Black metal is often associated with a sense of awe-inspiring violence, both sonic and otherwise, or its overt Satanic imagery. But it’s all-pervasive influence on underground music is more likely due to its ability to create powerful atmospheres. Taking a cue from their Norwegian forebears, Colorado’s Wayfarer constructs their own monumental take on black metal on their third album World’s Blood, on the Profound Lore label. (Get it from Amazon.)
This is not to say that Wayfarer are not heavy, because they most certainly are. With the exception of the album’s final track, “A Nation of Immigrants,” each piece constructs an architecture of whirlwind blast beats interspersed with pummeling mid-paced passages. The second track, “On Horseback They Carried Thunder,” even indulges in some dynamic sludge in the vein of Through Silver in Blood-era Neurosis. No matter the tempo, the band’s riffing is top-notch, walking a tightrope between melody and dissonance. The melodies are somehow simultaneously serpentine yet memorable.
The aforementioned atmosphere, though, is the heart beating at the center of World’s Blood. If black metal creates its mood through the evocation of place, Wayfarer shine an almost cinematic lens on the American West and the mountainous region in which they live. One might even point out that there are at least some similarities with the mountainous north of Norway, particularly the sense of desolation and isolation, but Wayfarer subtly differentiate themselves from the bands that originated in that faraway locale. At times, they seem to draw upon the kind of post-rock sound exemplified by Pelican or Mono, but at others, and more importantly, they conjure the spirit of Neil Young’s soundtrack to the Jim Jarmusch film Dead Man, recently reissued as part of the Criterion Collection. When the group transitions from these moments to their more feral sound, it is done effortlessly.
At one point in the genre’s history, North American black metal bands could credibly have been accused of imitating the sounds of the Norwegian scene, but now any number of acts have developed their own regional identities. Still, it is interesting to consider how no single band can truly represent the entirety of the continent either. Wolves in the Throne Room truly sound like a product of the Pacific Northwest, while Panopticon evoke Appalachia, and Wayfarer strive to represent that other mountainous region, the Rockies. And while these bands share much in common when they are at their most ferocious, they distance themselves from one another at their quieter and more introspective moments.
One can compare the previously mentioned album closer, “A Nation of Immigrants,” with Panopticon’s “One Last Fire (The Long Road Part 1)” from the album Roads to the North. Each song showcases these black metal bands’ softer sides, yet one can hear their geographical sense of self emerging in the compositions. For Panopticon, this means that “One Last Road (The Long Road Part 1)” is essentially a bluegrass tune—banjos, fiddle and all. It is a beautiful track and certainly calls to mind the deep valleys and rugged landscape of the area. For those that have been there, however, one would probably not talk about wide open spaces. Rather, the geography is always closing in on itself, perhaps best symbolized by the steep cliff faces seen in the region or even the claustrophobic environment of the coal mine.
Wayfarer’s “A Nation of Immigrants” is equally evocative but reflects the more wide open expanse of the American West. The mere presence of reverb in the slide guitar that floats above the acoustic strumming or the ritualistic-sounding drums creates a much larger sense of space. Clean vocals, both male and female, move in the background, like voices chanting in the wind. If the rest of the album sounds like blizzard winds ripping across the plains, this is the sound of a contemplative ride into the setting sun of summer.
We are long past the point of North American black metal bands needing to prove themselves, and Wayfarer are set to take their place among the continent’s first tier. World’s Blood may prove to be the group’s defining moment. It is a monument to both violence and beauty, possessing a hypnotic quality that is bolstered rather than hindered by its most brutal moments.
Stream World’s Blood on Spotify: