I’m proud to say that I’ve been a fan of Wayfarer for quite a while now, ever since a buddy put me on to Children of the Iron Age what feels like forever ago. I remember when I first heard them, I could tell that there was something that set them apart from the competition, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was. Now, after following them along their meteoric rise, it’s apparent that their special something is a gift for storytelling and songwriting, and their latest A Romance with Violence sees them at their absolute peak.
Denver, Colorado’s Wayfarer have had a journey with their sound and aesthetic since their aforementioned 2014 debut. Originally a more straightforward, slightly atmospheric black metal outfit, the band has always had a knack for writing nasty riffs and killer melodies, but their brand of nature-inspired, ethereal black metal didn’t do a lot for them in terms of standing out from all the other nature-inspired atmospheric black metal bands of 2014, no matter how good it is (it is seriously good). Not that every band needs a gimmick, per se, but it always felt like there was more to Wayfarer than they were letting on, like they were holding something back, close to their chest that they weren’t ready to reveal just yet.
Then came 2018’s World’s Blood, and with the embrace of the Wild West as a stage for their songs, it was clear that there was infinitely more passion put into the stories the band chose to tell, and the music followed with it. It was easily their most inspired work, until now. A Romance with Violence takes all the dark Americana and Wild West imagery that was subtly laid out in World’s Blood and runs away with it, like a stolen stagecoach with the law hot on its tail. It fully and completely realizes the thematic setting, and in both the lyrics and music, the Wild West aesthetic is much more prominent. It doesn’t beat you over the head with it, but you definitely KNOW it’s there, as opposed to the much more subdued pockets found on their previous releases. It is for sure their most cohesive and focused release yet, and I also feel like it is their most accessible.
Musically, the songs still feature what I think are the bands greatest strengths: the riffs and the melodies. The difference between Wayfarer and other bands that play around with mixing and matching influences is that Wayfarer use the seemingly disparate pull of American folk to enhance their already strong songwriting talent, not simply cut and paste acoustic guitars in between blast beats. There is a ton of ebb and flow, and thus life, in these songs. They are long enough compositions that you can watch them develop over time, but not so long that you get bored and lose the message. It really cannot be understated how much of the drive, intrigue and development that happens in these songs comes from drummer Isaac Faulk, who gives yet another outstanding performance (but what would you expect from the man who also sits behind the kit for Blood Incantation?). The way that he plays with toms lends a primal feel to tracks like “Masquerade of the Gunslingers,” the rim work on “Vaudeville” feels appropriately country-western, and the more aggressive drumming equally shines in the way he consistently throws in something you’re not expecting.
And it really needs to be said that even though the Wild West theme is much more prominent, Romance is not Spaghetti Western-metal. It’s all done very tastefully, and in a way that is quite serious and not goofy like you might expect. If you’re worried that things have lightened up too much, one listen to “The Iron Horse” will set you straight. Anthemic riffs, furious blast beats, wild melodies and a huge amount of energy make this one a standout track for anyone who is looking for the classic Wayfarer sound, although I feel as though this album will ultimately set the tone for what is considered the band’s “classic” sound a decade from now.
There is just so much to love about this album. From the way that it opens with the crackle of old film and a slightly out of tune saloon style piano and violin combo, to the insanely catchy riffs and leads, to the bold shots of Americana that take a much more front and center role in the acoustic and electric guitars, right up to the fade out of “Vaudeville,” it’s plain that the attention to detail and the love that went into making this album is the highest amount and quality in the band’s career. This is a high-water mark for them, but it is also something that gives a glimpse of the way forward. The boys are clearly on to something here by leaning more heavily into the Wild West theme, and it looks like the only way to go for them is up from here. It’s a tall order to try to top something of this magnitude, but I’m thoroughly convinced they can do anything now. There’s only one thing left to say: yee-fuckin’-haw.