Wilderun is a Progressive Metal band from Boston, who made a ton of noise in 2019 with a masterful album called Veil of Imagination. It was the band’s third independent release, which many considered a major contribution to the genre. I was one of those people, unashamedly, and became even more convinced Wilderun was something special upon seeing them perform as support for Swallow the Sun last year. The band played a handful of songs from previous releases, as well as a preview of Epigone that left my jaw on the floor (the song “Passenger,” specifically.)
One of the challenges Progressive artists face is creating easily accessible music. If the musician isn’t careful, they’ll lose the layman within uncommon complexity. The music exists to impress in a technical fashion, with all the importance of excellence in songcraft being siphoned out in favor of flashiness. A balance isn’t always achieved in an orderly fashion, unintentionally highlighting further any faults that can’t be hidden by virtuosity. And sometimes the obvious fault lies within the desire to prove said virtuosity, or getting so lost within the pursuit of it there isn’t any way for a listener to find their way back. Wilderun does not have this issue, as they seem to very much appreciate what some of the pitfalls to their chosen subgenre may be if not dealt with properly. How do they deal with it? By presenting their creations with integrity and passion.
A storm doesn’t need to try being a storm. As complex as the weather is, it’s not that difficult to understand. But explaining what the world smells like just afterwards isn’t only difficult, the particulars of the experience differ for everyone. So, the trick would be to explain it in a way that’s both unique and familiar. Then in stories the storm becomes something more than what it showed up as. It’s not just a storm, it’s THAT storm! The one people always talk about. The one by which other storms are measured.
Wilderun have not taken a step back from the edginess presented in Veil of Imagination, or wasted much time staying where Veil of Imagination has taken them. The impact of that album, reverberating in the same ways as equally impressive records by the likes of Opeth or Porcupine Tree, for example, cannot be ignored. This is a fact that is even more evident now that Epigone has been unleashed upon the world.
Album opener, “Exhaler,” sets an immaculate tone of natural simplicity. Acoustic instruments and the voice of Evan Anderson Berry singing “I felt the world too well. There was nothing to tell… when the earth was still my home.” Thus suggesting he has found peace in the idea that there aren’t really any sharable answers to the biggest questions many of us will ever ask. You can get as complex about it as you wish, but that’s not going to make you seem any smarter in the eyes of God… or the mind of a child who’s just beginning to understand the world in abstracts.
The fourteen minute “Woolgatherer,” after a seamless transition, sees Berry still alone on an island at the start. Reflecting upon his whispers to the heavens, “crawling sideways” for an answer that becomes more elusive with every attempt at explanation. When the rest of the band comes in, it is with glory and power. Majestic, but not overly so, and still maintaining a very organic sound. Percussion galore, and slight vocal harmonies, echoing the destruction and resurrection of things “appearing as a statue[s] while running through the trees.” The music begins to float away with “the clock… set forever in reverse.” You can see the branches dancing in this song. You can feel the rain. Happiness wanders the woods, mixed with feelings of anxiety and terror.
“I peer through the woods onto the altar.
I knew that dreams could bend…
But this is not the same.
Not cowardice or pain.
The fundamental void.
Is staring blankly.”
A storm is the perfect place for a guitar solo, and on a song like this… the only place a solo makes sense is in a storm. We live through storms on an almost daily basis, so we are all well aware that the most predictable facet of a storm is its unpredictability. That being the case, we resign ourselves to being sidekicks and let the wind blow down what it needs to blow down. We are on the same road, but we are not the one’s doing the driving. We are merely passengers.
It is in the song “Passenger” that the albums concept begins to take shape. The music is tribal in nature, giving way to an ocean of percussion and a guitar tone so warm it acts like a blanket shielding us from the elements, or a raft for us to relax on as we cross bodies of water. A river with an “endless flow,” perhaps, as we measure its pace, “Oh what grace!”
“Passenger” brings the concept of “tabula rasa” to the forefront. If you’re unfamiliar with this term, tabula rasa is the idea that we are all born entirely without preconceived notions; that everything we experience has an equal opportunity for both joy and pain. As we grow older, we are shaped by the world around us to think in ways that align us with other humans. Right or wrong, the company you keep can determine how you understand the world. The human mind, especially at birth, is viewed as purely innocent where no innate ideas exist. A mind like this can either be sculpted with enough room to allow original thoughts room enough to sprout roots, or blocked and suffocated by what is perceived as a more “mature” way of reacting to the world.
As a listener, after this concept is introduced, it persists throughout the rest of the album. One obvious example of this is with the length of tracks. With “Passenger,” “Woolgetherer,” and “Identifier” each being over ten minutes long, it starts to seem like Wilderun might be falling victim to a Prog cliche. But, in keeping with the metaphor, a storm lasts exactly as long as it needs to last.
Conceptually, time isn’t supposed to signify anything. The band is dealing in abstracts, so the length of the song is mute. However, one cannot help but consider the stereotype that big meanings need long songs to make any sense. At least on the surface. The music is what makes such a thing necessary. The story it tells, as it takes the listener through the stops and goes… leading us, reading between the lines. “Identifier” possesses a related quandary:
There is a mystery inside you
A purity of being we innately know
How can the speechless seem to ring true?
And as you contemplate those words, your surroundings need to change in order to view every shade. In this case, it’s a moment of industry. It seems extremely intentional, each layering of organic sound, as do the rare occasions when an audible synthesizer of some sort pops into the frame. Here we’ve got a mixture of the old and the new coexisting. These two worlds are learning to navigate the same earth at both separate and equal times.
How can I distance myself from this?
Turn all my being to smoke and mist
Oh, still I give essence a cursory glance
And once again into this dance
With all of these ideas in play, along with the vastes of the musical canvas Wilderun has on display, it’s understood why there are always so many angles. The beauty in complexity, which very few are capable of expressing, explains that we are in the wilderness at all times on this planet… with no idea how big or small the rest of the cosmos is in comparison, or what, if anything, exists beyond.
The remainder of the album (“Distraction,” parts I, II, III, and Nulla) once again prove that time is a human construct, as are the dual concepts of survival and peril. It took me a couple listens through the album before I realized that through the experience of listening to Epigone, I had been witnessing the action depicted on the album cover. At a glance it’s a mass of clouds. You need to dive in to notice all of the colors. If someone asked you to describe a cloud, what is the first color that comes to mind? If you answered “white,” you might want to take another look. Because you’ve just missed the point.
With all of that being said, what is the takeaway? For me, without question, it is the journey the record takes us on. Epigone tells the kind of story that can be listened to repeatedly, and supplies its audience with new points of view to ponder upon each visit. With Wilderun as the narrator, there are windows left open along the way. Little glass tributaries pock-marked with invitations to explorers from every edge of the earth. This one will be on repeat throughout the year, and for many years to come. Absolute brilliance.