I am not a musician. I can play drums at a basic level well enough, but my artistic talents find much greater purchase in other avenues. Given how important music grew to become in my life, having to accept that music would probably never be in the cards for me on a more serious level was kind of a hard pill to swallow! Alas, I find myself here, lending what feeble other talents I have to at least trying to do my small part in helping to promote and uplift bands that I have nothing but respect for. All this is to say that, as a non-musician, I can only speculate as to how difficult it has to be to be able to carve out a truly unique niche for yourself in the world of music, and as time goes on and more and more musicians find their creative spark, it’s just becoming more and more difficult. And the fact of the matter is, it usually takes a little bit of time for a band to really settle in to their own – a journey, if you will, of self-discovery and experimentation. Or sometimes, a band just falls sorta ass-backwards into something they had no idea was gonna blow up. It’s a real crap-shoot!

Regardless of how a band comes to finding their own unique place in the world of music, one thing that seems for certain is that once you find it, it’s best to just commit fully to the bit – and perhaps no recent album more fully nails this point home, like driving a railroad spike into the dirt of some Godless western land, than this unmistakably (and unabashedly) American Black Metal epic from Colorado’s Wayfarer.  

If you haven’t been following the band’s trajectory over the past decade, the band began life as a very talented, if not totally remarkable Atmospheric/Progressive Black Metal act that, despite very enjoyable, well-crafted efforts on debut Children of the Iron Age and  follow-up Old Souls, struggled to necessarily create a fully-articulated identity. That began to change, however, with the release of 2018’s World’s Blood, an album that saw Wayfarer begin to explore and, indeed, embrace their American roots – perhaps not fully yet sonically, but certainly thematically, with tracks like “On Horseback They Carried Thunder” and “A Nation of Immigrants” starting to set the foundation of a love-affair with the frontier American West, while the band’s influence of sound started to expand its horizons; still vaguely in the realm of Atmospheric Black Metal, but with hints of Goth Rock and no shortage of “Post” elements starting to creep more heavily into the mix – like a happy middle ground between Solstafir, early-Opeth and Fields of Nephilim. But where that album was the foundation, 2020’s A Romance with Violence saw the band really starting to round into form – not just with what was the band’s best-sounding record to date, but traveling back even further into the Old West. Still, it was far more in theme than it was in sound which, when you sit and really think about it… is a full marriage of Black Metal and Country/Western really something we need in this world?

To help answer that question, Wayfarer brings us American Gothic, with the band finally leaning all the way in and saying “Let’s find out, partner.” From the very first notes of steel resonator guitar, to the chord progressions and slide guitars implemented on the opener “The Thousand Tombs of Western Promise,” it’s clear the band is no longer taking half-measures. This is a fully realized vision – a Stetson-wearing, six-shooter-pistol-packing experience delivered on horseback with the blackest trench coat you’ve ever seen. There’s a sustained commitment to the theme in every facet of this record, like the brilliant opening riff and closing atmospherics of “The Cattle Thief” that further build the momentum of the album’s epic first act, hitting like a runaway locomotive littered with gore and sinew from every heifer too slow or stupid to get out of the way. Then there’s the swaggering, buckle-brandishing swing of “To Enter My House Justified,” which oozes with the kind of bravado and confidence needed to walk into a high-noon duel, and walk out again without any new holes in your chest.

But it’s not all heroes on horseback here, because American Gothic‘s true strength comes in the band’s ability to paint a much more morose picture of the desperation of the Western Frontier. The grit and grime, the blood and guts, it all comes out of the shadows through the desolate tones of “Reaper on the Oilfields,” where you can practically feel the maddening heat of the summer sun beating down on the downtrodden backs of workers left with no choice but to slave away for the benefit of far richer men. Really uplifting stuff! Then there’s the eerie organ-backed dirge of “A High Plains Eulogy” which is probably about as appropriate a title as you’ll find on the record, with plodding, introspective guitar work and airy vocals all lending themselves to a feeling of loss and hopelessness, which leads beautifully into the Southern Gothic-drenched stomp-clap backbone of interlude “1934,” which plays out like a hardened sheriff getting ready to meet his fate against forces of evil intent. The finality of it all, the feeling that there’s no turning back from an inevitable end, it all builds to “Black Plumes Over God’s Country,” which sees Wayfarer take the form of scorched-earth preacher, all fire and brimstone over the sins that broke the promise of a brighter tomorrow. There’s no coming back, and there’s only death, the wreckage of mankind’s greed to show for all the effort.

What makes American Gothic work is just how seamlessly Wayfarer has been able to bring together all the elements at play here, no small task given the wide range of ideas being thrown into the blender. Where a band like Zeal & Ardor gets recognized for their unlikely blend of Southern Gospel and Folk with elements of Black and Industrial Metal (and rightfully so), Wayfarer seems to go even a step further, actually weaving those elements of Americana, Country/Western, and Blues into Blackened riffs. These aren’t separate elements strung along a timeline in hopes of creating an oddly natural flow, this is an organic mixing of music and culture and ideas that create something altogether it’s own which, in a sense, is as much a celebration of the American experience as I can think of. The beautiful twang of the guitars on “False Constellation,” mixed with the eerie, unmistakable sound of an old upright piano somehow come together to create what I can only characterize as Black Metal in nature. It’s wild! I can’t explain it enough to give it justice other than to say it’s entrancing and befuddling in equal measure. I absolutely adore every second of it.

I know there will be disagreements, I know that the purists will have an absolute field day tearing this thing down and, ultimately, I know this may potentially be a hugely divisive record. I also very much believe this may be one of the most important American Black Metal records to drop in quite some time, and it all boils down to one absolute fact: American Gothic is unequivocally, undeniably, American. It’s not American cosplaying as Norwegian or trying to be the stateside equivalent to anything born across the Atlantic. This is something that could only be born on American soil. I realize calling something quintessentially American may not come across as the most immediately positive thing these days, but in terms of helping to not only validate, but push the American Black Metal scene forward, this album is as inspiring as anything Panopticon, Wolves in the Throne Room, Agalloch, or any other stateside masters of the dark arts have presented. This is a new benchmark, and it should be celebrated as such.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Steve K
November 24th, 2023

Comments

  1. Commented by: LongDeadGod

    Here for no reason but to argue. Agalloch is above and beyond all the bands listed in the last paragraph, including wayfarer. That is all.


  2. Commented by: Steve K

    No argument here st all about the excellence of Agalloch, we’re just blown over by the originality of “American Gothic”!

    In the eternal words of the little Old El Paso girl, “why not both?!”


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