Looking back on Wilderun‘s discography is a very interesting exercise. Both Olden Tales & Deathly Trails and Sleep at the Edge of the Earth (what hagiographies of the band will know call their “early era albums”) are good releases; the foundation of what makes Wilderun so popular today, namely an expansive and intensely melodic version of progressive death metal, is certainly all there. It’s clear that the band were already accomplished musicians by making them. But it’s also equally clear that Veil of Imagination, their 2019 release and the album which sky-rocketed their popularity, is on a whole other level. When that album was released, it was a bit too early to start doing anything else than take it on its own; one album does not a transformation make. But now that we have Epigone, their album which released last week, our sample size has increased by 100% and we can now attempt to ask the question: what changed for Wilderun?
An interesting place to start answering this question is the cover art for both albums. You see, where Veil of Imagination‘s cover is all color, growth, and fantasy, an image over-flowing with fecundity and a verdant sense of life , Epigone‘s is tumultuous, voluminous, and with a dark undertone. Indeed, if you turn your attention to the bottom left of the image, you’ll find the color palette used in Wilderun‘s cover. Are the albums connected conceptually? Unclear as of it; give me a few months to digest the new lyrics. But what is clear is that both covers work in tandem with the actual music found on the releases, mirroring and manifesting many of the themes, tones, and compositions which make up the music itself.
Thus, Veil of Imagination is this explosive album. It has its quiet moment, for sure, but even they are painted with the chromaticism and vibrancy of the album’s tones. Likewise, the lyrics tell of a quest for self-fulfillment and achievement, of a will bursting at the seams to reach into its dreams and make them reality. In contrast, Epigone is a much more reserved album, at first glance. The quieter passages make up a more significant part of it and might even be describe as the main thrust of the album. Just listen to “Woolgatherer”; you see the track time and (if you’re familiar with the band and/or the genre in which they operate) you go into it expecting perhaps a quieter intro, with a prolonged heavy segment which, beyond a final bridge before the explosive outro, takes up most of what’s left of the track. But that’s not really the case here.
Don’t get me wrong, “Woolgatherer” becomes extremely heavy at parts, guttural vocals and Devin Townsend like screeches going off in both the forefront and the distance. However, the track quickly returns to a segment which, if not quite as quiet as the first one, still errs more on the calmer side of things. Clean vocals return and the acoustic guitars play a bigger role (alongside the strings) in setting the tone of the track for much of its run length. What does this structure remind you? To me, it calls to mind the exact object that’s on the album’s cover: a storm. It has its furious, lashing moments, all winds, and thunder, and lightning (blast-beats, heavy riffs, cymbals, and gutturals) but it also has lulls, moments of sunshine glimpsed through freshly cleaned air.
That’s how Epigone feels in its entirety. When it’s heavy, like on the absolutely crushing closing track “Distraction Nulla”, then you feel the deep pressure of the black storm, of rain clouds pummeling you into the ground. But the quieter passages are also impactful, simply choosing to reach you from a different, more subtle perspective. This makes Epigone even more intricate than the already mind-bogglingly complex Veil of Imagination. It’s an album that will challenge you and will take you a long time to decipher, since more of it lies beneath the surface. But don’t misunderstand: if you’re coming to Epigone for the same melodic flourishes that Veil of Imagination was so good at, you will not be disappointed. It’s all there, just glimpsed at from beyond a mirror, darkly.
Wait, so how did this inquiry into Wilderun’s two covers help us understand what changed for them as a band? Well, I can only speculate of course but what makes Veil of Imagination, and now Epigone, different than the two previous albums is that the concept, themes, and overall composition feels more connected, interwoven, and well thought out. And you can’t really get a good relationship between cover art and music if the music itself is not very well put together, planned, and conceptualized. So when we measure both of these albums, what we find is a band that were able, three albums deep and now with a fourth, to figure out, and manifest, powerful musical concepts which have become the battery running their far-reaching ambition.
Alright. Enough of this. Listen to Epigone.
Epigone released on January 7th via Century Media, who still refuse to put their music on Bandcamp by the by. Why? Anyway, go here to buy this excellent release.