“The passion caused by the great and the sublime in nature, when those causes operate most powerfully, is Astonishment; and astonishment is that state of the soul, in which all its motions are suspended, with some degree of horror. … It is productive of the strongest emotion which the mind is capable of feeling.” -Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757)
Metal is music’s greatest encapsulation of the sublime. No other style is capable of capturing the same breadth of emotions, something metal can accomplish in ways both intimately relatable and seemingly beyond normal human capacities. Enormity is the common thread that allows this sensation to take place. It manifests in different ways depending on the subgenre; some styles present a glorious, epic display, while others lean on vast atmospheres. But put simply, metal at its peak performance just feels “big,” and certainly larger than any other form of music. Positive emotions reach unparalleled heights, while negative feelings fall to abyssal lows.
Veil of Imagination is an exceptional demonstration of metal embracing the sublime. With their debut and sophomore albums, Wilderun established themselves as one of the most exciting young voices in modern progressive metal, blending the grandiosity of folk and symphonic metal with the sonic depth of melodeath. There were clear parallels with Opeth and Wintersun, along with a host of other folk and pagan metal mainstays like Eluveitie, Ensiferum, Equilibrium, and so on. And yet, Wilderun still established their own identity, which they’ve developed further on Veil of Imagination. It’s their most fully-realized version of this formula and reaches cinematic heights you might hear on a Devin Townsend album. It’s a stunning, gorgeous exercise in prog metal songwriting that will surely make its mark long after this year.
Wilderun’s grandiose game plan is apparent at the onset of the album, what with 14-minutes of epic prog unfolding on “The Unimaginable Zero Summer.” The track is a rich tapestry of prog metal’s finest moments, opening with a poetic intro that flows into arranged orchestration and delicate but powerful clean vocals courtesy of frontman Evan Anderson Berry. Once the track fully lifts off to its highest heights, the band’s Opeth influence becomes most apparent, with sweeping progressive death metal guitar melodies soaring over blast beats, acoustic guitars, and a chorus of angelic vocals. Berry trades off between powerful singing and deep, commanding growls as the impeccably orchestrated display weaves through various theatrical twists and turns.
While the band takes clear influence from Opeth and related bands, what sets them apart is just how well they balance each element of their sound. There’s never a moment where the symphonic and orchestral elements feel like mere segues to the band’s heavier leanings, nor do these metal moments seem to have been shoehorned just for the sake of creating contrast. There’s a great deal of balance at play with the band’s sound, as each component feels just as integral to these compositions’ success.
Wilderun prove they can achieve this on any scale. The much shorter runtime on “O Resolution!” still offers the same impact, especially with Berry’s continued vocals acrobatics. He capably adapts his voice to fit the wide array of musical moods the band unfurls. His croon dances over the track’s early string arrangements and acoustic guitars before accenting more epic proceedings with snarling growls. Mixed in between are triumphant group vocals that feel like a group of grizzled viking warriors singing tales of yore, imagery Wilderun surely hoped to create. “Sleeping Ambassadors of the Sun” is another gorgeous display in the vein of the album’s opening track, and it deserves equal praises. Again, it’s amazing how the Wilderun is not only able to balance disparate sounds over an extended runtime, but also maintain a high-level of interest from listeners all the while.
However, it’s the trio of tracks right after that serves as the album’s centerpiece thanks to what is arguably the album’s greatest track. The bookends of “Scentless Core (Budding)” and “Scentless Core (Fading)” continue the band’s adept ability to craft theatrical music that still feels warm and genuine, this time manifesting in seasonal representations of spring and winter, respectively. “Far from Where Dreams Unfurl” is very much the sonic equivalent of a joyous summer solstice, opening with an incredible, triumphant riff and continuing to dazzle throughout. The track has some of the most complete and well-executed songwriting on the entire album, as the band fires on all cylinders with every aspect of their sound.
Frankly, the album could have ended there and still been one of the year’s greatest metal offerings. But the band’s final two statements clearly show they still had much more to say. “The Tyranny of Imagination” is the heaviest iteration of the band’s sound on the album, leaning on the more metal-forward moments from Opeth’s discography. Even Berry’s singing takes on a more mysterious tone, aided by some well-placed effects that obscure his vocals below the music. The heavier riffs and faster drumming is bolstered by a powerful brass section, once again fleshing out the fantastic arrangements.
Finally, “When the Fire and Rose Were One” is a fittingly composed and titled finale, symbolic of the core sensation of the sublime. I haven’t yet focused on the use of piano on the album, but it’s an emotionally-stirring feature whenever it appears. This is especially true here, as Berry sings over beautiful piano passages which are slowly joined by the whirr and flitting notes of the string section. The band proceeds to pull out all the stops as the track progresses, with brass, woodwinds, and strings creating a massive and textured orchestral display before the full band erupts into a metallic finale. Bringing things full circle, the band closes with a bit of poetry and an acoustic guitar and piano melody reminiscent of the album’s opening notes.
True to their word, Wilderun have taken an imaginative approach to the progressive death metal formula that leverages and enhances its core tenets. Listeners will find their favorite elements of the genre performed with exceptional quality, while also discovering a wholly unique manner in which to assemble and pair them alongside related musical styles. Veil of Imagination is truly a sublime offering, and one of the greatest arguments for metal’s title as music’s most emotionally complete and sonically effective genres. In this pursuit, Wilderun have crafted one of the year’s most unequivocally fantastic releases.
Veil of Imagination is available Nov. 1 via Bandcamp.