Tired beyond words of idea-less, cookie cutter rock bands as much as I loathe rap and 50 year old plodding wave forms, I accidentally found Wildpath on YouTube. A prog-rock fan since forever, the no-think version of rock has long since been obsolete for me, and I suddenly found myself listening to a real ideas band. I now work out to some of this band’s songs, and listen to them just about every day.
However, let’s leave my epiphanies aside for a minute. This band does nothing the easy way. Their arrangements and songs are poised, very tight, and highly charged. They typically put multiple lines in to every song, and usually add a few layers where required to build a good, interesting mix of ideas.
That’s hard work, particularly for a band which isn’t doing simple, hook-driven stuff. Sounds to me like everyone in the band gets an effective word in, because the sheer scope of some of these arrangement is much more demanding than most bands would bother trying, let alone doing.
The band, similarly, doesn’t do the flashy, easy stuff:
- The first and very striking thing I noticed was that the current singer, Marjolaine Bernard, tends to sing the more difficult options. That’s pretty gutsy for any female rock singer. Female singers are typically under far more pressure to “present” than male rock singers. She has a good strong middle range, and could take it easy with that range. She doesn’t. She sings in a much more difficult choral range which usually only choirboys can hit. It’s not easy to sing, and can stuff up with a single misplaced note. She does it flawlessly, and creates a single entity with these vocals, making them stand out. Pretty good for anyone who also has that melodic but powerful Sonja Kristina-like edge to her voice.
- They’re technical realists, in many ways, and you simply don’t hear musical doodling or “noise babble”, just good, coherent, thoughtful pieces of music. I get the impression that “tech” isn’t the awe-inspiring thing for Wildpath as it is for some other bands who should know better. The benefit for listeners is a total lack of tedium, which many rock and particularly metal bands should learn from, preferably ASAP.
- They’re unpredictable. From The Raven to When Legends Come Back To Life, Crystallized and Ice Rose, something is always happening. Not since Curved Air in its maniacal mode, peak-era Cream and cool era Traffic have I been able to say that about any band with any degree of conviction. (I really do have to like any band which will stick in a bit of gritty 12 bar in to what is basically an orchestral arrangement, and do it well, on the song Crystallized. Status Quo, eat your hearts out.)
- The guitar is hard and often powerful, but you’re not listening to “shit, we need another meaningless, endless, solo here” with these guys . If anything, the guitar is usually a bit understated and sometimes downright taciturn, very odd for a supposedly “metal” band. Having said which, it works, too. More is not better, and this is proof. (About time some guitarists realized that the “solo is me” stuff is really just a growing phase, a sort of musical puberty, nothing like the whole story)
- The bass is sometimes tough, but always consistent, tensile, and fast. No “quaint” bass stuff here, the bass is always on the same page as the songs, never lazy or taking the dumb. thudding options. Seriously, bass can do so much more than just use up a lot of signal and woofer time. You’d think someone would have noticed that by now, and Wildpath obviously have.
- Keyboards are pretty much anything and everything, and they sometimes sail off on interesting journeys. Generally, the keyboards add weight, scope and melodic range. It should also be noted that keyboard players often have the unenviable task of “playing along” with underachieving bits and pieces thrown in, a problem Wildpath obviously doesn’t have.
- The drums are surprisingly polite for a band which can do rampaging full power and do it well. Drummers all have their own preferences, as well as style, and if Wildpath doesn’t bang/crash as much as other bands, the drums deliver some real structure and range in these sometimes complex arrangements.
- Creatively, they have a lot of depth. The acoustic arrangements of their better known songs are real rethinks, and work well. Not many bands can rethink themselves, a good character reference.
- Musical and commercial context: The world doesn’t need yet another bit of packaging pretending to play music. The great bands are all DIY, and Wildpath is a bit overqualified in that respect. Good luck to them for doing things their way, and it’s easy to see. Musically they have an excellent standalone presence.Don’t tell them how to be themselves, and there shouldn’t be any problems.
- Mixes are very good, if open to a few very minor, trivial nitpicking issues in some cases. To my taste, (and my taste is no guide to anything), a bit more emphasis on some parts of arrangements would be a good move.
- Criticism, such as it is: I’d just like to see them be a bit more emphatic with some of their great lines, melodies, and hooks. This is the ultra–fiddly option, it’s time consuming and often irritating to do finicky mixes, and if they’re not doing that, I do get it. It’s just that I also hear so many choices in their stuff. (This is technically like saying the Mona Lisa should be more colourful, and about as useful, but I’m sitting here barracking for this band, and wishing for more, not less.)
I’d love to see this band take off and fly as they do so often and so well. They have real off the scale moments, flying free, and I’d like to see them do that as much as possible. They have nothing to learn from the hackneyed “metal” environment, and are so far above the standard modern rock band in so many ways it’s ridiculous.
I don’t know what they’re doing currently, which I hope is an indicator of another album. They release tracks spasmodically, so it’s hard to tell, but with any luck….
Site still long overdue a full makeover, but also have this damn spam thing to manage.