Wild Hunt blend black, trad, prog metal on excellent ‘Before the Plane of Angles’

I walk my dog every day, and while fighting to control a feisty, 8-month-old pup made out of muscle can be so much fun (right down to the forearm bruises), it can be a little mundane once she calms down and starts walking like a normal animal. See, we take the same route every day because the options are limited in our neighborhood and because there’s enough hill to get in a good workout. For both of us. But seeing the same stuff and doing the same thing every day can be monotonous, so I choose wisely my musical selections for our journeys.

Grindcore or punk doesn’t work because it’s too fast and doesn’t last long enough. Something post-metal doesn’t really do the trick because it just makes me gaze into the distance, and a walk is not a good setting for that. Black metal just puts a scowl on my face, and I don’t need people thinking I’m some sort of criminal (the weird metal shirts and half-arm of tattoos already get me cautious looks). Instead, I need something with a little variety, an album that’ll keep my head in the game and let my brain work along with my (aching) muscles.

That’s where Wild Hunt enter the fray. They do all kinds of things I like a lot — prog rock! trad metal! doom! black metal! — and they mix it all together really nicely in a way where you’re less aware of the twists and turns and more conscious of how well all the elements work together to achieve a greater whole. Their music on their debut full-length “Before the Plane of Angles” (Kemado) is exciting and varied, complex and digestible, and it has kept the juices flowing on those walks because I’m thinking far less about how I take the same trip every day and more about how this record keeps revealing itself to me in a different manner every time I listen. It’s such a great record, and it’s so hard to believe that a band this good, this flexible are just now issuing their debut. I can only imagine how the next platter’s going to sound. I have a hard enough time properly summarizing this one.

Wild Hunt, who formed in 2004, call Oakland, Calif., home, so yeah, we’re talking another Bay Area barnstormer. But these guys are one of the most ambitious, exciting bands to come out of that area in a long time, which is saying something considering the amount of talent in that region. This band — vocalist/drummer Harland Burkhart, guitarists Greg Brace and Drew Cook, bassist West Lenz — play around with epic-length songs, which works to their advantage since they’re adept at playing so many styles of metal and, as noted, blending them together. Oh, a quick note of interest is that Burkhart, Brace, and Cook also play in the Dimesland (Vendlus), another group that isn’t your run-of-the-mill metal band. I know all these details just tossed out there about Wild Hunt might make you think “Before the Plane of Angles” could be something that’ll take you a while to digest, but it really isn’t. At least for me, the appeal of the record and their sound was instantaneous, and the more I heard the album, the more excited I got about it.

The record is book-ended by a pair of 16-minute songs, both of them equally expansive and awesome. “Eidetic Parallax” opens the album and goes from spacious prog rock, to black metal panic and shrieks from Burkhart, space-bound melodies, trance-inducing flushes of atmosphere, and adventurous riffing before the whole thing fades away. “Plane of Angles” is the closer, and it’s built in much the same way, with all of the things they do well revisited — but not repeated — but it also gets a bit of acoustic wonder, some power metal-fireworks, the band harmonizing vocally underneath the firestorm, and eventually a tricky, dream-like loop that carries the album off into oblivion. These two cuts are worth the price of admission alone, but they’re only part of the story.

In between those epic pillars are three more songs that serve to prove the band’s incredible dexterity. “Panorama” is one of the heaviest tracks on the album, with more black doom magic, some classic metal guitar work, throaty singing and growling, and a long, cosmic ambient passage that stretches over the song’s last three minutes. “Window to the Nether” is pushy and catchy, showing they have a knack for writing something a little more accessible, and the cleanly delivered vocals remind a bit of Baroness. “Unravel the Veil” is the shortest cut here, a wooshing, hazy instrumental built on Moog fog and light instrumentation, letting you get a breather before the monstrous finale.

Wild Hunt’s debut long-player is one of the more exciting initial offerings to come my way this year, and I’m still having a lot of fun working with it. The band combines all the things I like best about metal and in a way that suggests they feel the same way about these things. They’re not here riding on some trend or cashing in on a sound. They seem to be putting all of their influences together in a fluid, thunderous way, and “Before the Plane of Angles” certainly keeps things interesting every time out. That’ll make walking a lot more enjoyable for the foreseeable future.

For more on the band, go here: http://wildhuntband.blogspot.com/

To buy the album, go here: http://www.kemado.com/shop/wild-hunt-before-the-plane-of-angles/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.kemado.com/home/

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