Photo by Alvino Salcedo
Due to having its aesthetic roots in the horror that inspired Venom and Mercyful Fate, black metal more often than not feels essentially European, replete with cobwebbed candelabras, mossy forests, and the harpsichord. But on their second full-length album,Old Souls, Wayfarer seek to break that mold, basing their sound firmly in America’s dusty plains and sandblasted outlaws. The record’s natural reverence feels more akin to that of the Native American shaman than the gothic sorcerer, accepting that all your effort and talent will not keep you from ending up a bleached skull half-buried in the sand, and that that’s how it should be.
Wayfarer guitarist and vocalist Shane McCarthy is quick to separate the band from black metal at large, and seems overly aware of the genre tag’s limitations. While he paints Wayfarer’s previous album, 2014’s Children of an Iron Age, as “optimistic”, he describes Old Souls as a more powerful piece of music in its broader of understanding of how little our grand aspirations matter, and just how powerful and eternal the nature he sees every day in Colorado truly is. As McCarthy sums it up, “It will conquer you before you conquer it.”
Below are Shane’s thoughts on Colorado, his band’s influences, and Wayfarer’s new album. Stream Old Souls below before its release on Prosthetic Records this Friday (preorders are up here).
Noisey: How has being around the natural beauty of Colorado affected Wayfarer?
Shane McCarthy: I think it’s something that has affected us all. You wake up every day and look at the mountain range. It’s a clear sign of nature over man, as far as that’s something that can’t be moved, can’t be conquered. That’s something we look up to as people, and as musicians. We try to portray with our sound that kind of logistic power. At the same time, it’s strikingly beautiful and very to the core of us as organic beings. I mean, growing up here, you learn about these huge mountains as a directional tool. But something we’ve done more with this record is, while Colorado has these mountains, when you go east of there it’s just plains and badlands. And that has its own interesting texture, too. A lot of this record is based on that.
Do you guys go out into the country often, to take that atmosphere in?
It’s not an intentional thing—we didn’t take any band field trips. But it’s something we all do in our spare time anyway. If you live in Colorado and don’t, you’re probably blowing it. Some of that plains texture—and there are some nods to that in the music—comes from old Western movies. In finding our own sound, most of the things that come from metal—black metal, melodic death metal—they come from Europe, and we are not a European band. And I think we’re embracing the fact that we’re proud of that, of where we are from. So Western movies give us that dry plains feel. There are a lot of nods to Morricone throughout. Some of my favorite movies of all time are the Sergio Leone movies like Once Upon A Time In The West.
It seems like you’re actively avoiding what we think of when we think of black metal—the looming forests, the European concept of the Devil.
Write what you know. None of us are Satanic people. We all love it in metal, we think that shit’s cool, but we’re not practicing rituals. This is what we think about more in our daily lives. If you’re going to write music, you should write about what you actually feel. I mean, I’m glad all that stuff exists, I grew up listening to Satanic music and all that’s really cool. But that’s not something we get behind. As for the trappings we have of black metal, that’s probably the closest to a genre out there that we can compare Wayfarer too, but we are definitely not a black metal band, as I’m sure every elitist on the Internet would be happy to tell you. I don’t want to play music that exists. Atmosphere is the focus of our music, of building a sound. But it’s not that tremolo-picked blastbeat whatever. We’re not from the Cascadian forest, or the Carpathian forest—we’re from Colorado.
With the promo work surrounding a new album, do you ever feel that those easy genre classifications get foisted upon you?
Kind of. We know it’s going to happen. Genre tags are a love/hate relationship for some people. Having a point of reference is great, saying, “It’s like a black metal thing with a bit of this in it”—I mean, you sound like a pretentious dickhead when you rattle off five genres for the one thing you’re doing–but at the same time people get way too swept up in it. Someone calls us black metal and all of a sudden you have people attacking us saying, "That’s not black metal!" We don’t let it get to us at this point. Wayfarer’s been called a million different things and has been compared to a million different bands, some of which I agree with and some of which I don’t.
Is there a track on Old Souls that best encapsulates what you’re trying to accomplish?
I’m not sure there’s one track. The album kind of works on an arc, which was pretty premeditated. It has this forward climb at the beginning, and if I had to pick one song that encompasses everything on the record it would be that first song, “Ever Climbing.” That sets the stage for something a little darker, a little more pissed off. It still contains some of the optimism of the first record, but it’s also starting to explore the fact that things are not always ideal, not always achievable, and the whole process of figuring out what you want and achieving it might not so easy. Then we hit the title track, and that’s maybe the most triumphant point of the record, and then the downturn starts from there. “Deathless Tundra” is the song about being lost in the desert, and it’s a really dismal track. Then, everything kind of unravels with the last track.
Tell me about the dreamcatcher figure on the cover. Is he the Wayfarer mascot?
That was something that we came up with with our artist, Adam Gersh. Pretty incredible guy. We always like to touch on some Native American mysticism, without fully diving into it, because none of us are Native American, but it’s something we all have respect and interest in. There’s a lot of Native American land here. It’s something we’ve always liked having present, but not focused on. That was a figure Adam came up with, and we wanted to have something that showed this vast, dusty plain with a mountain at the end. We wanted to have something that shows the start of this terrible journey.
6/30 Denver, CO - The Hi Dive #
7/1 Salt Lake City, UT - The Underground #
7/2 Jackson, WY - In the Mountains #
7/3 Spokane, WA - The Dog Haus #
7/4 Calgary, AB - The Palomino ^
7/5 Vancouver, BC - The Hindenburg ^
7/6 Victoria, BC - Intrepid Theater ^
7/7 Seattle, WA - The Highline #
7/8 Portland, OR - Panic Room #
7/9 Sacramento, CA - Starlite Lounge #
7/10 Oakland, CA - First Church Of The Buzzard #
7/11 Los Angeles, CA - The Lexington #
7/12 San Diego, CA - The Merrow #
7/13 Tempe, AZ - Yucca Tap Room #
7/14 Santa Fe, NM - The Underground #
7/15 Colorado Springs, CO - The Flux Capacitor #
# with Falls of Rauros
^ with Falls of Rauros & Numenorean
Chris Krovatin is swigging Colorado Kool-Aid on Twitter.