First review of 2022 and we certainly are starting things off with a bang. Veil of Imagination was an album that quite solidly put Wilderun on the map of the uninitiated, rocketed to the top of many year-end lists, and got them almost immediately scooped up by Century Media Records. Things seemed like they could only go up from there, but, as we’re all painfully aware, life sometimes has other plans for you. Still, on Epigone, Wilderun manage to take all the pain and heartbreak that comes with the wild ups and downs of the music landscape and the world and turn it into something wildly beautiful.
My introduction to Wilderun, like most others, came with Veil of Imagination. It’s not often that I remember the exact circumstances of the first time I listened to that album, but in this case, I can recall it plain as day, because…well, I was less than impressed by it. Which made absolutely no sense to me, because on paper this album should be everything I’m into, and everyone else is stark raving mad about it. In fact, it made me so perplexed that I put it on again. And again, and again. I had to actually sit down and tell myself to listen to it enough times that I learned to appreciate it. Well…it actually ended up working. It took a few spins, but when it clicked, it clicked HARD, and everything that I had been looking for in it revealed itself to me (I am not alone in this experience with the album, our very own Dan speaks to almost this exact same scenario in his review of the original release). Epigone is an album that carries all the magic and grandeur of Veil of Imagination, with one notable difference: it clicked with me right away. From the instant “Exhaler” gently leads with gorgeous acoustic guitar chords, swelling strings and delicate folk instrumentation, I was hooked. The band’s use of texture in these songs is second to none, absolutely owing to the deft arranging and orchestration of composer and band member Wayne Ingram, whose orchestrations perfectly set the mood and weave together a tapestry of equal measures of beauty and sorrow.
Epigone is, according to the band, the darkest record they have ever made, and for good reason. All the members wrote their parts in isolation, and Ingram wasn’t even able to make it out to tracking because of travel restrictions. There is a pervasive sense of loss and despondency inherent in the music on Epigone, especially when the cacophony of their heavier parts kicks in, which are much more pronounced than ever before. Singer Evan Anderson Barry’s crooning clean vocals give way to an Åkerfeldtian roar in doses that feel appropriate and not overdone, and that contrast beautifully with the heightened use of folk instruments and synthesizers. The extra use of these more delicate textures gives Epigone a unique feel, one that builds off of the success of Veil of Imagination without aping it. Their signature style of orchestral, melodic Opeth-style progressive metal feels much more pointed than it has in the past, even though there are spots where it may take a little too much time to get to that point. Still, their use of space is a trademark of their sound, and it is in the nature of the beast to have long songs that draw the emotion and tension out the thinnest of strands before releasing it in a flood of sound. It’s something that they continue to do and do extremely well.
Epigone was supposed to be the start of a new era for Wilderun, and musically it is, even if the grand plans of showing it off to the world have fallen flat (for now, at least, hopefully). The band effortlessly crafts a world of magic and wonder, orchestrated and arranged for such a dazzling array of instruments it’s hard to believe that it is mostly the work of a handful of players. Epigone is what everyone hoped it would be, and hopefully Wilderun can see that too. They managed to take the unfortunate circumstances they found themselves in and make the best of it.