“Pure pagan metal” is how they bill themselves, and to Waylander’s credit they haven’t deviated from this template since forming in 1993.
Following a bit of a lineup-based hiatus in the 2000s, the band are currently on a productive roll, with an album deal from Listenable Records in the pocket and fresh off a European tour.
After the well received ‘Honour Amongst Chaos’ in 2008, the band have taken stock, planned carefully and released one of the Irish albums of the year.
‘Kindred Spirits’ gets stuck straight in with a pounding drum intro to ‘Echoes Of The Sidhe’, heavy on the double kicks with tin whistle accompaniment, and sets out the plan for the whole album in no small fashion – riffs and hooks to such an extent that haven’t been seen since debut album ‘Reawakening Pride Once Lost’.
There’s a killer structure to ‘Echoes…’ with a great buildup in the bridge and a fantastic crowd singalong chorus. The tin whistle is almost prevalent throughout the whole track, never reaching twee or annoying levels – in fact it complements the several varied riffs and guitar tones used throughout. It’s an unusually varied song for Waylander, and one which works admirably.
It’s obvious this one will be a live set staple and all the better for it. It will be interesting to see how they manage the echoing choral outro, perhaps with a pair of backing vocals; this could sound immense live.
No let up on ‘Lámh Dearg’ either with the force of the music, and it has to be noted – the sheer step up in musicality is something to be seriously admired. The songwriting in both structure and fucking killer riffing is without doubt the best they’ve done. Concentrating on hooks is really paying off here.
‘Twin Fires Of Beltine’ could easily have been a Dubliners song; it’s got that folk and ballad styling and a sometimes deceptively mournful whistle throughout that adds so much atmosphere on a subtle level.
‘Of Fear And Fury’ has a riff that wouldn’t have been out of place on ‘In The Nightside Eclipse’ to be honest, that epic black metal style with slightly more screamy vocals rather than growling adds a sinister aspect to the song, and again the musicianship steps up to make the song a killer one.
It’s chaotic at times, with so much going on, but a definite structure to it keeping it controlled.
‘Grave of Giants’ sets forth a short rallying call with a beautifully mournful trad soundtrack to the kindred spirits of the title.
This short calm passage midway through the album is quickly leapt over with ‘A Path Well Trodden’ which continues the fast tempo of the album, and adds a nice dynamic by using folk instrumentalist Dave Briggs on backing vocals for a pair of verses.
There’s a real sense of otherworldliness to the vocals here, emphasising the lyrics of the song, and the best vocal performance of the album by Ciarán O’Hagan kicks the song up to probably the most accomplished track on it.
‘Quest For Immortality’, with its very Blind Guardian-esque chorus is another crowd pleaser which picks up in tempo delightfully in the final minute with jarring guitar chords threatening to end it early before it actually ends with the dreaded pinch harmonic, but one that serves as a completely jagged break before the slowed down ‘Erdath’. It’s a pleasant non-surprise when the band boot the tempo back up to the fast level of previous songs with more of that insane drumming.
Den Ferren has never sounded so good – the drumming is just a pounding session that completely elevates the album to a heavy as fuck status, and it would be great for the band to continue with this style.
Again the musicianship has to be remarked upon – it’s just miles ahead of what the guys have done in the past. There’s so, so many undercurrents here that get missed on a first listen. Far and away it’s their most intricate and varied album with a huge array of moods, like a Slauter Xstroyes album but with more structure.
Title track and album closer ‘Kindred Spirits’ continues with the vibe created in the earlier ‘Grave Of Giants’, a moderately maudlin tune quickly picking up into a song of defiance to those who would destroy the old ways. And yet again a great riff, folk instrumentation perfectly matching the singalong chorus, with spot on pacing – the album ends in just the right way.
Most Waylander fans ask one question when a new album comes along: “Is it as good as ‘Reawakening’?” With ‘Kindred Spirits’ the answering is a most resounding yes. The album’s a beast.
It’s the debut with a heavier metal sound and a more modern feel. In a lot of ways it’s better, and as a 15-year fan of that album it’s somewhat unnerving to even consider that, but let alone the fact it’s an immediate hit, it’s also clear this one will be a grower, as there’s so much happening in each song.
Pick this album up, you won’t regret it. It’s easily the Irish release of the year by far, and a strong contender for my album of 2012.
4.4 / 5 – Dónal McBrien ::: 12/07/12