Wilderun – Epigone Review

Wilderun’s Epigone marks the band’s first new material while signed to Century Media, but their fourth record. Readers of this website will know that I think they are the best band of the 2010s, having composed progressive, deathly, folksy metal records that will stay with me forever. Their last two albums have both been my record of the year (and AMG Himself‘s) and the band continues to accrue acclaim for their incredible sound and talent. Epigone is, without a doubt, an album that comes with high expectations from everyone. It’s interesting to note, then, that the title means “a less distinguished follower or imitator of someone.” And following on the heels of the extraordinary Veil of Imagination and magical Sleep at the Edge of the Earth, one might reasonably expect some falloff; an album that’s maybe not quite as strong as its predecessors. I won’t be coy, though: it is another masterpiece.

When Epigone hits its stride and breaks out the bombast, there really is no one else like Wilderun. They boast an utterly singular blend of extremity, progression and classicism. Veil of Imagination was a darker, more serious affair, but Epigone returns to some of the triumph and levity of Sleep at the Edge of the Earth. The triumphant passages on “Identifier,” “Distraction III” and “Passenger” ensure that each will be on my song o’ the year shortlist come December. “Identifier” builds to a huge finale, bleeding from an uplifting guitar solo into a beautiful melodic reprise, which strongly reminds me of life’s joys. The gently swelling strings on “Distraction III” crescendo to a powerful center-piece, while “Passenger” has a particular turn-on-a-dime transition which bridges harsh growls with a massive choral harmony. There are so many awe-inspiring moments that with 7 weeks of listening I’m confident I prefer it to Veil and that it at least competes with Sleep.

It’s also a record characterized by peaks and troughs. By this I don’t mean in quality; rather in musical contrast. The peaks are the bombastic, grand passages coalescing heavy metal with classical, whereas the troughs are the softer, subtler parts. Epigone is the subtlest and strangest Wilderun album so far, leaning far more on ambience, restrained synths and simple acoustic melodies. It spends comparatively little time in passages of a medium pace and heaviness, favoring dramatic swings between light and heavy. The results are striking and I find myself constantly invested in the music. “Woolgatherer” is an early microcosm for the album as a whole. It opens with soft singing over what sounds like a mellotron and very faint strings, but develops with an oppressive heavy passage ripped straight out of the Veil playbook. It’s densely compacted with orchestrations and has a thick guitar tone to beef up the wall of sound. The intensity is all the stronger for the delicacy which preceded it.

The band clearly agonizes to build each second into a worthwhile contribution to the whole of not just each song but the entire album. Every track is littered with memorable melodies and instrumental embellishments but these work to improve Epigone overall. It tracks a natural but definite course to its conclusion and I sense 3 distinct movements within. The first, across “Exhaler” and “Woolgatherer,” introduces the listener to its sound and sets the scene for the second. This second movement doubles down on everything introduced in the first, building a grand core which demonstrates Wilderun’s spiky song-writing approach. It swings from the most obvious depiction of prior Wilderun (“Passenger”) to the triumphant heart (“Identifier”) to a curious but clever breather (“Ambition”). Finally, the four-part “Distraction” suite closes Epigone, referencing most emotions available to humankind before collapsing with a cacophonous moment of angst.

Epigone also showcases Wilderun raising the bar on their performances. Evan Berry’s clean vocals are more delicate and distinctive than ever, while his growls are truly guttural. He’s matured into one of the most versatile vocalists in metal. Joe Gettler’s electric guitar contributions are generally classy but understated as these are balanced against the vocals and symphonic elements.1 However, when he has the space to fill with a solo, they’re truly majestic and form some of my favorite parts of the record. Nonetheless, as with Veil, the most exceptional element here is the wonderful orchestrations. With three of the band feeding into this process it would be easy for the classical elements to be overwrought and detrimental to the other parts of the Wilderun sound, but never is this the case. They’re just as precise when strings gently swell behind an acoustic guitar as they are when what sounds like most of an orchestra are thrown into the most intense heavy passages.

I liked Epigone immediately, but I’ve loved it even more over time. It is masterful; each constitute element, from the instrumentation, to the song-writing, to the album’s composition, is thoughtfully arranged and perfectly balanced to forge what must be the most complex yet cohesive record since the last Wilderun record. It seems a ridiculous assertion to make in the first week of 2022 but I have already experienced the year’s best music. Although I stand by my 4.5 for Veil, I knew with retrospect that Sleep merited a 5.0. I didn’t then have the balls to award it, but I won’t make that mistake twice.

Rating: 5.0/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kb/s mp3
Label: Century Media
Websites: www.wilderun.com | wilderun.bandcamp.com | www.facebook.com/wilderun
Releases worldwide: January 7th, 2022

Show 1 footnote

  1. Editor’s note: the initial version of this review credited Wayne Ingram with the guitar work. However, Joe Gettler recorded the electric guitars for Epigone before leaving the band. Ingram, for his part, “played all the folk instruments, and the electric lap steel on the record.” The text of the review has been edited to reflect this and we apologize for the mistake.
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