WAYFARER – A Romance With Violence (2020)REVIEW

The inevitable collapse of civilization wills itself into historic mind with some believably presented basis hundreds of years before the western United States were colonized via manifest destiny but, perhaps only with some natural tendency towards cynicism does this pattern continue to reveal itself in the necessary Fibonacci-guided downward spiral of today. Truest “lows” lie in the details of getting there and, in hindsight, history would deem them much lower than the ever-resounding “maybe” that beloved science suggests and unsavory revisionist history dictates. Manifest destiny, as it turns out, wasn’t such a guiltless and godly or ephemeral mindset as westward expansion meant loosely tucking genocide into the pockets of would-be corporate familia. Death resultant of murderous greed may not always tax the psyche of the individual but, their kin?

The fiction that is (even still) more fleeting within the lossy memory of all currently accounted-for generations of Americans aims for the “endpoint” of colonization, the final taming of the west via industrialization and well-hidden death marches. This visual language (and sonic spectrum of instrumentation) is itself immediately evocative thanks to revered and often intentionally reflective musical scores and their permanence within pop music genre nuance — The complete audio-visual depiction of the crime of it all speaks freedom and triumph to generations, somehow, and despite the narrative reality that our specific indigenous humanity were decimated as if verminous. The sorrowful edges of traditional American folk music, southern gothic, and the “Denver sound” capture this guilt-ridden, god fearing age of falsified glory with some immensity, if not unintentionally; This resonance lays its hand of influence upon the ever-broadening, highly-demanding emotional horizons of extreme metal music today, be it via Morricone film scores or instantly evocative spirituals, and especially within these last couple of decades wherein more and more acts aim closer to the regrettable reality of United States history. With ‘A Romance With Violence’ atmospheric black metal act Wayfarer use this late western ‘epic’ setting as their ladder to new horizon, and to great cinematic advantage, portraying both well-meaning heroism and the brutality of the “American dream” realized in their ascending longform pieces, deftly tinged with the pallor of modern gothic Americana.

What came before the third full-length from this Denver, Colorado-based continues to be effective and fully competent atmospheric black metal with what I’d consider some “Cascadian”/Midwestern atmospheric black metal sensibility to it, a natural bunkmate for an act such as Velnias or nearby. Yet with their third album (‘World’s Blood‘, 2018) Wayfarer would finally realize thier own voice, transcend to their own interest within atmoblack spheres with an album that spoke to some of the topics I’d mentioned in the prior paragraph, namely the fate of first nations peoples during the western “expansion” of the United States territories. It wasn’t a Bad Religion album, mind you, and the prose within was never forceful but merely symbolically presented. The album smacked of inspiration, a heightened ideal that could be found driving toward the point at every turn without fully getting there in terms of musical direction. It’d still register fairly high for my own taste circa 2018, garnering an 80% approval rating. The “Denver sound” (16 Horsepower, Wovenhand, Jay Munley, etc.) and neofolk-adjacent influence had been merely suggested with songs like “A Nation of Immigrants” as ‘World’s Blood’ realized its third act, the band could’ve certainly taken it much further. Those adorning notions are now fully realized ideas deeply planted within ‘A Romance With Violence’ starting with the second act. The first third of the album concerns itself with reintroducing the heightened wandering spirit of Wayfarer‘s unique atmospheric black metal style, showcasing a more eventful application of their broad arsenal. As ‘A Romance With Violence’ begins it becomes clear the songwriters have availed their craft of its own cinema.

In fact it’ll feel like a bit of a reprisal of the last album for some portion of the first ~18 minute block of pieces where the two-act “Gallows Frontier” set the hero and his obsolescence together in history wherein the lawman and the steam locomotive signify the loss of the “wild” of the west. More importantly, these songs showcase some evolution beyond the jangling n’ darting voicing that’d made ‘World’s Blood’ an interesting jaunt via its guitar work; It’ll still sound like Wayfarer, anyhow. I almost hate to gloss over this part of the album because I believe it is worth some fixation yet it is undoubtedly what comes next that folks will remember best about ‘A Romance With Violence’. That’d start with the call-and-response vocals on “Fire and Gold”, where one could feel more ‘goth’ than Americana if not for a well placed Hammond-esque organ; This piece surely isn’t as eccentric as some of the neofolk and “Denver sound” acts one might initially think of but this deadpan is a welcome medium that still allows Wayfarer to be “the same but different” in the long run as the album continues to develop. “Masquerade of the Gunslingers” welcomes itself back with a roar but things are yet set in motion to allow more clean vocal sections. At this point it would be easy to lose the narrative and marvel at the melodramatic tension of the arrangement alongside the almost Primordial (or Woods of Ypres) level performances, which offers quite a step up from ‘World’s Blood’, even. In terms of fidelity, set and setting, and narrative it is certainly worth something that Wayfarer are engaging in storytelling at every moment.

Not every moment is lucid and glowing, any sense of consonance or streaming melodious thought seems to find an interruption or swerve before resolve. Finishing a thought rather than hitting a hard left or right to avoid cliché might be keeping away any potentially satisfying or inevitable Nick Cave-isms down the road but it will appeal to folks enamored with later Agalloch. Much of ‘A Romance With Violence’ stumbles through its characteristic “Americana” influenced blurs with some grace but it is “Vaudeville” that finally dries of its whiskey and delivers a break from this meandering. The result is a piece that speaks most clearly to the theme of the album while likewise incorporating some rhythmic ideas that feel a step towards the folkish, restful parts of more recent The Flight of Sleipnir records. As the album resolves the same general observation returns from 2018, that the vocals have yet held back from any truly eccentric swagger while all other performances have pushed further into new territory. This is a bit unfair, the clean vocals are quite good throughout, but the subtlety isn’t always endearing, and it amounts to a personal preference for indulgence I suppose; I can’t help but wonder what Wayfarer might inspire if the vocals went full on Wailin Storms or similar, if that’d be more or less emotionally vibrant. Just a thought and less a criticism beyond wanting those clean vocals to deliver upon the cinematic presence of the album without sub-genre apropos acts in mind, traditional black metal impetus was left behind ages ago anyhow.

There is some great danger of becoming “western” or cowboy black metal in the campy sense if those motif or instrumental choices were as blatant as certain “by theme only” viking metal acts but Wayfarer arrives with enough stoic maturity to avoid this. — Going full-on Once Upon a Time in the West might breach things in the most right (or truly wrong) direction but for now I can appreciate the presence and tone of this record as is. So, keep in mind that this isn’t Panopticon‘s ‘Kentucky‘ though the comparison is spiritually sound on some level. ‘A Romance With Violence’ is nonetheless a proud export, a professional yet earnest atmospheric blackened metal record with smartly woven influences and references that will undoubtedly be read as distinctly western United States in conjure. At this point their output reaches a tone that is nigh idiosyncratically Wayfarer but also broadly accessible via its memorable and immersive experience. A moderately high recommendation.

Moderately high recommendation. (79/100)

Rating: 8 out of 10.
TITLE:A Romance With Violence
LABEL(S):Profound Lore Records
RELEASE DATE:October 16th, 2020
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp [All Formats]
GENRE(S):Atmospheric Black Metal

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