Ever since they formed in 2012, Boston-based progressive/folk metal quintet Wilderun have done a phenomenal job distinguishing themselves as one of the genre's genuinely special newcomers. That's particularly true with their third LP, 2019's Veil of Imagination, a wonderfully colorful, melodic, brutal, glorious, and all-around zany expedition that overwhelmingly proved why the band deserves to be as beloved as their utmost prestigious peers. Although follow-up Epigone is perhaps a tad less oddball and vivid, it does feel especially personal and purposeful. Thus, it's both another superb sequence from the troupe and the first essential metal opus of 2022.
Following the release of Veil of Imagination, Wilderun signed with Century Media Records and—as bassist/composer Dan Müller states—saw things "mov[ing] in a direction that [they] had wanted them to for a while." Of course, then the pandemic struck and significantly halted their progress, resulting in Epigone being "the hardest record [they've] ever had to write." For guitarist/vocalist Evan Berry, the end result is "a 'meta' record . . . that has the most to do with the artistic process." Part of that is the natural consequence of the group having to write it remotely before tracking it in early 2021. Mixed by the renowned Jens Bogren (Opeth, Pain Of Salvation, Swallow The Sun), the end result is a considerably atmospheric ride that—Müller surmises—features "the biggest number of folk instruments" they've ever used. Indeed, it's "more earthy and a little less theater," making it an earnest yet magnificent statement.
Expectedly, Epigone begins with an acoustic ode ("Exhaler") that's gently introspective and philosophical. Berry's measured strums and soothingly contemplative verses are perfectly complemented by backing harmonies and urbane strings that become fuller as the piece progresses. It's a lovely display of the group's softer side—not to mention a very welcoming way to begin—and fortunately, the same sort of transcendence steers a few other pieces. In particular, "Identifier" is built upon dreamy synths, interlocking arpeggios, and festive rhythms. True, it gets chaotic at times as well, but its essence is cathartic and playful. Later, the majority of "Distraction III" acts almost like a meditative film score accentuated by spiritual musings.
By and large, the rest of the record emphasizes Wilderun's avant-garde and/or abrasive nature over those calmer passages. A clear highlight is the fourteen-minute "Woolgatherer," a triumphant suite that begins lightly but soon ventures into a madcap marathon of choral chants, jackhammer percussion, guttural outcries, clean yet ominous proclamations, twisted guitarwork, bountiful orchestration, and even thunderous distortion. In a sense, it's a musical resume of everything that the group can do, and it's incredible. Afterward, "Passenger" accomplishes a more epically caustic experience that easily ranks as one of the band's best compositions. Much of the remaining tracks rise to an equal level of multifaceted grandeur, and both "Ambition" and "Distraction Nulla" incorporate eerie sound collages to make the cumulative journey additionally cinematic and disconcerting.
While they're not technically part of the album itself, the bonus tracks—a synth mix version of "Exhaler" and an adaptation of Radiohead's "Everything In Its Right Place"—must be commended, too. The former is an inventive alternative that adds chilling emptiness and reverberation to the original's central serenity. As for the latter, it's among the best covers I've ever heard because it does precisely what a cover should do: feel simultaneously authentic and original. Flawlessly merging the quintet's flashy sinisterness and complexity with Thom Yorke and company's original vision, it's breathtaking.
With each new release, Wilderun becomes more characteristic and commendable, carving out their own vital, remarkable, and invigorating place within their stylistic landscape. Epigone is no exception, as it's both a worthwhile successor to Veil of Imagination and a stellar way to kick off progressive/folk metal in 2022. It's a work that demands close examination and widespread appreciation, and with any luck, it will bring Wilderun the amount of critical and commercial attention they've continuously earned.