Wanderer – Awakening Force [Things You Might Have Missed 2020]

For the second year in a row, a metal band from Portugal floored me with something I had no idea that I wanted to hear until I heard it. Last year it was Midnight Priest, and this year it’s Wanderer with their debut record Awakening Force. It’s not that either band are doing something extremely novel, but it’s their execution and emphasis on specific parts of their influences that make them both special. Wanderer play “epic speed metal,” which is somehow simultaneously apt yet sells them a bit short. Let me explain.

The component parts here are specific yet merge seamlessly although they may not make sense at first blush, like putting bacon and peanut butter on a hamburger.1 I hear Voivod, but a specific hypothetical Voivod: as if the band who recorded Katorz played War and Pain. Vocally, I’m reminded of Snake and this is a very good thing. There’s some Iron Maiden here too, notably the Di’Anno era. You’ll hear a bit of Judas Priest and early Razor, along with some of the swords-and-sorcery epic metal sound which today is represented by a band like Visigoth.2 These influences mingle and work together, much like the peanut butter melting and dripping onto the sizzling beef patty.

What’s great about Awakening Force is that Wanderer has a vision that’s not obvious at first blush. When “Oblivion” kicks in, I was impressed by the Voivod-esque sound – playful guitar, Snake-like vocal harmonies in the chorus, superb drumming. When a battle-ready lead – quickly harmonized for good measure – comes in and Wanderer goes full Manowar-via-Visigoth and pillages mightily, you know you’re in for a special record. It doesn’t let up at all, providing more fantastical “what if” moments like “Freedom’s Call” which broadly sounds like Di’Anno-era Maiden trying to write and perform something longer and more involved a la Somewhere in Time but does it in a way that Iron Maiden might’ve done it had they dropped that record shortly after Killers and kept Di’Anno for one more record. “Force of Ancient Steel” is an expert blacksmithing act, forging the sword from the early punkish speed metal of Voivod (although comparatively polished up like later Voivod) with the more traditional speed of early Razor, cutting this with the muscle of Visigoth.

What really sets Awakening Force apart is that it works on its own merits instead of being “Maiden worship” or what-have-you. Nowhere does Wanderer become a cover band or pale imitation of any of the influences named in my incomplete list above. Like most successful records, Awakening Force sees a small, uninhabited niche that the artist wants filled and said artist proceeding to make the music they wanted to hear. Like Midnight Priest (who are thanked in the liner notes), Wanderer is unpretentious and wear their iron hearts on their sleeves. They love heavy metal, and the music they make is completely earnest and free of irony because of it. Mandatory stuff for fans of the old and the trve.

Tracks to Check Out: ”Oblivion,” “Force of Ancient Steel,” “Way of the Blade”

Show 2 footnotes

  1. Yes, I’ve eaten this and yes, it rules.
  2. Swords are cool. – Steel
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