Wilderun – Veil of Imagination [Things You Might Have Missed 2020]

The album cover of Wilderun's - Veil of Imagination - a slightly surrealist, twisted tree covered in flowers

Wilderun’s Sleep at the Edge of the Earth was a revelation. The record was a powerful blend of ideas that was as enchanting as it was addictive. It was epic and sprawling and my (and the staff’s) Record o’ the Year from 2015, and it came with an elevator pitch as snappy as: “Opeth meets Turisas.” And while this is a simplification that does not do the brilliance of Sleep at the Edge of the Earth justice, it is a good reference point. After making the album Record o’ the Year for 2019, I am here to remind you—assuming you’ve been living under a rock—that Century Media picked up Wilderun and finally some justice was served. Rather than putting something out right away, they gave Veil of Imagination a proper release that includes a cover of the title track from Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. And furthermore, as it turns out, Veil of Imagination is still one of the most imaginative, beautiful and complete records that I have ever heard.

While other bands have referred to their songs as “movements,” the term is the only appropriate name for what Wilderun has wrought. From the fourteen and a half minutes of “The Unimaginable Zero Summer” to the disharmonic outro on “When the Fire and the Rose Were One,” everything flows with the kind of practiced grace that few bands not named Pink Floyd or Symphony X have ever accomplished. The pacing, when seen from a bird’s eye view, is genius. Whether Wilderun recapitulates a riff which transitions perfectly between songs (“O Resolution!” to “Sleeping Ambassadors of the Sun”), or subtly changes key and feel over the course of three minutes before merging into the next movement (“Scentless Core (Fading)” to “The Tyranny of Imagination”), the transitions are brilliant and effortless. Veil of Imagination even has a three act feel. The first three tracks spend most of their time in 6/8; that unmistakably Opethian swing (clearest on “The Unimaginable Zero Summer”). The next three tracks comprise Act II with a majestic and powerful Turisasian flare (“Far from Where Dreams Unfurl”). And finally, Act III is comprised of “The Tyranny of Imagination” and “When the Fire and the Rose Were One,” which emphasize dissonance and consonance. These sounds, of course, blend throughout the album, but each act has its own emphasis.

Talk of “movements” and “acts” emphasizes that Veil of Imagination is a clear development of the band’s sound toward the truly symphonic. While the transitions are one part of this, orchestral arrangers Dan Müller and Wayne Ingram craft fantastic beds of strings and choirs that make Wilderun distinct. Rather than being a metal band playing with an orchestra, the band is part of the orchestra. This is helped by the combinations of piano and violin (“The Unimaginable Zero Summer” or “Scentless Core (Budding)”) which merge into something always more intense and grand (“Sleeping Ambassadors of the Sun”), with plenty of Finnish New-English Man Choir to add an extra layer of drama.1 The band uses a variety of sounds one rarely hears in metal—harps (“O Resolution!”) or fluttering piano and flutes (“When the Fire and the Rose Were One”)—and these give a true sense of orchestral mastery.

The album’s symphonic nature, of course, still contains a metal spine. Wilderun demonstrates this with Evan’s ferocious death metal growl and classic, if idiosyncratic, metal riffing. Aside from the album breaking out the door with blasts and death metal groove, “Far from Where Dreams Unfurl” features note-y melodic death riffs with counter-intuitive harmonies, while “Tyranny of Imagination” starts out with a sinister symphonic death feel. Joe Gettler’s guitar solos (like on “O Resolution!” and “Far from Where Dreams Unfurl”) are a reminder that these guys just have chops. The same is true of Jon Teachey’s drums pushing into blasts at times or tom heavy fills, while the bass features prominently throughout, with Müller delivering a heavy, driving performance that reminds me at times of Martín Méndez (“O Resolution!” and “Sleeping Ambassadors of the Sun”). Yet, never does the symphonic conflict with the metallic, either thematically or sonically; they work in perfect balance.

A band photo of Wilderun from 2019

Veil of Imagination has a unique voice which speaks to its concept. And this is where I worry it will lose some listeners. But the genius of this album is the way it balances contrast, both in feel and dissonance. This can give the feeling to listeners that the melodies aren’t quite as ‘strong’ as on Sleep at the Edge of the Earth. Close listens, however, reveal evocative ideas that sonically represent the album’s concept. For example, they modulate major keys in “Scentless Core (Budding),” never really staying in one place for long—which builds a sense of tension and unease with blaring horns until the fever breaks and reduces down to a single piano. The bridge (at about 4 minutes) in “Far from Where Dreams Unfurl” follows a similar pattern, building tension for almost 90 seconds before releasing. But the peak of this is in “The Tyranny of Imagination,” where Wilderun works with half-steps and naturals to keep the tension mounting. At times this approach reminds me of Septicflesh at their best, but unlike Septicflesh, Wilderun balances these moments with ample resolution. In these moments, Evan’s baritone cleans often work with only a piano or acoustic guitar to cleanse the pallet and set the stage for the next burst of color and flavor.

Wilderun masterfully executes its vision through developments in both composition and style on Veil of Imagination. The album speaks to fundamental human struggles and mirrors the tension and release of negative ideation of the future. This can be seen from the cover art, as well. The beating, surreal heart of Veil of Imagination is a twisted tree draped with blooming flowers—where the fire and the rose met, and where “all manner of thing shall be well.”2 And time and time again, Wilderun deliver with their aesthetic choices. From a Dan Swanö mix that sounds timeless, to a Jens Bogren master which, while loud, delivers the kind of balance that made his work on Fleshgod Apocalypse and Turisas indispensable. And suddenly, it seems, that Wilderun isn’t just an excellent, if underappreciated band. With Veil of Imagination, Wilderun has arrived at the vanguard of the next generation of progressive and melodic death metal bands. Veil of Imagination raises the bar by delivering an intense, grandiose and sophisticated, yet ultimately human, experience.

Songs to check: This isn’t really an album to think about “songs to check,” but if you’re going to check songs I think that “O Resolution!” is up there. Still, even better, the Century Media re-release basically allowed them to release the super cool “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son” cover which is only available on the physical CD. This is cool on several levels, and, I mean, obviously my favorite modern metal band also agrees that Seventh Son of a Seventh Son is the best album ever written.

Show 2 footnotes

  1. New English? New Englandish? New Englander? Should there be a dash?
  2. The record opens and closes with poetry from William Wordsworth and T.S. Eliot. This quote is from T.S. Eliot’s “Little Gidding.”
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