Reviewed: [February 2022]
Released [2022 Century Media Records]
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
After getting their start playing a sort of New England-ized variation of Northern European folk metal, Boston’s Wilderun have taken their sound in a decidedly symphonic/progressive direction and in doing so seem to have found their true calling.
While no less ambitious or audacious than their previous work, the band’s fourth album Epigone is their most focused and complete effort yet, even with its cinematic grandiosity. And the scale here is truly immense, thanks to the orchestral flair of Wayne Ingram who has worked with film composer Hans Zimmer’s company Bleeding Fingers.
Epigone plays out almost like an Aaron Copland score being channeled through Radiohead (whose “Everything in Its Right Place” they cover as a bonus track), Opeth, Dream Theater, Enslaved, Devin Townsend or Fleshgod Apocalypse/Septicflesh, depending on where in the narrative you happen to find yourself at a given moment. And while that may seem the makings of complete clusterfuck, it works very well here. Darn near flawlessly in fact.
“Exhaler” provides a serene welcome to the proceedings with its sparse, unplugged accompaniment to Evan Berry’s breathy, contemplative vocals. It’s about a folky as things get here – and I mean that in the Americana sense of the term, as we’re talking acoustic guitar and fiddle, not face paint, kilts and mead horns – and it carries over to the lead-in to the 14-minute “Woolgatherer,” where the band finally release the metal Kraken, so to speak, at about the 3:30 mark in a hail of blast beats, Åkerfeldt-ian growls and churning riffs, all draped in a symphonic blanket.
From there, Epigone is a constant ebb and flow marked by dramatic contrasts as moments of quiet beauty yield to bursts of death/black metal fury or turbulent jams. The 10-minute, more metal-forward “Passenger” and equally monumental “Identifier,” at 11:32, follow, making the front end of album a bit of an endurance test. But your patience will be rewarded with glorious choral vocals, majestic swells, gathering-storm intensity and weird little tangents that rarely let things lag for long.
After the short segue “Ambition,” which is mostly just dull electronic throb despite the lofty title, the album closes out with the four-part “Distraction” that clocks in at just south of 20 minutes in total. Each part has its own distinct personality – “Distraction II” being the most bombastic, while “Distraction III” proves the most dramatic with its slow build and metallic/symphonic crescendo recalling Metallica’s “The Unforgiven,” the first one from the Black Album, anyway.
Each part flows from one to the next quite naturally, even if the whole shebang wraps up with Mayhem-like weirdness of “Distraction Nulla.” And while it is rather out of character, “Nulla” is still quite compelling – and certainly makes for an emphatic end.
Wilderun really took the symphonic/prog/death metal ball and ran with it on 2019’s gobsmacking Veil of Imagination. With Epigone, they’ve refined the formula a bit here so it is not quite so all over the place – even though that was but a minor issue on Veil – and have crafted a genuinely stunning work. The sleek, resonant mix from old pro Jens Bogren makes it sound all the more impressive – and awesome. One week into 2022, and these guys have already dropped an album of the year candidate – or at lease set the bar pretty fucking high for everyone else.