Wayfarer – A Romance with Violence Review

Violence is as American as cherry pie, or so the great MLK Jr. once said. The genesis of this hunger for bloodshed has many roots, but an obvious one is the Wild West. A perfect storm of technological force, an insatiable desire for expansion, a fondness for guns, and laws that were… flexible. It was a violent time, and black metal is violent music, so it seems curious that these have never really been combined before. Devil with No Name was partially successful with its debut earlier this year, and Velnias perfectly captured the heat and dust of The Rockies, but we’re still missing that album that defines the blood and mayhem of that dusty time. Enter A Romance with Violence, the fourth album by Wayfarer. A quartet from Colorado, the band makes atmospheric black metal that initially impressed, then ultimately disappointed, El Cuervo, who felt they began to meander and lose focus with each subsequent release. Initially playing standard atmospheric fare in the vein of Wolves in the Throne Room, Wayfarer has since pushed the boundaries of black metal in different directions, but with A Romance with Violence they draw from the rich lore of Colorado’s brutal history. In doing so, they go further than they’ve ever gone before.

Wayfarer’s last album, World’s Blood, tentatively explored the idea of the outlaw in the Wild West. Romance goes much deeper, drawing clear parallels not only with the violence of the outlaw, but the violence of the technology and the violence of law. Systemic violence, if you will. The lyrics are not subtle but carry a Hemingway-esque simplicity. When referring to the protagonist, Wayfarer describes him thus: With all the resolve of hell burning in his eyes, the bastard hero traverses the plains.
Saddled with avarice and cruelty he rides – the key to a nation fixed to his belt.
A hero? A man. A mouthful of blood.
Perennial, a loaded gun.”

Meanwhile, the ever-expansive need for wealth and resources is epitomized by the belching, screaming train, and all it brings, described in “The Iron Horse” as follows: “From bastard god, to steam powered daemon.
Reavers and raiders, hunters and harbingers.
A path is struck – extinction begins”

The major success of Romance is the atmosphere it creates. You can feel the sun and sweat, the dust and blood, the cheap whiskey and menacing glares. The band achieves this through building a black metal base, then adding a clever combination of sound effects (saloon pianos, twanging acoustic guitar) and stylistic nods to the era. The first two tracks proper are more traditional black metal fare, but it’s on side B that Wayfarer really expands outwards, blurring post-metal, doom, clean vocals, and acoustic guitar. “Vaudeville,” in particular, embraces the aesthetic. The decision to broaden may not please trve kvlt fans, but it’s a fascinating and bold choice. You really do feel that in another universe, this is the music greeting cowboys as they enter the saloon after a long ride on hot day.

There are some drawbacks to Romance, however. The first is something that has bedeviled Wayfarer throughout its career: track length. Most of the songs are too long, with a median length of around ten minutes. The tracks themselves are simply unable to support the weight of this mass of time, and tend to falter and stagger. Romance, as a result, feels longer than its manageable 45 minute runtime. The second issue is that while the songs on side B (“Masquerade of the Gunslingers,” “Vaudeville”) are admirably ambitious and atmospheric, they also lack the riffs to make them memorable beyond the initial surprising listens. For all their exploration, Wayfarer is still at its strongest when it’s just playing Western-sounding, brash, black metal.

When you think of black metal that is truly “American,” you tend to imagine Cobalt, Weakling, maybe Panopticon. Well, you can now add Wayfarer. The Wild-West-as-black-metal makes more sense the longer you think about it, and Wayfarer has managed to absolutely nail the aesthetic. Unfortunately, the songs themselves don’t always match the killer atmosphere, and could definitely do with some editing, but the potential is there. This is not the unqualified success it was so close to being, but it is a fascinating view of a time whose bloody footprints are still visible today.

“Who wears the masks?
Who do the gunslingers ride for?
Where is the dream?
Bleeding, discarded, thrown from the tracks.

Where is the dream?”

For Naomi, who always inspired me – DeA

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Profound Lore
Websites: wayfarercolorado.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/wayfarercolorado
Releases Worldwide: October 16th, 2020

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