the more impactful).
Drummer Isaac Faulk has been whipping up an absolute storm of dynamic, vital percussion work throughout this album so far, and he continues to do so on both “Catcher” and “Deathless Tundra”, but steps back to take a breather of sorts during poignant penultimate instrumental track “The Dust Lakes”.
He’s back in full force on album closer “All Lost In Aimless Chaos” however, as are the rest of the band, delivering one of their most vital and intense performances yet across the course of the song’s nearly ten minute run-time, effortlessly juxtaposing eruptions of blazing fury against moments of contemplative calm in a way which manages to sound both fresh and vibrant, yet also desolate and forlorn… which could just as easily serve as a valid description of the album as a whole.
WORLD’S BLOOD – 2018
As I stated above, the band’s third album is by some measure their finest work, and though it only runs to five tracks, at a shade under forty-five minutes it’s still a record which is easy to lose yourself in, a record richly endowed with both a sense of history and real emotion.
Opener “Animal Crown”, for example, is akin to galloping across a windswept plane as the sand and soil shifts beneath you, exposing the rocks and the roots which lie just beneath the surface, and bringing old bones into new light.
As metaphors go, I think this is a pretty good one (if I do say so myself), as the song paints a vivid musical landscape through which the listener journeys, encountering unexpected sights and sounds along the way, as well as elements – the bare-bones melodies of American folk music, the raw fury of primal Black Metal – which have been resurrected to serve a new purpose.
For all this flowery language, World’s Blood is still very much a Metal album though, as the titanic “On Horseback They Carried Thunder” so firmly attests, beginning as a piece of moody, majestic doom and gloom, before slowly transforming into a raging river of writhing tremolo lines and thrumming chords, all topped off with a blisteringly cathartic vocal performance and underpinned by some simmering, understated blast work courtesy of Faulk.
It also serves to showcase the band’s gift for incorporating incisive melody and intricate hooks into their music, without it ever feeling overly calculated or cerebral. Rather the fusion between the more blackened side of their sound and the duskier, dust-stained string-work of the quartet’s Americana influences, seems entirely natural, and you never once get the sense that the band are working to any sort of set formula or trying to fulfil any sort of obligation to anyone but themselves.
The pairing of “The Crows Ahead Cry War” and “The Dreaming Plain” however makes for the album’s finest hour (well, twenty-ish minutes, to be more precise), at least in my opinion, with the slow-burn introduction of the former developing into a classic light-and-shade dynamic in the song’s first half, only to eventually erupt into a whirlwind of scathing Black Metal before finally settling into a bleak and barren (yet strangely beautiful) finale.
The latter is perhaps even heavier though, with its stark, chiming melodies and seething riffs recalling the very best of early Wolves In The Throne Room or latter-day Der Weg Einer Freiheit, yet possessed of a spirit and a sense of true grit all its own, along with a truly mesmerising grasp of mood and melody that doesn’t so much tug at your heartstrings as it does try to rend them asunder.
Concluding with the heartfelt, clean-sung hymnal that is “A Nation of Immigrants”, World’s Blood proves itself to be – quite fittingly considering its artwork – a real dark horse, and one of the most arresting, artistically rewarding albums I’ve heard all year.