Blood soaks the soil of the American West. It's seeped through generations of clay and the dust of mountains and plains. The blood spilled from indigenous people at the hands of American colonizers turned the West red. It was not wild or a destiny manifested through brilliance, but a ruthless slaughter of ancient cultures and lands. A century and a half have passed since America's westward expansion. In that relatively brief time, efforts to mask and whitewash these events continue to intensify. For Denver, Colorado's Wayfarer, their extreme metal—dusted in Americana and Western Folk—stands to resist the dissolution of their land's history.
On their newest full-length record, A Romance With Violence, the quartet doubles down on their stylings and message. 2018's World's Blood saw the band evolve into what was billed as "High Plains Black Metal." Their newest effort blows away any sort of classification—it's a fully realized, dramatic, and cinema-like exploration of the American West's bloody history and a scathing exposé of efforts to bury its truth.
"The Curtain Pulls Back" opens with a saloon and pianola-like arrangement to set the cinematic tone of the record. As the runtime elapses, multi-act sections of the album speak to the emergence of gunslingers and outlaws as well as the Transcontinental Railroad, in "The Crimson Rider" and "The Iron Horse," respectively. The 10-minute finale, "Vaudeville," revels in the actuality of the Manifest Destiny era—the greed and lust that fueled years of violence and false hope. The promise of gold and fame drives the players of Wayfarer's narrative while dueling guitar leads, a galloping low-end, and flawless folk drives the instrumentation of A Romance With Violence.
There are many individual highlights throughout the record. Speaking on a macro-level however, Wayfarer's ability to seamlessly integrate Americana influences is a huge portion of what makes A Romance With Violence so amazingly captivating. Guitarists Shane McCarthy and Joe Strong-Truscelli channel Ennio Morricone's penchant for grand soundtracks while percussionist, Isaac Faulk, and bassist, Jamie Hansen bring thunderous grit and bluesy twang to compositions. McCarthy and Hansen split vocal duties throughout the record moving between deep gutturals, higher screams, and drifting clean sections.
The album also features a number of guest appearances too like Kelly Schilling of Dreadnought and Bleakheart as well as Faulk's brother, Anthony Limon, and Krallice guitarist, Colin Marston. They work to bolster the storytelling done through the band's instruments and arrangements as well as supplementing the delivery of the album's lyrics. Their collective efforts, combined with the record's deep historical aspects, result in what may be the most unique extreme metal offering this year and surely a contender for album of the year on many listeners' lists.
Metal Injection spoke to the band in its entirety about the new record, growing as a band, and how that growth has created their truly unique sound as well as the lasting impact of westward expansion and Manifest Destiny. Read our in-depth interview and listen to an exclusive stream of A Romance With Violence now ahead of its official release tomorrow through Profound Lore Records.
A Romance with Violence marks a huge progression in Wayfarer’s presentation of the American West. It follows World’s Blood in this idea of America’s expansion into western native territories. Where did the decision to construct this new record as a cinematic or a stage-driven performance stem from?
SHANE McCARTHY: This time around, when approaching the record, we talked about wanting to expand on the ground we were exploring with World’s Blood, this time looking at the “American West” and its expansion as a whole. With this album, as much as we are looking at the West itself and its history, we are really looking at “The Western” just as much, the idea of the West, and how it has been mythologized and romanticized.
We always approach an album from that kind of top-down fashion, so knowing what we wanted to delve into from the get-go, we kind of wrote the whole thing with the idea that it would be like a big western film in itself—bloody and cinematic—and have those kinds of arcs built into it. All the while it kind of peels back the curtain and examines why people tend to look at these things through such rose-colored glasses. So, we knew it was supposed to come across like a film, or a traveling show that illustrated these things.
So, you all approach two main concepts in this: the actual events that took place and how media has largely incorrectly portrayed it. Personally, this is one of a very few albums in recent years that really captures a story not just in its words, but in its arrangements and atmosphere. It speaks a lot to the work you all put into this project. In the writing for A Romance with Violence, what sort of research into history went into this record’s lyrical content?
JOE STRONG-TRUSCELLI: As a guitarist, I can attest to the arrangements and atmospheric elements, less so the lyrics. I would say that early on, most of our focus actually went into developing a unique lyricism within the riffing itself. To create that proper world for the story to play out in, we felt it was important to develop specific musical vocabulary and ambiance first. This musical vocabulary really came to fruition in World’s Blood, but we expanded on it for A Romance with Violence.
Before we even started writing this record, Shane brought to the table a general big picture idea regarding the story and its major themes. That became the foundation upon which we built the album, and really made the whole thing feel like scoring a film. Most of my research as a guitarist went into studying film scores, particularly the way composers intertwine motifs and themes with characters and plot points. If you listen to “The Curtain Pulls Back” for instance, there are a couple of very subtle musical Easter eggs that foreshadow later events in the album.
McCARTHY: To start, I really appreciate you saying that. It’s very much in the ethos of this band, and something important to me personally, that the songs tell a story or create a feeling through music. The lyrics reflect that story, but they ultimately are the “icing on the cake”—the element most at surface level.
But even before a single line is written lyrically, the songs are about something, and should already be telling a story in and of themselves. We focus on that in the writing stage heavily, and by the time we get to the stage of writing the lyrics, it’s kind of already clear what they should be because that story has kind of already been built by the song. At least to us!
So, with that in mind, the research has kind of come over many years of interest in the topic. For myself, I have always had an interest in the subject in terms of history—books like Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and Hampton Sides’ Blood and Thunder have made a strong impact on me. During the making of this album, I was reading sections of David Haward Bain’s Empire Express, about the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad.
But this really only speaks to a part of where that influence and subject matter came from. First off, we are all from this area and have not only learned about its history and legend in school but also lived near and visited a lot of these sites that either hold historical importance or have a certain air about them that speaks to the nature of the place. Isaac, and James as well, I believe, both have history degrees and have delved into a lot of these topics heavily in their schooling.
Second, as I mentioned before this record is just as much about “The Western” and the West as a concept as it is about the place itself. In that regard, I’ve spent much of my life watching Western films. The Sergio Leone films remain the peak, but films like Sergio Corbucci’s Django, even the John Ford films and some of Clint Eastwood’s directorial output over the decades have been a deep love and fascination. More subversive looks like HBO’s Westworld, Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man, and neo-Westerns like No Country for Old Men come into play there as well.
That background had a huge influence on approaching the record, as well as diving into the philosophies of the filmmakers—most specifically learning about the relationship between Sergio Leone and Ennio Morricone and how their collaboration on these films married music and images to really carry a narrative at an unparalleled level. This was really a lot of the “research” for the album, as we wanted to write music that painted a vast and bloody cinematic picture of its own.
Let’s dig into that writing process a bit. You mentioned the lyrics are just icing on the cake. The story is almost fully actualized in the arrangements you write. What parallels in your relationships as friends and bandmates and approaches to the instruments you play compare to Leone and Morricone and their collaborations or even how you’ve grown as a band over the years?
McCARTHY: I think that’s the biggest thing, just building on this chemistry as a band over the years. We’ve always gotten along well and clicked musically, but I think what really can make it better over time is figure out the best thing each of us can bring to the table and having that be our individual focus. We have been doing this long enough to really have something where we all kind of know what we want out of it, and how best to feed off one another along the way.
A lot of us play together in different projects as well, where the roles change up a lot and that’s been a really good thing too, to approach things from different ways as each project calls for. I think that’s where great collaborations really happen—when you know each other best and how best you can all bring something to the table to write one song, tell one story.
I think that’s really apparent as well in the example you ask about, wherein each Leone/Morricone collaboration, the shots get longer, the music plays a bigger part and more purposeful. I think they really learned to trust each other, and the audience reaps the benefit of something like that.
STRONG-TRUSCELLI: It wasn't until 2015 that I did my first Wayfarer tour as a fill-in bassist. I can recall setting up my bass rig at the first rehearsal, hearing Shane noodle around with the opening riff to an unfinished song at the time, which ended up becoming "Catcher" from Old Souls. I remember saying something like, "That riff reminds me a bit of Ennio Morricone!" Apparently, it only took those few strums for me to pick up on the direction Wayfarer was headed. Old Souls was definitely the first dive they took into exploring that dusty high-plains atmosphere.
When I finally joined as a full-time guitarist in 2017, World's Blood was my first taste of the band's collaborative writing dynamic. There is a very democratic element in the whole process. Everyone gets a say and brings ideas to the table. The thematic material usually initially comes from Shane and most of the big picture stuff, so I like to see him as the Leone of Wayfarer. Isaac and Jamie bring a lot of that to the picture too, so it's tough to say any single member is exclusively an Ennio or Leone.
That said, it's been cool to see everybody in the band's respective interpretations on how to paint a picture of the American West with our anachronistic toolset of distorted instruments and gutturals. Strangely, perhaps this anachronism is the biggest parallel we share with a bunch of Italians who first found it fitting to incorporate a Fender Twin in film scores about the Old West.
JAMIE HANSEN: We have definitely matured as writers and musicians, and part of that process of growth is keeping the vision and the tone in mind with everything we do. In that sense, we all walked into this process on the same page in terms of where the music needed to go. Even though we’re not directly writing music for a visual medium, the writing process was often treated as such. What emotions does this evoke? Is it in line with the rest of the album? What does this say to the listener?
I’ve often heard that, when writing a story, the best characters are the ones that write and speak for themselves, taking on a life of their own. I would say that is true for music as well. The best themes and compositions seem to write themselves, and if it doesn’t feel right when you play it, it’s never going to sound right. We dissected and discussed every moment of this album at length, which is a process that only gets perfected with time and experience.
That's a fantastic insight into your collective process. Adding to my earlier question. Wayfarer has evolved into what’s been billed as “High Plains Black Metal,” as it pertains to the atmosphere you capture in addition to the stories you tell. This stems mainly from your inclusion of western folk influences from notable artists like Jay Munly, Sixteen Horsepower, Slim Cessna’s Auto Club, and more. How do you all integrate this style of music into Wayfarer’s sound?
STRONG-TRUSCELLI: Subtlety is definitely the first goal. The biggest challenge in mixing heavy music with other influences is in making the music sound cohesive and true to a unique voice. Every part of a piece should work to naturally move the composition and story forward. If you are just mindlessly switching between styles like a binary switch, you aren’t necessarily writing anything unique, but forcing something into existence by checking off boxes. We’re all big fans of our city’s sound. Considering we’ve all been musicians here for so long and how well the aesthetic ties into our albums’ narratives, we gotta embrace it.
McCARTHY: This has just something that’s kind of come through more and more naturally record to record. You can see little traces and nods of the influence back on the earliest stuff, and more so on Old Souls. The last album is really where we decided to embrace it fully but do it the way we thought was most true to us. We are certainly huge fans of those artists and the extremely unique little world of music they have carved out. In that way, they are legends here, and it’s something we want to honor but implement in our own way.
The most important thing to us is that it’s never a gimmicky, kitschy approach of just mashing up genres to get a reaction. There are a certain dark and haunting quality to that section of folk and Americana that has so much crossover to what we like in metal. So, we always approach it by having that influence and that mindset be present at all times in the music. It comes from the same place not just on a “quieter” section that lends well to folk, but even when writing the metal riffs, the blasting parts, the “black metal” elements—those too are coming from that same mindset. It has to be cohesive, not two things stuck together.
All the elements should be interwoven with each other with only the final goal in mind. We always struggle with what to call it, because there is no easy label for either side of things as the music is far from the center of true black metal as well but fits somewhere under that ever-expanding umbrella. Overall I think it’s a good thing to make music that is hard to classify.
ISAAC FAULK: In percussion, it has been my intention to incorporate sounds that reflect that “American” sound. This has meant utilizing different instruments like the tambourine, or actually changing beat patterns into rhythms in line with what some may think of as “Country,” “Blues,” or “Americana” like a shuffle. In all ways, it means stepping outside the typical metal structures and templates of sounds.
Have you all floated the ideas of bringing Munly, Cessna, or anyone from this group of musicians into Wayfarer’s music? Is this something you think could happen?
McCARTHY: Y’know, it’s never been talked about in a serious way, in terms of having any kind of plan, but the short answer is I would love to. We’ve been lucky enough to play alongside a lot of those guys in recent years and gotten to know them as people, and they’re all just genuine and fucking awesome. It’s also really gratifying to see that what we are doing, which owes so much to what they have built, is something they seem to be into as well. I would love to work on a collaboration album with that crew of people someday, in the vein of say like Storm Corrosion or Neurosis/Jarboe. Who knows?
HANSEN: We would absolutely love that. We’ve been lucky enough to get to know them and play with them on multiple occasions. They’re all great people, and always put out fantastic music in their various incarnations. There’s nothing specific in the works but it’s definitely something we would be open to.
A Romance with Violence features some notable guest appearances in various places. Kelly Schilling contributes vocals to “Vaudeville,” Anthony Limon plays the viola on “The Curtain Pulls Back,” and Colin Marston contributes synths to “The Crimson Rider” and “Masquerade of the Gunslingers.” Where in your creative process do the four of you say, “Okay, we like what we have, but it needs something else.”?
FAULK: In the case of Anthony, he is my brother with whom I have played music for many years. When we were creating the intro to the album the idea was to emulate the music of old silent films and the majesty of Old West films. It seemed a natural choice to have strings on top of the player piano sound and Anthony was the perfect fit. It is always about what serves the song or what can take it to its furthest potential.
McCARTHY: It all just depends on what the song calls for, or ideas that come up. With Anthony on “The Curtain Pulls Back,” it was always designed to be a cinematic yet kind of personal, saloon-sounding track. He’s a very accomplished player and it just seemed right to include him on the piece that Joe had written for that song. With having Kelly on “Vaudeville,” that was just something very much in her wheelhouse, to add those Morricone-inspired operatics to that track, which was already in line with those feelings, which she nailed.
Colin is someone we worked so closely on World’s Blood, where he contributed synths to a couple of tracks so seamlessly. When it came to that section in “The Crimson Rider,” it was always intended to have something else, be it vocally or something, happening at that part, but nothing was recorded, and we knew he would know what we were going for since he is always so good at that. He knocked it out on the first attempt. It’s good to know so many great musicians, and always a treat to collaborate with them on the music that is so important to us.
Speaking to A Romance with Violence as a whole, the album chronicles this Wild West era—Manifest Destiny—which is often a romanticized era of United States history. Your new record, however, pulls back the curtain on this and shows, by the album’s conclusion, the existential chaos of this era and, indirectly the continued influence this era has on the United States today. How do the expansion into the west and its immediate consequences continue to impact this country today?
McCARTHY: I think it's just another example that is indicative of the “true colors” of this nation, that the very founding of it through all its territories came at a high cost often paid by others. It did not shy away from committing genocide and atrocities against those who inhabited it previously or getting out there on the backs of the poor and its immigrants. It was an era driven by greed and violence, and with these ideals still held dear—though the dirt on the hands may be ignored and intentionally forgotten—there will always be a trace of that mentality pervading through the culture here.
We are not alone in that. This year alone has seen plenty of rekindling of the “Us versus Them” mentality, and the mentality of entitlement to things that no one truly has ownership of. There has always been progress, but certain things remain in the DNA of this nation and human society as a whole that seem to eventually rear its ugly head once more.
FAULK: The history of America is one fraught with greys and amorality. Merely painting our nation into glory is an act that denies our very nature and denies the conflicts that got us to the present. We are still a nation with an ideal of Manifest Destiny, still obsessed with conquering, and still enamored with the wilds outside of our reach, whilst we have little left to take. It is this culture of expansionism that has created this country of democratic imperialism. It is our fortune-seeking ancestors that have influenced our modern-day robber barons.
In today’s market of individualism and celebrity worship lay the foundational bedrock of Western side-show heroes and "larger than life" pioneers. That is the essence of America, the ideal of putting one’s name in silver across the plains and living on in memory for generations to come. Many attempts are made at distilling our past into easy parables, and this translated into film for many years. At a point in the 1960s, there was a tonal shift and Americans began to take a starker look at ourselves. In turn, the camera pointed deeper inward, showing the wrinkles and blemishes we had carefully avoided for almost two centuries.
We certainly see the correlation in today’s society with much of what occurred in westward expansion. You both bring up some great instances and examples. To continue on this, I fear a lot of what occurred in the American West is being lost to time—or worse, whitewashed to gloss over what actually happened in school.
To draw a comparison, there’s data now that shows an alarming amount of younger people haven’t learned or heard of the Holocaust—and, 0f course, there are people that deny it—it seems like a similar situation is occurring here. People downplay or look past the early Americans’ ruthless genocide of indigenous cultures. Given all of your education, and Isaac and Jamie your further education in history, what do you all believe needs to be done about this alarming situation?
McCARTHY: It is alarming—I mean growing up in Colorado there is a lot of the state’s history that crosses over into those grim truths, of genocide against entire peoples. And it’s largely glossed over in primary schooling. The “history is written by the victors” cliche definitely rings true, as we are given a really soft interpretation of heavy events like this growing up, seemingly to push some narrative of always being the “good guys.”
I mean, look at the Tulsa Race Massacre, which I—and I think my bandmates as well—learned about from watching HBO’s Watchmen. A friend of mine who was born and raised in Tulsa learned about that event from Watchmen. That’s incredibly alarming that things of that magnitude and historical importance can be so intentionally shunted away from young people growing up in a nation. What should be taught is the truth, history should be fact not editorial. There is a lot of reform that is so deeply needed in this education system, and I certainly hope to see it in my lifetime.
HANSEN: You hit the nail on the head. People just don’t know about it. Everything has to start with education, and unfortunately, we really don’t prioritize history in this country at all. There are a great many things that I didn’t even hear about until I got to college, especially in regard to the truth of the founding of our country, which is a real problem. A lot has been said about the need for critical thinking skills in our modern era, especially in regard to media, but it’s equally true for what you’re taught in school.
Unfortunately, history can be used to serve an agenda, and in this increasingly politicized age, I think it’s only going to get worse. We’ve already seen how basic science can get twisted, and how the rule of rational, composed thought has been thrown out the window in favor of party trope worship, tribal saber-rattling, callous isolationism, and armchair soapbox diatribes. The only way to truly combat this is to combat the systemic division that usurps our logical view of the world. Simply asking the questions of “who wrote this, why did they write it, what were their motivations?” can go a long way towards finding the truth. Facts aren’t political, the truth is there, and the more honest we are with ourselves as a country, the more adept we will be to better ourselves.
You all were initially supposed to perform this album live in its entirety at Fire In The Mountains, a festival you’re heavily involved with Shane. World events have, of course, canceled that, unfortunately. Have you all thought of a way to present A Romance with Violence to fans? Maybe a live video recording of you all performing the record?
McCARTHY: It has been one in a series of many heartbreaks with COVID-19 really smashing down on live performances. We have all been affected in this and other projects and it’s a sad thing to have missing in the world.
At least in terms of Fire In The Mountains, the festival was postponed to July of 2021, keeping largely the same lineup and event intact, so we do still plan to bring the album out at the fest—as long as it can safely occur next year. It won’t be the surprise it would have been, but after all that waiting to play the material, and everyone’s collective wait just to enjoy live music again, it’s still something we look forward to doing. That festival in that place is near and dear to us.
Beyond that, who knows what the future holds. If the right scenario came up, we would look at some kind of video performance. But we really just look forward to the day when we can bring this thing to the stage. We miss it.