On their new album A Romance With Violence, the Denver group Wayfarer perform the latest poignant incarnation of their signature sound, which they’ve characterized as “Black Metal of the American West.”
The Themes of A Romance With Violence
Fundamentally, Wayfarer sound relentlessly ferocious, as if their music reflects stormy winds kicking up across a dusty plain and flattening abandoned old farm structures, like symbols of the desolation of human ambition. A Romance With Violence hinges on decidedly soulful rhythms that make the listening experience feel richly immersive, like stepping into an abandoned countryside saloon with nothing left but the ghostly visages of the house band, whose song has contorted and twisted into a lacerating metaphysical howl. The emotion feels real, and Wayfarer’s subtly majestic scope feels impressive.
“This time, that whole overarching idea — it was kind of making this album almost like a Western film in itself, that kind of, within that, peels back the curtain on what those things were actually like, where it’s almost more about the ‘Western’ than it is about the ‘West’ — like it’s more the West as an idea than it is the actual history of it,” Wayfarer vocalist/ guitarist Shane McCarthy explains. “It kind of deals with the cultural thing that has turned into in film and stories and legend in general, and how that’s kind of the perception of not only actually the West but kind of America as a whole to some of the rest of the world — this kind of outlaw frontier, cowboys and Indians. It’s kind of a frequently romanticized kind of aesthetic, and so we wanted to dive into that and make this into a big bloody Western film, but there’s a lot of, of course, subtext inside that kind of examines why people want to present things this way and the obsession with those sorts of ideas and where that ultimately leads — the dirt and blood on the hands of the people that it’s based off of.”
The romance of the West, as a concept, seems interwoven within American society. Even today, many seem to idolize the concept of relentless expansion that the “West” represents. This relentless expansion, however, carries a steep cost.
“This is just another example of that kind of ‘history is always written by the victors’ kind of thing that repeats across all these cultures and societies,” McCarthy observes. “That’s why there’s such a romantic view of the ‘Wild West’ because that’s what’s been pushed out to be talked about, but it really was just like anything else, a pretty gritty and violent and greedy expansion — and that’s just like not reflected in how it’s shown to people and taught to people in schools and definitely how it’s depicted in cultural events — which is universal. I feel like most cultures have something like that, like they have some old legends or mythology or something. I feel like at this point, especially being from Colorado, the Wild West is kind of the legend and mythology of this place, and most cultures have something like that, where they have these stories and they seem just awesome and glorious and then when you dig into it, it’s just like typical human — certain people trying to exert themselves over others.”
Capturing the Musical Winds
The latest outing from Wayfarer ranges from the vibrant old-timey keys and strings that fill the intro track “A Curtain Pulls Back” to blistering rockslides of black metal scattered throughout the record to the soulful pummeling of the album’s concluding track, “Vaudeville.”
Wayfarer worked with a rather crisp portrait of the journey of A Romance With Violence, McCarthy explains.
“It’s almost like we see the album ahead of time and like what it’s gonna feel like and sound like, so it’s usually not so conscious where it’s like, oh, we’ve gotta change this part to be more like this,” the singer/ guitarist explains. “It’s like once we decided what we’re going for, that’s where the mindset is, so that’s kind of what’s coming out anyway. There’s obviously parts that we fine tune. We’ll work on something and jam it out one way, and we’ll go back and listen to it and make some changes just based on the flow of the song or whatever. It’s not like it all just comes out from the get-go, but as far as that kind of premeditated or conscious decision of: oh, we need more of this or more of this — I think overall, that’s kind of the whole point of talking about what the album is at the start. It’s not just what the lyrics are about — it’s like the overall feeling of the music and what we’re trying to convey with the whole thing, so we really approach it all with that mindset, so that’s just the lane it’s in from the get-go.”
The lush but unflinchingly intense instrumentation across A Romance With Violence seems to aptly encapsulate the raw tension of the album’s themes.
“Even though this is like a big conceptual album, the lyric-writing comes last. and, I would say, ends up having the least amount of time and thought put into it — not because it’s not viewed as important, but because we feel like, in writing the riffs and in writing the songs, we’re already telling the story there,” McCarthy explains. “You want it to feel like it has this journey and has this narrative and has this path conveyed by the music, and so when we get to the lyrics, it’s like we already know what they are, because the song’s already been written, the story’s already been told. We’ve just got to fill in the words that go there, because we try to tell the story with the music and know what it’s doing part by part by part as we’re writing it, and that’s it, and the lyrics are just kind of putting words to what’s already there.”
Fleshing Out the Musical Journey
The album’s sonically expressed journey definitely feels rather powerful, as Wayfarer seem to kick listeners right back in time to the era of the “Old West.” A Romance With Violence ultimately feels all-encompassing.
“The Crimson Rider (Gallows Frontier, Act I)” opens with a lengthy segment of blistering black metal in which the riffs seem to streak by like bullets on some windswept terrain, as if caught in a quickly bloody gunfight. As the music gallops along, the song’s latter half saunters into gentler but no less dusty territory, as the physical ferocity of the rhythms dials down, leaving the heart-pounding tension behind in the sonic dust. Slower tempos highlight rather than erase the raw, ragged tension running through the searing music. The very end of the song kicks back up; blast beats ring out and the piercing twang of the earthy rhythms shines.
The galloping rhythms feel even more aggressively bellicose on “The Iron Horse (Gallows Frontier, Act II),” as the band seem to dial into the psychological state of the self-confident chaos that ran through the true “Old West.” The rhythms kick up dust with a dramatic, sternly persistent breadth that Wayfarer push along with unceasing menace. The soul-permeating menace that the group is exploring feels utterly real, as the rhythms get so dynamically rich that the band’s blistering metal suddenly feels soulful, on a foundational level. They’ve interwoven this pained, somber soulfulness into the inner workings of their persistently fiery creation.
The soulfulness shines in some folk-adjacent moments. “I would say that we’ve all always been pretty into things like that,” McCarthy shares, discussing the folk side. “We’re most influenced by the Denver sound type stuff, and some of that dark country type stuff — 16 Horsepower, Wovenhand, Slim Cessna’s Auto Club, all those bands that have carved out this niche here of this kind of dark Americana that’s rooted in American folk music and country music but kind of takes it in this other direction and has this whole very palpable vibe to it that fits the surroundings. It sounds like here. It sounds like the West — that’s stuff that we’ve always been huge into. I think that influence has come through a little bit more album to album. It was a little bit on Old Souls, more prevalent on World’s Blood — we even did a full acoustic, quieter song to end that record as well, but this time it just seemed to make more sense to incorporate it into the album as a whole, more prevalent and more serving a purpose in the whole arc of the record, where it goes in and out of the dark and light stuff. I think we’ve always listened to a lot of that and always been into that a lot — it’s just like where it’s made sense to bring into our music before, and with this record, it was definitely called for to tell that whole story and have that whole cinematic feel to really go deep on some stuff like that.”
Wayfarer hinge their track “Fire & Gold” on gentler but no less ache-riddled melody. Across the entire rather mournful song, McCarthy sings cleanly. As the song closes, McCarthy intones: “He finds himself in a dance/ A burning romance./ As the blaze swallows his hopes,/ He’ll sink below.” The lines and accompanying melody seem to hang like wisps of smoke on a moonlit horizon, and this soul-clenching mood courses across the entire album, including the moments of lacerating ferocity and up to the album’s somberly majestic, powerful concluding track. The album’s impressive scope spotlights present-day observers’ emotional connections to the frequently idealized lore of the West. A Romance With Violence seems to traverse through a longing for grandeur right up to collapsing in failure.
The album’s opening track, full of keys and strings, sets the mood as if stepping right into the Old West. “That intro in particular — it was intended from the start to be that sort of feeling,” McCarthy shares. “Our guitar player, Joe Strong-Truscelli, he comes from a film-scoring background, and he still does some freelance scoring and audio work stuff, and he’s just big into stuff like that. He will just listen to Ramin Djawadi and Hans Zimmer and people like that — that’s the type of stuff that he listens to regularly and does, and that was his composition, and I think he hit it right on the head and it definitely comes from that sort of place. I love Westworld and any show or film that can make the music add its own layer of feeling to the story they’re depicting.”
Exploring the Impact
Wayfarer operate in a vibrant Denver-area community of uniquely poignant heavy music artists.
Citing his attachment to the music of fellow Denver-area creators Falls of Rauros, who he thinks are “just one of the best American black metal and American metal bands in general today, just in terms of like composition and musicianship and just like creating that world,” McCarthy adds: “In Denver, we’re kind of spoiled by the scene here. Even though everyone is connected in one way or the other here, because it’s a pretty small scene at the end of the day — like we share members with Blood Incantation who shares members with Spectral Voice and it just kind of snowballs down from there, but there’s so many bands here that regardless of our friendships, I think they’re just doing something really awesome, and there’s a reason that all these Denver bands have been kind of climbing out and getting more attention recently, because there’s a lot of legitimate, unique, really strong stuff coming out of here. That’s a scene that we are proud to be a part of, and even as people who know the people involved are consistently amazed by some of the output here — bands like Dreadnought, Blood Incantation, Primitive Man, that I think are like truly something special.”
“We never want to be too preachy of a band and too direct of a band in a way where it’s like we’re trying to get this one point across that we want everyone to realize,” McCarthy explains, discussing Wayfarer’s own music’s impact. “The record itself — it’s an exploration and an examination — and it’s also kind of intended at least to be self-aware in that talking about this representation of the Wild West as some big badass epic sort of thing is like something that I grew up loving also, and that’s the reason that I’ve gravitated towards this stuff as well. So we want to make the album come off in that way, where it is like bloody and grandiose in a way where you listen to it and you’re like fuck yeah — but at the same time, there’s this examination of — why do we like this? Why are we attracted to the savage thing? Why are most idols and heroes in history killers? Why is that a human thing? So it’s just kind of a rumination and examination, and I don’t think the point is to come up with some grand solution that we’re trying to get across to people. It’s just like — it’s something to dive into for the enjoyment of it but also hopefully to examine it, because that’s all we can do as people. We’re gonna have our tendencies, and all you can really do is try and keep yourself in check and question why we as individuals or people as a whole are driven to do certain things.”
Featured Image via Elizabeth Marsh