The American West, in all its natural glory and majestic landscapes, carved its place in American history as one of the harshest and most unforgiving terrains that man ever encountered. Countless tales from the 1700s and 1800s tell of men going westward only to find themselves up against immeasurable hardships and challenges that are characteristic of those terrains. Frigid winters, untamed wildlife, and an unmatched feeling of isolation and smallness were what awaited those who dared to brave these grand, yet torrential territories. This was especially true of Colorado's Rocky Mountains, whose looming presence instilled a great sense of awe and fear all at once to those who came across them.
What does all this talk of the West have to do with metal? Wayfarer, who are native to the Rocky Mountain region in Colorado, display a deep fascination and respect for the glorious lands from which they hail. While rooted firmly in black metal, Wayfarer inject a healthy amount of atmospheric, folk and post metal elements into their music, which makes for a hauntingly accurate sonic painting of the beautifully stark and desperately harsh backdrop of the Rocky Mountains. The band's debut album, Children of the Iron Age, was an introspective journey in which Wayfarer explored their sound and abilities as musicians, and on their sophomore effort, Old Souls, they explore those vast soundscapes even further with a greater emphasis on writing more cohesive and developed songs.
As the cover art for Old Souls depicts, the music found within is a bleak and quite desolate feeling, but beautifully so. "Ever Climbing" begins with faint melodies in the distance that carry over tribal drums before opening up into a potent blend of head nodding grooves and blackened atmosphere. Guitarists/vocalists Shane McCarthy and Tanner Rezabek scream as if they were being crushed by the weight of the earth itself, while the rhythm section comprised of Issac Faulk and James Hansen provide a rock solid backbone for these songs to ebb and flow with the power and ferocity of a wild grizzly. The epic instrumental "Frontiers" stampedes like a herd of buffalo before it leads into the sorrowful, folk-tinged melodies of "Old Soul's New Dawn."
The album as a whole switches off between shorter tracks such as "Catcher" and longer, more progressive numbers like "Deathless Tundra." Wayfarer strikes a great balance between heavy, crushing passages and softer, acoustic passages, and they do so in a way that is quite reminiscent of Blackwater Park-era Opeth. They display the musical ability and adeptness of a veteran band, and their growth from Children of the Iron Age is evident throughout Old Souls. The songs are intelligently composed and arranged in such a way that no part feels forced. Furthermore, the organic and earthy production courtesy of Dave Otero suits the album perfectly and appropriately gives it the sonic character it seeks to display.
The downside to Old Souls is the fact that each of the songs tend to blend into the next; that is, after a time, the variability between each track diminishes. Each of the albums seven tracks rely mainly on mid-tempo rhythms and riffs, which is certainly a welcome change from most black metal, but each of the songs takes a similar shape as they trek along, which is disappointing for a band that is clearly more talented than many of their contemporaries. That's not to say that any of the songs are weak; Wayfarer does a fantastic job of conjuring a palpable sense of mood and emotion throughout the entirety of Old Souls. However, more variation between the songs would have contributed to the memorability of the album.
These qualms aside, Old Souls is certainly bound to be one of the highlights of 2016. As anybody from Colorado knows, the feeling of being surrounded by the backdrop of the Rocky Mountains is second to none, and there is something quite humbling about journeying through the mountains and submitting yourself to the power of nature. Wayfarer, perhaps more so than any other band, provide an uncanny sonic portrait of this feeling. Despite its redundancy, the journey that Wayfarer leads the listener on with Old Souls is one that's definitely worth taking.