Folks, just a heads up: my thoughts on the new Wilderun album, Veil of Imagination, are gonna get a bit wordy. This is an album that, I’d venture, is basically guaranteed to send a multitude of different thoughts, sensations and emotional responses racing through your head. Put simply, to listen to this album is to feel things. So, while this may ostensibly be a “review” of the album, it’s really my attempt to describe that experience – and as such, will require a bit of rambling.
If that sounds like it’ll be too much of a chore for you, then here’s the gist: Veil of Imagination is an immense piece of work. It’s not an “easy” listen, but it’s an ever-increasingly rewarding one. But more than anything, it’s a reminder of the expansive, cathartic punch music can pack when lightning strikes and a particularly inspired band reaches the peak of its powers.
Oh, hey! You stuck with me. Thanks! To reward you, I’ll start with a brief, not-at-all-boring list of things I’ve been thinking about while listening to Veil of Imagination:
- How goddamned excellent Wilderun’s previous album, 2015’s Sleep at the Edge of the Earth, was, and how I somehow was a whole year late listening to it.
- The tingling, shivery sensation you get when a truly exhilarating passage comes up in a song.
- Is this what floating in space sounds like?
- Sleep at the Edge of the Earth made me want to plunge headfirst into an epic fantasy novel. Veil makes me want to plunge headfirst into, I think, deeply pondering the universe?
But here’s the most curious thought that came my way: midway through my first listen through Veil of Imagination, I even start to reconsider the criteria I use to review an album.
Typically, I try to judge whether an album succeeds on its own merits, and set aside where it might rank alongside a band’s previous discography, or how much growth they’ve achieved between releases. That’s not always a popular approach, and I won’t pretend it’s necessarily the “right” one, but it’s the one I’ve gone with, for better or worse. And yet, it’s pretty much impossible to divorce Veil of Imagination from those concepts of growth and context!
Thought the band couldn’t top the scope of the four-part “Ash Memory” series from Sleep at the Edge of the Earth? Veil’s 14-and-a-half-minute opener, “The Unimaginable Zero Summer” would like a word. Throughout this track, and the riffier parts of “Scentless Core (Fading)” or “The Tyranny of Imagination,” we notice a much beefier sound at play. Evan Anderson Berry’s growls are also more ferocious than they’ve ever been, without any detraction in the quality of his clean passages.
But beyond the sheer heaviness, Dan Müller and Wayne Ingram have also implemented far more symphonic elements into the band’s arrangements, making the listening experience all the richer. The opening 90 seconds of “O Resolution!” literally feel like they should be part of a film soundtrack.) It’s a grand, immersive acceleration that you can’t help but get swept up in. It’s epic and captivating on a level the already pretty-damn-epic-and-captivating Wilderun hadn’t come close to previously. (Need to credit the legendary Dan Swanö here; there are a ton of different sonic elements at play here, and his mix gives each the attention it deserves.)
There are dozens more examples I could cite here, but on just about every level, Veil represents a departure from, and an expansion on, the template Wilderun had given us previously. In other words, growth – massive, undeniable growth.
So, okay, there’s growth. There’s context. But what about the other part? Is the album a success?
Initially, I wrestled with this question. Because here’s the thing: in a lot of ways, I’m a pretty basic-ass pud. Life’s busy, and I don’t always get the chance to really focus on music. I’ll throw an album on in the background while I’m doing other things and, more often than not, I’ll be able to shift my attention to and from other tasks and the music will go, more or less, where I expect it to.
And I think that’s why I struggled with Veil at first. There are several instances – sometimes several instances per song, even – where a lively, upbeat passage shifts abruptly into a soothing interlude, where you’ll think the band’s going one way, and then they’ll… not go that way. While the melodic cadence on previous Wilderun efforts might have tended toward pleasing the listener’s ear – or toward, you know… resolution – Veil is… not always about that life!
Take the aforementioned “Summer.” The song operates on a kind of peaks-and-valleys structure throughout its run-time, but at times, the juxtaposition between its chaotic and contemplative parts can feel like a bit too much of a jolt. There’s also the album’s centerpiece, “Far from Where Dreams Unfurl,” which after two minutes of relatively straight-ahead, mid-tempo symphonic metal, suddenly takes on a nimbler, livelier folk feel – only to then, about two minutes later, shift again into a more dramatic, sweeping interlude.
In a recent interview with Dead Rhetoric, Berry noted that the name, Veil of Imagination, was inspired by the idea of a clash between the real world and the complex fantasies in ones head, so it seems all the more fitting that the album generates such frequent clashes between our expectations and the actual songcraft on display.
And that’s all well and good, but again…I am a pud. And those clashes gave my pud head fits, at first. “They’ve bitten off more than they can chew,” I told myself during those early listens. “There’s more to these songs than there needs to be.”
Eh… not exactly.
Because here’s the (other) thing: I can’t stop listening to Veil of Imagination. The album’s been out a week now, and despite that struggle to fully grasp it, the damned thing’s scarcely left my ears. And through all of those subsequent listens, I’ve been circling back again and again to that idea of growth.
Wilderun, as we’ve noted, has grown considerably on this album. And we’ve all grown in our lives. We crawl, then we walk. We start off believing in magic and then as time goes on, we become skeptical of things. We go to college — which we love — so that we can get jobs — which we hate. Growth rarely makes things easier, or puts a nice little bow on things in our lives; as we grow, things get more complicated. It’s part of the human experience. And even a pud like me is still, mostly, human. So, shouldn’t I at least attempt to follow Wilderun’s lead? Shouldn’t I embrace a little newfound complexity as part of nature?
I keep listening. I listen in the car. I listen while walking my dog. I even make time to stop whatever else I’m doing and just listen – a practice I should probably at least try to implement more often, and one that, I’d argue, is a requirement for really digging into Veil of Imagination. I listen some more. I start thinking about what I’m listening to, and then about all the other stuff I mentioned above. I focus so hard on what I’m listening to that my girlfriend asks if everything’s okay. I listen again and again and again.
And eventually, something clicks. Eventually, I stop worrying about what I want to happen with the music, and start reveling in what actually is happening. Eventually, I start to realize that an album succeeding on both its own merits and in a broader context aren’t mutually exclusive, because OH HEY! Wilderun’s done both here.
Eventually, I think, I start to get it.
So, if you’re looking for a score, or a letter grade, or a “DURR IS IT BETTER THAN THE LAST ALBUM?” (because, the internet) after all this… well, I’m about to disappoint you. It’s certainly not as immediate, but I’m not sure that matters much when an album compels you to revisit and reassess as often, and as powerfully, as Veil does.
I guess it feels weird to end such a long, rambling essay so abruptly, but let’s face it, you’re tired of reading anyway. So, here’s what I’ll say: Veil of Imagination is an album that’s made me listen – and, properly listen. Drop everything and listen. The album, and the effort Wilderun put into it, grows on you more and more with each listen, and at this point, I see no reason why that shouldn’t continue.