THE WAYMAKER: The Waymaker

the waymaker album cover

Make Way for The Waymaker

Amaranthe, Epica and, of course, Divinefire and Narnia are a few of the bands which come to mind as I listen to the debut album (yes, I am listening to the vinyl record) from The Waymaker, Sweden’s newest collaboration of these Christian melodic power metal veterans. I’ve been absent from the scene for the better part of the last 9 months as Covid-19 rages on, and so somehow missed this when it was newly released.

The Waymaker represents a collaboration of Christian Liljegren (vocals), Jani Stefanovic (just about everything else but drums) and Jani’s wife Katja on vocals. While Christian and Jani are certainly no strangers to each other (released 5 albums between 2004-2011 under the moniker of Divinefire), the addition of Katja on vocals sends the music into a new dimension (did I just say that?) – one which the band claims is a more modern melodic metal appeal.

Listeners will decide for themselves if the music here is revolutionary, but I choose to focus more on the quality of the musical output. There is no disputing the integrity of the lyrical output and the consistent message these guys have been declaring for over 20 years – Jesus Christ is Lord, the giver of hope and life … the Waymaker! So the question becomes, how are they delivering the message differently from a musical standpoint?

The Best of Two Bands

If you are a fan of Narnia or Divinefire, the best way to describe this would be a great combination of the two bands – less symphonic, death-y and aggressive as Divinefire, but punchier and edgier than Narnia. While Jani’s vocals are present, the growls are quite less prevalent and more subdued. Christian gives his usual stellar melodic performance and the addition of Katja’s ethereal voice is a definite enhancement – her vocals a significant part of the mix.

Additionally, Alfred Fridhagen’s drum performance is noteworthy – a perfect mix of speed and rhythmic punch. C.J. Grimmark (Narnia) guests with a guitar solo on the Stryper cover of “Soldiers Under Command.” Expect the greatest quality sound and mix as Jani Stefanovic knows how to make metal sound massive. One criticism of Divinefire releases were that the music, at times, felt “over-produced” and too densely compacted with instrumentation.

In contrast, The Waymaker sound is powerful, clean and remains accessible with little to no over-indulgent “wall of sound” aggression. It is a great progression of sound for these guys. The mastering is courtesy Thomas “Plec” Johansson, so expect an exceptional listening experience.

The Songs

Side One

The opening title track is a perfect balance of speedy power and crunchy riffs, and a nice mix of the 3 vocalists as well. Instead of powering through with the same double-bass drum propelled push, there is a nice contrast going on here between the heavy and melodic. This song in particular reminds me of another Swedish band, Scar Symmetry, only Waymaker have the Christ-centric message. Even though it’s a shorter track, I feel this song best encapsulates what these guys are trying to put forward.

“Kingdom of Heaven” follows and similarly nicely mixes all the weapons the band has in its arsenal, Katja once again finding her voice piercing the metal with melodic bliss.

I will say that it is unusual to place a cover song as the third track on the album, but when you listen to this song, you will know why – this is the best cover version I’ve heard to date of the iconic “Soldiers Under Command.” This is probably my favorite Stryper song, certainly the most impactful for me, and so I am likely to be critical of much alteration in its execution. These guys nailed this – easily one of the best songs on the record. I love the faster, more aggressive – yet melodic – approach. Katja’s vocals add an element I’ve never heard with this song.

“Marching On” is the metal anthem king on the record, adorned with the infectious chorus crown:

“We’re marching on forever/We’re living for our King/We’re marching on together/We glorify our King”

The first side closes with a bonus instrumental track called “Prophet’s Sight.” If, up to this point in the review, I’ve left you with the impression that The Waymaker can’t bring it from an instrumental standpoint then I apologize. This track smokes, with some great interplay between the guitars and drums. The track acts as an intermission of sorts between the first 4 and the last 4 songs. Power metal bands often make the mistake (in my opinion) of using a synth-based orchestration either for an introduction or for an interlude, but “Prophet’s Sight” is a good old-school metal shred, and the entire album benefits as a result (as does the band’s cred).

Side Two

The flip-side starts with perhaps the most Narnia-like track on the album – “The Name Above all Names.” Christian’s strong vocal lead shows the way as he implores God “to break these heavy chains” and help us find our way to freedom.

“The Rain of Your Love” – the album’s ballad track – features the beautiful voice of Katja Stefanovic (song written by her), and the song is quite reminiscent of Delain and Within Temptation. She showcases her tremendous talent and passion on this track and I personally feel that The Waymaker would benefit from utilizing her talents just a bit more on most of these songs in the way bands like Lacuna Coil and Epica perfectly balance the ethereal with the more aggressive vocals.

This is followed by the power metal scorcher “I Am Sustained,” which has that distinctly Euro power vibe with tons of double bass drum underneath the guitar solo shred and classical keyboard soloing. Of the tracks on this record, this one feels the most like Divinefire, yet it retains the more melodic appeal of The Waymaker. Finally, “See the New Generation” once again recalls Narnia with just a bit more speed in the drumming.

This is an incredibly well-executed and lushly-recorded debut record for The Waymaker. Not only does it serve as a wonderful companion to Narnia’s From Darkness to Light (2019) but opens up a whole-new world of possibility and musical direction for this company of musicians and their fans. Independently released, this is available on CD and vinyl on Melodic Passions Records

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