Children of the Iron Age is a sturdy, dependable release that weaves a tapestry of dark magic across its eight songs.
Denver, Colorado's Wayfarer wants you to consider it an epic metal band. How so? Let’s just talk about runtimes for a moment. Two songs on its debut LP, Children of the Iron Age, go past the eight-minute post. Another two are ten minutes long. Another is 11 minutes in length. And, finally, one track makes it all the way to the quarter hour position. This quartet is running marathons. However, this is a band that isn’t limping to the finish line, or makes the listener pant with fatigue. No sir. Wayfarer offers a blend of metal and classical guitar arrangements, balancing the lovely and the ugly, often within the same piece. And, let me tell you, this disc is immensely listenable and pleasing, but because it runs more than an hour, this is not listening for those looking for a quick hit. You really have to sit down and spend some time with Children of the Iron Age. However, once you do, you’ll find that it’s absolutely quality time. There’s richness to this material that is gratifying, and there’s so much going on with this particular release that each successive listen is a new discovery, there’s always something new to uncover underneath the rockiness of its sound.
No matter what, Children of the Iron Age is a sturdy, dependable release that weaves a tapestry of dark magic across its eight songs. Opening with “The Earth Only Endures”, Wayfarer brand a memorable guitar riff that buzzes and howls, while the vocals are as open as a deep, dark void that peers into the depths of an icy glacier. However, the strength of the song is in that it is a mini-suite that owes something to progressive rock. The most obvious point of comparison would be Rush, except that Wayfarer sound absolutely nothing like Rush in sound -- it’s just that the compositional structure of both bands are very similar. (Well, at least back when Rush was interested in making side-long conceptual pieces.) Suffice to say, when you listen to a Wayfarer tune, you cannot call it boring or rote.
Not only is the songwriting pleasant and enjoyable, but there’s just so much going on that you may need to keep a score sheet going just to keep track of things. For instance, on the aforementioned song, after about the roughly six minute mark, the instrumentation drops out and you get a rather satisfying guitar break, followed by a choral vocal that doesn’t dig deep into the bowels of the soil, but rather sounds quite heavenly and divine. And then, after about seven and a half minutes, there’s a lovely little rolling drum section. Eight or so minutes in, everything congeals back together as one and the overall feeling is one that is triumphant.
However, it is the transitions that are startling. “The Earth Only Endures” seamlessly weaves its way into “Forests Ash By Dawn”. It’s clear that the band is constructing a broad canvass to play on, with so much attention to detail that it’s staggering. Evidently, there is a debt to black metal here in that the imagery is one of the elemental. (Heck, there’s even a song here titled “The Elemental”). While “Forest Ash By Dawn” is harrowing and deeply meditative in equal parts, “Toward Mountains” picks up the pace a smidgeon with some great thrashing that feels like an homage to ‘80s mainstream metal. Meanwhile, the above mentioned “The Elemental” starts out with thudding, cavernous drums that eventually nudge their way to some exquisite classic guitar licks. There’s attractiveness in the ruin of this record, and that’s what makes it top-notch.
Wayfarer isn’t interested in just offering one feeling or emotion throughout the course of Children of the Iron Age: there’s a grand palette at work. Essentially, this LP is one long ride through the fire-ravaged forests, through the valleys and ravines, and up on top of the snowiness mountains. It feels retro-tinged, so that journey might be one made by wagon and sleigh. It’s a long one, so gather your blankets and warmest jackets and prepare to dive off into the blazing glory that is Wayfarer.
Where Wayfarer succeeds well is when the outfit marries the light and the darkness, which it does to a stunning effect on “Stormcall”, where heavy riffage gives way to an acoustic passage before turning the heaviness up again. It’s glorious. It’s a trick repeated again on the 15-minute “A Place Among Stars”: a gentle and tender classical passage gives way to a frenzied, whipped mid-tempo march overhead with the plodding clip-clop of horses hooves trudging along through an open field on a cold, crisp night with the dark heavens displaying their glory overhead.
Things close on a less epic number: the slightly more than a minute “Skysong” with its field recording of a mighty wind blowing down on the travelers as an acoustic interlude plays. Basically, by the end of Children of the Iron Age, you may feel breathless at the beauty of it all, and not, as alluded to earlier, bored with a similarity of sound. Everything clicks on this LP, and not one moment feels wasted or filler-ish. Everything is one encompassing stroke of exquisiteness and brutality, and the more you listen to this record, the more you realize just how forceful and magnificent it is.
While metal acts have certainly been ambitious this year in offering really long songs -- the Acacia Strain, Pig Destroyer and Inter Arma being prime examples -- the delicacy and nimbleness of Wayfarer truly brings it to the forefront of the genre. Children of the Iron Age is superlative, everything is so textured and realized that it’s amazing that this is merely a debut. Based on what the group has brought to the table here, my bet is that Wayfarer will become the standard bearer for all things metallic this year, and, certainly, few discs have been as clear in sheer bravura. Wayfarer is wizened, and the band is without a doubt paving the way to something special. There must be something in that Rocky Mountain air, because this album is atmospheric and, ultimately, simply spectacular.