Funny how time gathers speed as you roll downhill into the grave. Seasons begun to whirl instead of waltz and intentions gather dust in the corner as you struggle to keep pace with the dance. Sadly Waylander were one of those intentions of mine. I still remember when, the copy of Skyclad’s ‘Jonah’s Ark’ still stuck on my playlist, I heard of some Northern Irish upstarts diving into this new folk metal field who appeared to have named themselves after a David Gemmel book I loved. Should investigate them you know, Giz, I thought.
Almost a quarter of a century later I actually sit down with an album by them. Ridiculous. Time I mean. But it is what it is. All you can do is deal with the now and let the regrets die alone.
So let’s not go into history. Let’s take this as it is, fresh and new.
‘Betwixt Times’. A crackle of fire, an acoustic guitar and tin whistle as a voice talks of seasons. Slow melancholy. Warm. Weary travellers maybe. Then a riff ‘As Samhain Comes’ and we rise into a deep, sombre song. Talk of the seasons passing, of honouring the dead. The vocals are gruff barks, the haunting whistle opens your eyes, your breath rises and falls with the riff as though it presses against your shoulder blades and slowly reaches in to open up your heart. Their world opens up and you fall in to the refrain.
‘Shortest Day, Longest Night’ reaches out in darkness. The riff is soft, almost funereal. Slowly it builds before biting as the vocals growl and the whistle takes the tune. Even here this is not the foolish jig of ale and cliche: More akin to early In The Woods in its primal and turbulent heart, walking similar pathways to Mael Mordha with the insistent depth of doom to the melody and atmosphere, but the folk feel is the pulse and the pulse is fiercely strong.
‘Imbolc’ is a strong, persistent wind in your face, cold and rain lashing but looking towards the Spring, perhaps. A stirring guitar break girds loins as the season turns. Inspiration holds. The pagan world begins to wake under Brigid’s care and she invites us to ‘The Vernal Dance’. Energy rises with the season and we dance.
‘Beltine’ is a rush, a headlong celebration. Summer comes, sun warms, drink and food feed the soul. A melody that tugs as strongly as the wine, a glorious guitar driven climax.
And then ‘As The Sun Stands Still’ we reach the zenith. The Solstice. Hairs tingle under the melody and when the refrain is raised my soul prickles with awe. Close your eyes and you can see the shadows of the people dancing on the hill, firelit, horns and mugs raised, arms linked. Oh this will be glorious live. Glorious. Heady.
‘To Feast At Lughnasadh’ is hope, sacrifice, prayer. Insistent and needy for the harvest to bear fruit. The mood darker, almost fearful. Hope needs to be here but pause needs to be given.
Finally we ride into the ‘Autumnal Blaze’. Hearts aflame, the guitar a fine driving rider. A strong heart to fire the descent into winter. A clan together facing the turn of the season once more, unbowed.
I’ll not mention regret. The season has passed and I have the now. Waylander have created an amazing world here, beautifully crafted and woven and with such flow it fair takes the breath away.