- Interview by Faye Coulman
US progressive metal talents Wilderun discuss genre-smashing 3rd album 'Veil of Imagination'
Whether it’s the luscious, airily flourishing territories of symphonic metal, Norwegian black metal’s raggedly abrasive trademark riffs or the windswept, stirringly evocative throes of Scandinavian melodeath, it’s easy to pigeonhole and compartmentalise new music we seldom afford more than a moment’s fleeting glance. Perhaps never more so than in this perpetually restless modern era of automated ‘genre’ playlists, random shuffle plays and disparate downloads that’s all but robbed us of the simple, richly immersive pleasures of digging deep into an album and savouring it from start to finish in the full, blissfully uninterrupted form it was intended. But with their richly layered melding of grandiose orchestral flourishes, violently energised aggression and mind-bending progressive symmetries, Boston crossover wizards Wilderun are a band that, from the get-go, demand your full and undivided attention. Founder and primary songwriter Evan Berry gets us properly acquainted with the Americans’ genre-smashing brand of sonic alchemy.
“As I get older, I notice I'm getting more and more kind of lost in my own thoughts and neuroticism and how that’s gradually sort of disconnected me from the world around me,” observes Wilderun frontman and film score buff Evan Berry. Indeed, with its lifelong, unrelenting onslaught of heartbreak, betrayal, tragedy and, most recently, a population-ravaging global pandemic, who could possibly blame the American composer for enjoying the odd moment of quiet introspection? Yet, for all the existential torment such creative, rigorously analytical thinking inevitably brings with it, there’s no denying its inextricable historic links with some pretty groundbreaking feats of artistic brilliance. And, as anyone already acquainted with the Boston natives’ epic melding of sumptuous orchestral flourishes, windswept folk and brimstone-scorched extreme metal will no doubt eagerly attest, Wilderun’s mesmerising trademark sound certainly goes some way to proving this hypothesis. But however loftily transporting the sum of these meticulously assembled influences may be, theirs is a sound born of a decidedly earthly struggle, with the composition of latest record ‘Veil of Imagination’ having proven to be a truly immense and all-consuming endeavour.
“Yeah, definitely,” Evan agrees. “The way the process works is always extremely planned and premeditated in great detail. In fact, I don't know if we'd be able to achieve the sound that we achieve without being really meticulous and planning out everything. I do just most of the core songwriting on my own, at least thus far I have, and I'll just spend a lot of time just in my own place just writing, so the beginning of the songwriting process is fairly isolated. Basically, the whole album, from front to back, will almost be completely finished from a baseline songwriting standpoint before I bring it to anyone else in the band. Then there's a very long, arduous process of people orchestrating, which is very meticulous and detailed. And we'll have these really long meetings where we kind of go through each section of the song and write down on a notepad ideas of what we want to be achieved during this section. And we'll do that for every single section of every single song, which will each probably have at least 30 or 40 timestamps. And then each of those will have a pretty long note, usually close to a paragraph, about what we want to achieve in that section. Before we enter the studio, we try to get the songs at least like 80 percent done so we can then leave a little bit of room breathing room for any slight adjustments we might get inspired to make. Then, after we get out of the studio, we go back and edit a bunch of the orchestral stuff and go through everything all over again. So yeah, sorry if that was a little exhausting to listen to, but it’s been an exhausting process.”
But however thoroughly gruelling the making of latest opus ‘Veil of Imagination’ may have proven to be, these painstakingly meticulous recent labours played a nonetheless pivotal role in producing what is assuredly the most sonically diverse and accomplished record the US progressive metallers have ever put their name to. With the classically trained expertise of primary songwriter Berry and core orchestrator Wayne Ingram elevating the album’s compositional values to dizzying new heights of darkly euphoric majesty, ‘Veil…’ sees these classical trappings deftly manipulated into a mind-bending plethora of sonic energies and structures. Artfully interlaced in amongst scalding lashings of extreme metal and elegantly unfurling fretwork that’s rich with reverential nods to early Opeth, this is a record of many varying moods and textures. So given the sheer, expansive scope of such an album, the process of selecting just a smattering of singles to air ahead of the record’s initial release last November surely must have proved something of a challenge.
“Oh, yeah, it was, absolutely” Evans recalls. “It's particularly tricky for us because our songs are usually pretty long, and there's not many, you know, obvious singles. So we're the first track that we released, back when we did the self-release back in November was ‘Far From Where Dreams Unfurl’, and then the second track we released was ‘The Tyranny of Imagination’. And I think we actually picked those two tracks sort of together, like as a conscious decision. We made that decision because ‘Far From Where Dreams Unfurl’ was probably the most melodic, catchy song on the record and then ‘Tyranny of Imagination’ was probably the darkest, most riff-based and heavy song on the record. We felt like those two tracks together sort of showcased the different elements that you would find on the record overall, whereas some of the other songs, like the first track on the record, sort of go in and out of darker and lighter sections and have a little bit of both. This is actually something that I don't find a lot of other bands talking about is the dynamics between light and dark. Like I feel like a lot of people talk about the dynamics of loud and soft or like, heavy and not heavy, but I really like the dynamics of like light and bright colourfulness versus darkness and atmospheric dynamics.”
With this intriguing sonic duality finding equally vivid and arresting visual representation in the vibrant brushstrokes of surrealist painter Adrian Cox, ‘Veil of Imagination’s’ striking cover design perfectly encapsulates the starkly opposing influences underpinning this newly re-released full-length. Contrasting brightly-hued garlands of flourishing candy-pink and violet blossoms with a lifeless expanse of weather-beaten, almost driftwood-like debris, ‘Veil…’ revolves around the overarching central concept of a jaded mind too riddled and wrapped up in its own personal neuroses to ever be capable of appreciating the simple, unspoilt beauty of the natural world around it.
Evan elaborates, “So much to do with finding beauty in life and contentedness has to do with not getting too wrapped up in your own head and your own thoughts and simply just existing and appreciating the raw nature of consciousness I guess. A lot of the album's just me ruminating on how hard it is to do that. Like how frustratingly hard it is to just sort of be and just kind of accept reality for what it is. A lot of it is also about just remembering how much easier that was to do and when I was younger, and I think a lot of people can relate to that because, when you're younger, I mean, you obviously have way less problems. But as you get older, you just start to pathologise your reality, you just start to go more inward, and just overthinking, over-analysing everything that you're doing and it starts to become a way to exist and solve problems. But the actual problem itself to begin with is having an overly analytical mind. So yeah, it's, like you said that what one of the main consequences of that problem is to disconnect from the natural world and the freedom to just sort of be a human existing in a raw state of reality. So yeah, I don't know exactly why I felt that that piece of art exemplified it so well, but in a weird sort of way I really thought it did. There's a lot of colours and beauty in the picture, but the sort of creature, whatever you want to call it, on the cover seems to be sort of grey and dead and almost calcified in contrast to that.”
And speaking of the world beyond the lush, ethereal groves of the enchanted valley of Wilderun, you may very well be asking yourself what’s next for these ever-ambitious prog metal talents. While the band’s maiden voyage to European shores this October has sadly been put on hold for the foreseeable, it’s evident that Berry and co. have been putting this extended lull in live activity to hugely productive effect, with the writing of a follow-up album already currently well underway.
“We're just kind of looking at 2021 and being like, okay, what can we do to maybe make up for some of what we lost and missed out on this year? Because unfortunately, we got sort of robbed of the touring cycle,” Berry explains. “We did a few shows back in November, just in the North East of the US and then we were lucky enough to get on the 70,000 Tonnes cruise at the beginning of this year, just in the nick of time. But besides that, those are the only shows we’ve played on the “Veil of Imagination’ cycle. So we're gonna make up for that when everything reopens. And then, besides that we're already working on new material, because we've sat on ‘Veil…’ for so long before we actually re-released it that we're just already kind of in next album mode right now. So we're just trying our very best to be as productive as we can.”
'Veil of Imagination' is out now via Century Media