Wandering Oak – Resilience Album Review by Meadow Wyand


Wandering Oak’s new album Resilience, a follow up to 2019’s Passage Elemental, is one of the most successful progressive metal albums in recent years. It imagines a different musical landscape for progressive metal and takes the first step in traveling there. The complex arrangements are presented in an aesthetic template of folk and black metal, somewhere between early Borknagar and Jari-era Ensiferum. This synthesis of influences gives the album a unique character that makes it stand out amidst the oversaturation.

Myth and Metal: Wandering Oaks Key Influences

The epic scope of Resiliences project is communicated convincingly and with weight. This territory of mythical grandeur is common in Wandering Oak’s style of metal, yet seldom conceived with this much inspiration. The vocal performances go a long way in establishing that. Vocalist Rob Pollard’s harsh screams are good, but special attention should be paid to how booming, robust and on-pitch his clean vocals are. They instantly transport you to the world the album envisions, the colorful snowy Pagan battlefield seen on the cover.

The epic folk/black metal of Wandering Oak’s music recalls that of Borknagar on The Olden Domain or Enslaved on Frost, These albums mark where Wandering Oak’s forebears began to flirt with prog, but still hadn’t fully realized the direction their music would take.

Borknagar and Enslaved took the genre to the dreamworld of Pink Floyd soundscapes around the same time that Opeth was making My Arms, Your Hearse and Still Life. What makes Wandering Oak really interesting though, is that they begin from this starting point in the late nineties and conceptualize a different way to orchestrate their progressive influences than any of the aforementioned groups.

As progressive metal entered the CD era, it ended up losing its classic heavy metal edge. With a new wave of bands that encouraged downtuning and modern production technologies, the soaring melodic riffs of the NWOBHM and USPM began to sound outdated. Wandering Oak recontextualizes these heavy metal/early prog metal influences in stark contrast to the sound we think of when we hear the term “progressive metal.” This willing disavowal of what progressive metal has come to mean since the CD era is the most remarkable and praiseworthy aspect of resilience.

A New Take on Progressive Metal

I find the band’s direction exciting because I generally don’t like progressive metal. There are exceptions of course, and maybe that means I’m the wrong person to review this record. Growing up with Nirvana, the Ramones and alternative rock radio, I’ve always had an affinity for short simple pop songs. However, as my taste drifted further towards metal, I began to appreciate expansive styles of music, including prog. I love the classic seventies bands, like Pink Floyd and Utopia, yet that love does not usually extend to progressive metal. I often find the latter to be boring, placid and delivered in a production style that doesn’t appeal to my sensibilities.

Fortunately for me, Wandering Oak manages to avoid nearly all the trappings of the genre I find irritating. Though there is some accompanying instrumentation, the album never loses itself in indulgence. It manages to foreground classic rock instrumentation: guitars, bass, drums, vocals. The result is an album that is unapologetically heavy metal. The influence of USPM bands, specifically those who pioneered progressive metal, like Fates Warning and early Queensrÿche, are among the most pronounced on Resilience.

Different Strings:” Classic 70s Prog on Resilience

Further developing the album’s unique brand of progressive metal is songwriter/guitarist Rob Pollard’s heart-on-your-sleeve love for that very same classic prog rock of the seventies, most notably of Rush and Yes. Echoes (pun intended) of the angular jazzy intensity of Alex Lifeson and John Howe’s guitar playing can be heard in Resilience’s numerous instrumental sections. These note-y breakdowns, such as in “A Florid Grain,” or (the unfortunately bearing no resemblance to the Björk album of the same name) “Vespertine,” are the moments I think of first when I think about the album.

The dynamics of the instrumental arrangements again recall Rush in the unrestrained drumming, sprawling bass, and noodly guitar playing. The same applies to the acoustic sections, like in album opener “To Lir They Fell,” which sound more like “Rivendell” than they do Kveldssanger. All of the instrumentation is performed with admirable inspiration and conviction, making it hard to not feel mutually enamored by the presence of the Canadian trio on this release.

The great prog albums like HemispheresWish You Were Here and Trilogy were all limited by the time constraints of the LP. Records necessitated editing and creative focus. Wandering Oak understands this and uses that knowledge to their advantage. A prog metal album with a runtime of forty-five minutes is not only a relief for the energy levels of reviewers and listeners alike, but creatively bold. Albums that go on for too long plague contemporary heavy metal, and not just in the progressive sphere.

Is Prog” Electric?: Resilience and Time

Though Wandering Oak’s affinity for seventies prog and the foundational texts of folk/black metal are unavoidable, Resilience is still very much an album of 2024. The album’s production by Tom Gerwitz is decidedly modern, yet also retains that warmth and dynamic range of analog heavy metal records. This is, again, an anomaly in modern prog metal, and its result is similarly refreshing.

The album’s relevance is further evidenced by the schism of time discussed in the lyrics. The first grouping of stanzas on “To Lir They Fell” profess nostalgia for a Celtic Pagan past. However, the trajectory of the story mirrors that of the album’s musical direction. At the song’s lyrical pivot, the narrator says: “In the distance, spires of steel / New home awaits… Arrival – all shades of man… Cast away by naïve fools.” These lines express a reverence for the past, but also show an acceptance of the cityscape and proletarian struggle.

The political ramifications of Resilience’s themes also call into question our experience with time and genre. “The slow cancellation of the future” is a concept that was theorized by Mark Fisher (drawing from Frederic Jameson and Jacques Derrida) in his book Ghosts of My Life. Fisher discusses our collective postmodern malaise as a “feeling of belatedness, of living after the gold rush” and often uses musical examples to prove his point. He writes that “the reliance of current artists on styles that were established long ago suggests that the current moment is in the grip of a formal nostalgia.” Not only are there social and financial incentives to the “nostalgia’s” formality, the nostalgia itself is linked to political and economic trends.

For Fisher, the spread of austerity in Thatcherism-Reaganism directly contributed to our inability to conceive of the future. Wealth inequality, overworking and lack of public spaces have given rise to our limited cultural imagination: “Consider the fate of the concept of ‘futuristic’ music [i.e. Kraftwerk]. The ‘futuristic’ in music has long since ceased to refer to any future that we expect to be different; it has become an established style… Where is the 21st-century equivalent of Kraftwerk?”

While Resilience is not “futuristic” or forward-thinking in the same way a group like Kraftwerk was, the record is certainly not weighed down by an undying fealty to the past. It draws from classic prog and progressive USPM, yet isn’t beholden to recreating their aesthetic. It travels back in time to find its starting point, then pushes its synthesis of influences forward. Critically, it understands that our unhealthy obsession with the past is linked to our political despair. If we’re desperate, it becomes enticing to long for a past that never really existed. Wandering Oak responds by offering us a message of strength and optimism.


Resilience is not a perfect record. The songs divulge into jagged “riff salad” territory often, obfuscating what’s actually interesting about the album’s progressive overtones. There are just a few too many changes, and they happen too quickly for the compositions to fully transport the listener into their world. These moments could be made better by focus and creative editing, but it’s altogether a minor detractor. Wandering Oak have made the first step in an encouraging  alternate history of progressive metal. The album’s scope and ambition prove that Resilience is a worthy testament to the concept it is titled after. ‘

Rating: 9/10

Gothic Metal band Fourth Dominion. You can check them out at fourthdominion.bandcamp.com and on Instagram @fourthdominion. You can find more of her writing at sacredhaunt.blogspot.com/ and on Instagram @meadowkamagica.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.