When one thinks about the elements—and granted I don’t think we ponder them too much anymore—one is often preoccupied with the “big” ones. Those elements that we generally attribute to gross destruction or necessity for life (and it’s funny how they’re one in the same, isn’t it?) Those elements like fire—from which we derive light and warmth but also incineration and destruction—and water, without which life as we know it would be nil.
But what about wind?
Often forgotten but still undeniably powerful, wind is as majestic as it can be terrifying, giving rise to shifting climates and changing weather—a spectrum ranging from passing clouds and devastating tornadoes. So when Vietnamese metalcore outfit, Windrunner, stormed their way into the worldwide heavy music scene, it wouldn’t be a lie to say they blew me away. Borrowing elements from progressive metalcore acts like Erra, Damned Spring Fragrantia, Northlane and more, Mai is the band’s debut album which sees the band erupt into the ears of listeners worldwide with a sprawling, all-encompassing attack on the senses. Boasting brutalizing breakdowns and jarring grooves alongside segments of ethereal calm and peace, Mai is a majestic release that sees Windrunner reach prodigal heights with what feels like precious little effort.
Mai is a lengthy journey through many of the most appealing aspects of progressive metalcore. Beginning with an opening salvo of groovy, aggressive tracks that quickly segue into a more melodic and atmospheric mood, Windrunner oscillate gracefully between the (somewhat narrow) extremes afforded by their genre. Songs like “Oleander” and the crushing climax to the opener “Mulan” are two examples of the band lashing out with a more dissonant and ferocious hand. Meanwhile, other songs—“Cedar,” or the title track, “Mai,”—are more balanced, including moments of serenity between segments of gritty grooves and pummeling percussion. Windrunner’s entire dynamic flows as such; the percussion is constant, never too forward and demanding but never quite simple, instead giving the band a strong backbone to build on within every track. The same is true of the bass—while boasting an excellent tone, it is never “too much,” which is to say that it never weighs down the more ethereal aspects of the release. Instead, it bounces boldly behind the more aggressive and intense moments of the album, bringing beef only when needed. At the end of the day—and the same is true for just about every progressive metalcore act—the defining aspect of Windrunner is their guitar work, which includes a prominent oriental and traditional flare. “Marigold” highlights this excellently, weaving entrancing leads in and around bombastic breakdowns and soothing segments of serene, calming instrumentation using what might be…a harp? Be it authentic or cleverly programmed, Windrunner’s inclusion of their homeland’s traditional music is endearing and adds a new depth to their sound which demands, at the very least, respect—even though in reality it earns that, coupled with awe, easily.
Windrunner, on paper, are a near perfect progressive metalcore act—and this, for the most part, holds true with their vocal element, although it also sees the band’s otherwise high marks start to waver. Mai boasts an impressive display of vocal power that spans the entire album and maintains good energy and endurance throughout. However, by the time Mai begins to near its end, the listener gets frankly tired, in part because Mai is dangerously close to an hour, and in other part because the act’s vocal elements are fairly monotonous. “Oleander” is an example of the band having an incredible vocal presence, but by the time Mai is about over, the listener is growing tired of the same mid-range yells that foray into occasional bellows and nearly-clean sung segments. This isn’t to say that the vocals on the band’s release are bad at all—far from it—the lack of variety, however, wears the listener out fairly quickly along the band’s lengthy release.
Mai is an excellent record that, by virtue of being four or five songs too long, is made into a good release. Windrunner did a lot of things right, and on paper this release is one for the record books—but in reality, it doesn’t all pan out. In the end, Mai is still very much worth your time, even if there are only a select few songs the listener ends up holding on to.
For Fans Of: Oceans Ate Alaska, Damned Spring Fragrantia, Currents