Upon first look at Wayfarer’s third release, Old Souls, the most striking feature is, perhaps, the drab nature of the album art. A grainy plain of sepia lies in the middle, bookended on the far side by an ominous range of blackened mountains, next to which sits the band’s logo and the album’s title. A winding path leads away from these mountains, towards any onlookers, down to a rolling hill and a some sort of humanoid-yet-abstract figure pointing into the distant sky, and perhaps to the mountains.
Let’s focus on this figure: the way they seem to melt back into the landscape on the left, fusing with their surroundings, is reminiscent of the way many of the songs on Old Souls fade from teethed black metal, biting and wailing, into softer acoustic interludes before erupting again. The way they’re pointing their defiant finger into the distant background, as if to show the listener what ground is yet to be covered. The grainy, browning flesh, matching the starved-for-color nature of the cover, stretched tight across the figure’s ribs and spine, is seen as a symbol for aptly and, well, tightly, Wayfarer’s specific approach to atmospheric black metal fits across the genre’s skeleton.
The figure’s head, though, is the most intriguing part: a dreamcatcher woven around two branches, it aptly captures the album’s dichotomy between dreams and nature. Old Souls, for the most part, exists soundly within the realm of atmospheric black metal. Folky, reverberating leads burst into earthly colors over forests of blast beats and minor chords; acoustic passages capture a gritty, woodsy feel in the occasional interludes between alternating slow climbs up mountainous, snow-capped spires and quick jaunts down hillsides and through groves of pine trees. The branches, therefore, are obvious in their intent, capturing the naturalist side of the album so readily present, but the dreamcatcher demands a more subtle explanation. Often, Old Souls seems to tug at a liminal space, at the threshold between the earthborn, material world and a more spiritual realm, pulling the listener into a thick, clouded space, heavy and forceful yet calm and collected, This dichotomy – that is, the one between the intertwining worlds of nature and dream states – becomes the album’s defining feature, the way it separates itself (quite well) from a loud and growing pack of genre upstarts that are mostly content to wander in the footsteps of the greats.
Old Souls remains compelling in a world of mediocre atmospheric black metal by its willingness to play with the listener’s expectations and subvert the typical naturalist fury of the genre by transforming it into a more dreamy catharsis than one would expect. Each track is well-written, meandering when the writing calls but never stepping in a direction opposite the album’s journey; the instrumental and vocal performances are all tight and stay within their respective places. With this album from Wayfarer, fans of atmospheric black metal will find something that is refreshing, new, and challenging, while still maintaining the intimate warmth and same basic structures of the genre they’ve come to know and love.
Wayfarer – Old Souls gets…