Windfaerer – Breaths of Elder Dawns [Things You Might Have Missed 2021]

It is often difficult for me to know where to begin when writing about a record that resonates with me as deeply as Breaths of Elder Dawns. New Jersey’s Windfaerer swept me up so swiftly that I cannot even recall where I was first made aware of this record; the experience of listening to the album completely swallowed me. Thankfully, unlike so many albums that invoke a profound emotional response, Breaths of Elder Dawns is not at all opaque in its brilliance. It just happens to wear its beautiful heart on its rain-drenched, soil-stained sleeve, while simultaneously being the most exhilarating piece of both black and folk metal that I’ve heard in years.

Breaths of Elder Dawns represents the ideal evolution of Vallendusk’s brand of melodic black metal, offering the same achingly gorgeous melodies and nostalgic atmosphere wrapped in perfect songwriting and production. The record makes a grandiose entrance with “Oxalá,” its sweeping strings setting the stage before dropping a breathtaking transition into the record’s first gleefully breakneck run of blast beats. It’s one of the most grabbing and memorable album introductions I’ve ever heard, and I knew on first listen that, could Windfaerer keep up the momentum, they’d have an album of the year contender on their hands. Miraculously, over the course of an hour, its quality never dips.

Much of the talk around Breaths of Elder Dawns has centered on how damn beautiful it is, but its pretty face should not distract from its rich instrumental texturing. Countless moments abound where Windfaerer sparks the ears with unexpected combinations of sounds, pairing playful guitars with relentless drumming (“Astral Tears”) or contrasting crushing death metal chugs with proggy violin leads (“Entombed in Glacial Waves”). Speaking of, the violin, viola, and cello work courtesy of Benjamin Karas (of Thank You Scientist fame, believe it or not) absolutely steal the show. While overuse of traditional instruments can often spoil folk metal, Karas’ work is prevalent throughout while enhancing the record at every turn. Violin tremolo leads on a black metal record is something I never knew I wanted.

I’ve thought a lot recently about what it means for a record to be “perfect.” I think Breaths of Elder Dawns might fit the criteria, in that it feels like every single measure lands with the artist’s intended impact. Beyond its sheer beauty and scope, the denseness of its instrumental layering ensures endlessly rewarding listens. Whether I’m passively listening to it as a fun black metal record or am actively picking apart the ways in which its performances and movements interlock, Breaths of Elder Dawns has been nothing short of immensely compelling. Windfaerer has made progressive leaps and bounds in quality between all of their releases, and in retrospect, it’s clear that this is the pinnacle they were vaulting towards all along. Time will tell, but at this point, I can’t imagine a higher peak for them to aim for.

Tracks to Check Out: “Oxalá,” “Longing to Ascend,” “Entombed in Glacial Waves”

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