If you are a person like me, you spend countless hours scouring through a multitude of music sites and reviews looking for something new and exciting. On occasion, you find some decent music that fell through the cracks. If you are lucky, you stumble across an album that rewards you with a listening experience that is unforgettable. Wilderun's second release, Sleep at the End of the Earth, is one of these albums that make it worth the effort of every minute spent searching.
On first listen, it becomes apparent this is not just another, run-of-the-mill, folk metal album. Elements of progressive and symphonic metal are woven together with traditional American folk music to create a lush, well-crafted sound that sets this album apart from other contemporary folk metal albums. Sleep at the Edge of the Earth has a heavier, slightly darker sound than its predecessor, Olden Tales and Deathly Trails (2012). The music ebbs and flows between grandiose orchestration and crushing metal riffs only to lead you into serene acoustic passages that conjure ethereal soundscapes from distant lands. The experience is pretty epic to say the least. However, fans of their debut release, there are still plenty of folky sing-along moments throughout the album to quench your thirst.
There is much to like about this album. The production is pristine and worthy of the praise it has received up to this point. Quite an accomplishment when you consider this is an independent release. [Hey metal labels, time for you start doing your jobs because you are missing out on something special here.] The songwriting is mature and complex. The inclusion of traditional folk instruments such as the mandolin, melodica, autoharp, and dulcimer give Sleep at the Edge of the Earth an added dimension that makes it unique. The orchestration is majestic but not bombastic or cheesy. I have to believe Symphony X's Michael Romeo would surely enjoy how well the orchestration and metal co-exist with each other. And if that wasn't enough, the musicianship is flawless with each band member displaying technical precision. But for my money, the highlight are the vocals. The transition from harsh to clean vocals is seamless throughout the album. Never once do I feel like either style dominates or hinders the music. The melodies are catchy and make me want to sing along despite being the world's worst singer. Honestly, this is sonic nirvana.
The 4-part, 20-minute epic, "Ash Memory" dominates the first half of the album. Metalheads and old farts, prog guys like myself, will find plenty to like here. You could listen to each part on their own, but "Ash Memory" is best enjoyed as one song. It is at this point you realize you are on a musical journey that must be seen, or in this case, listened to, until the end. With its Opeth-like riffs and flurry of blast beats, "The Garden of Fire" is the album's standout song. When vocalist and guitarist Evan Berry was interviewed for this site's METALHEADS Podcast, he was asked to describe "The Garden of Fire". His response was short and sweet, "It's just a heavy fucking track." I couldn't have said it any better. "Linger" slows things down with a heavy dose of mandolins and slide guitars that showcases the band in its most organic form. Here is the chance to catch your breath and enjoy the hauntingly beautiful melodies. However, do not drift away for too long because "The Means to Preserve" will snap you back to reality with its dark, imposing arrangements and commanding choruses. Alas, it is at this point you realize the musical journey is coming to an end.
Sleep at the Edge of the Earth is an excellent album that has so many aspects to appreciate. It caught me by surprise on first listen and has remained in constant rotation since its release earlier in the year. Sleep at the Edge of the Earth was the top album on my mid-year "best of" list, and I expect it will challenge for the top spot on my end-of-year list as well. So, do yourself a favor and give Sleep at the Edge of the Earth a listen or two. You may just find yourself enjoying the same musical journey I experience each time I spin this album.