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The highlands come to America. - 87%

hells_unicorn, January 14th, 2016
Written based on this version: 2015, CD, Independent (Digipak)

In some respects, America tends to be ahead of the curve when it comes to experimentation with new mediums of artistic expression, though it's debatable whether this has continued to hold true of late. But one area where said country has been playing catch up lately is the revival of older school metal with a share of newer twists that began a just under 20 years ago. Particularly on the folk metal front, the pioneering stage has largely been reserved for Finnish trailblazers like Finntroll and Korpiklaani, to speak nothing for more epic and Viking tinged adherents such as Ensiferum and Turisas, with other nations such as Germany and Italy also fielding bands mixing the style with mainline melodic death, power metal and symphonic touches. Nevertheless, there have been some fairly impressive American answers to these bands, particularly the ones in the latter category, and among them is the Bostonian up and comers Wilderun, who made an impressive splash a few years with a collection of rearranged folk tunes and shanties in 2012 with their debut Olden Tails And Deathly Trails, and have returned just recently with an even stronger follow up in Sleep At The Edge Of The World.

While Wilderun's debut sort of walked a thin line between the epic and symphonic mode of this style with the more mainline, drinking song oriented character of the mainline variant, this time around they've opted for a far more ambitious approach that definitely runs along similar lines to Ensiferum's heavily lauded fourth LP From Afar, but is even more ambitious and actually manages to merge the Americana brand of folksy instrumentation with a massive backdrop that has about in much in common with Quorthon's latter day Viking offerings as it does with the more recent German and Finnish influences noted previously. The album is constructed more as a conceptual opera work or even a cinematic interpretation of the style, complete with a slow developing instrumental prelude to kick things off and a serene denouement of an outro song, an ambitious four song cycle in "Ash Memory" that navigates a host of extreme metal and acoustic interlude paths, and three long-winded epic stand alone songs that rival much of the epic handiwork pioneered by the likes of Iron Maiden and Manowar.

Like with any highly ambitious work, this sonic story naturally features some intense peaks and valleys, often occurring within the same song, and occasionally going so far as to expand the dimensions of this band's adopted style. The more stylistically eclectic offerings also prove to be their best musical selling points, as the fast paced "The Garden Of Fire" and the 11 minute epic "The Means To Preserve" sees the band throwing just about everything at the listener. Evan Berry's mix of crooning baritone vocals and deep, death grunts actually prove to be a strength despite having some heavy similarities in sound to former Ensiferum front man Jari Mäenpää, but the real charm and splendor of these songs is the dense atmosphere that is accomplished between the metallic assault, the lofty symphonic and choral backdrops, and the rustic pluck string folk arsenal consisting of but not limited to a mandolin, hammered dulcimer and auto-harp. The only thing that isn't really heavily exploited on here is wild lead guitar shredding, but given all the other moving parts, it's not a noticeable absence.

If there is any down-side to an album like this it is that it takes a fair amount of time to fully process, as Wilderun has all but gone down the same road that Tyr went down earlier in their career in terms of songwriting, and created a heavily complex and ambitious version of a style of music that is generally noted for being extremely easy and accessible. This rather pleasant contradiction is one of the many charms of revisiting an older way of doing things with a fresher perspective, but Sleep At The Edge Of The World is one of those albums that is so ambitious that it may find itself being passed up for more straight-line and bite-sized offerings normally put forth by recent Ensiferum and Equilibrium. Nevertheless, it's greatest strength is its uniqueness, and for those with the patience to give this LP a few listens, a world of sound that's about as vivid and pleasantly escapist in nature as a number of long-winded albums from the atmospheric black metal camp awaits, with a somewhat more heroic and triumphant gloss no less.