As the season to be jolly fast approaches, Colorado’s Wayfarer is here to bequeath unto us morose darkness-dwellers a jovial record of festive classics… or so you may think from the Christmas wreath on the album artwork. To the dismay of my planned seasonal merriment, what I actually found is a stellar record of post-black metal with deathy undertones – think Agalloch but with Primordial added for the extremity. Wayfarer is a young group with big plans, and Children Of The Iron Age is their first full-length foray into the sphere-obsessed world of extreme metal. How do they stack up to such spherical visionaries such as Meshuggah and Morbid Angel?
As far as shapes go, quite well. The initial Christmas-based confusion faded as I examined the album art, and I realised that the circular foliage encloses an enigmatic swirl of tasteful blues, with creepy tendrils reaching inwards. I’m not quite sure of the significance of these circles in relation to the music within, but there’s an admirable dedication to their trade here.
With regards to the music, the biggest draw for me is the intricate and subtle guitar textures and styles used. Regardless of frills, the focus devoted to the bread and butter guitar-work is refreshing. In their core riffs, there’s a layering of tremolo-picking, palm muting, clean and dirty tones. The mid-section of “Forest Ash By Dawn” demonstrates this well, and is a highly enjoyable, pummelling yet melodic, slice of Primordial metal. Conversely, there’s a more staccato riff used at the start of “Toward Mountains,” taking on a stronger melodeath feel before transitioning to a more sludgey post-metal interlude. It all works and contributes to a compelling listening experience.
There’s also a pleasing progression to most tracks. Songs transition through light and heavy sections, and often blur the lines between the two on the interludes, more subtle than jarring juxtaposition used by some. The aforementioned sludge section on “Toward Mountains,” aside from its smooth groove, acts as a logical connector between acoustic prettiness and aggression. A record of longer songs such as this necessitates change in order to not bore the listener, and there are sufficient breakdowns and stylistic variation to achieve this. Nonetheless, the pacing is not ideal, and it suffers from an overly liberal editor. Despite the attempt to mitigate this with fairly frequent developments, many songs are extraneous in length, which can be heard on the first three tracks. They’re still very good, but could have far more impact if they weren’t all over 10 minutes.
This is exacerbated by the rigid song structure. On an arguably progressive post-metal record with particular attention paid to texture and tone, this is a disappointing oversight. The progression of heavy, light, heavy is common across the record. The three opening tracks fall foul of this, plus “Stormcall” and the title track – five out of seven songs, omitting the brief outro. Tellingly, the highlight is “A Place Among Stars” which deviates from this predictability, fluctuating more than the rest of the record. It’s also impressive that it avoids the similar problem of overstaying its welcome, given it’s the longest track at over 15 minutes. It’s the most atmospheric song too, a subtly clever and evocative composition, which boasts the dual blackened and death vox of Tanner Rezabek and Shane McCarthy.
On the strength of this, it is evident that Wayfarer are capable of engaging writing across lengthy songs, and I eagerly anticipate a slightly more disciplined sophomore release (pretty please?). Children Of The Iron Age is my favourite début of 2014, and while flawed in other ways, the core musicianship, song-writing and brutality are all excellent. The canon of all things spherical has successfully inducted a new member [This sphere thing is spinning me right round, baby! – Steel Druhm].