Waylander – Kindred Spirits

Northern Ireland’s Waylander hasn’t been that prolific over their nineteen year career. Following 1998′s Reawakening Pride Once Lost and 2001′s The Light, The Dark, And The Endless Knot, a number of setbacks and lineup changes caused things to remain quiet on the Waylander front until the band returned in 2008 with Honour Amongst Chaos – a raw and raucous blend of Celtic and black metal that mixed traditional Irish instruments with furious riffs and blast beats. After a four year break, the band has returned with their fourth full length effort, Kindred Spirits.

From the opening notes of “Echoes Of The Sidhe”, it’s clear that things have changed a bit since Honour Amongst Chaos. The riffs have more of a thrash quality to them than previous Waylander albums, and while Dave Briggs’ tin whistle is ever present and joined by more traditional instruments in the song’s second half, the frequent acoustic interludes and clean/spoken vocal parts of many of the songs on Honour have been reduced considerably, and are completely absent on “Echoes.” “Lamh Dearg” builds in layers, with the drums joining a simple acoustic melody before exploding with blackened riffs and icy shrieks from vocalist Ciaran O’Hagan which are reminiscent of recent Immortal. The energy level increases substantially at the midway point, with crackling machine gun drumming and thundering riffs before the song cycles back to its main structure as it closes.

“Of Fear And Fury” is the album’s finest moment. The song opens with a mournful acoustic melody and menacing riff bubbling just below the surface, like a wolf waiting for the perfect moment to strike. When the assault finally arrives at the 1:04 mark, the wolf sinks its teeth deep into your neck and rips your head from your shoulders. “Grave Of Giants” is one of the few areas where Celtic elements are really brought to the fore. The haunting, sorrowful acoustic melody is accompanied by gentle parts from Briggs that give the listener a rest before returning to battle.

“Erdath” is the longest track on the album at over seven minutes, and also most closely resembles the band’s previous work. The opening leisurely acoustic and clean vocal passage gives way to charging blackened thrash riffs and pounding drums. Interestingly, the song makes an abrupt shift around the halfway point to lumbering, evil drenched death metal. The album’s title track and finale again opens with an acoustic melody right before shifting to viking style thrash which channels a bit of Amon Amarth.

The mix on Kindred Spirits is considerably clearer and more polished than Waylander’s earlier work, though polish is a relative term in this case. The sound is still quite raw and brutish, similar to early Eluveitie or Ensiferum rather than their more recent efforts. Honour Amongst Chaos sounded more like 1988 than 2008 though, and Kindred Spirits at least manages to sound modern, with the rawness feeling like an artistic decision rather than just poor recording. The instruments are well balanced, the guitars have a nice sense of weight, and Briggs’ whistle manages to cut through the discord without being so forward that it irritates the listener. The drums are less successful; the brickwalled and heavily clipped master simply won’t let them have any real impact.

Fans of extreme folk metal, particularly those that miss the genre’s more untamed and savage roots will find much to like on Kindred Spirits. The album isn’t always the most original, but the mix of Celtic, black and thrash elements are very enjoyable. Definitely a recommended listen.

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