I am quite the fan of Wehrkamp, I rate him highly both as a guitar player and as composer, mostly for his work in USA prog rock/prog metal band Shadow Gallery, that I love very much both for the music and the lyrics he’s written. In my experience Shadow Gallery are quite unusual because despite being Americans they have devoted entire albums to themes like pacifism and anti-capitalism (Tyranny - 1998; Room V - 2005) and open-mindedness and mutual understanding (Legacy - 2001) for example. From a musical standpoint (and Gary Wehrkamp is one of the main composers of the band), their songs range from fast paced and aggressive to more calm and acoustic, but in any case they are always well-articulated and have multi-layered arrangements: even the songs that are easier to listen to are quite complex and sophisticated when you analyse the various instruments. Wehrkamp solos are at their best when he highlights his speed and precision, and often he uses them as an element in the song to build up a great symphonic crescendo; in my opinion he is not as good when trying to be expressive, but he is all in all a great musician.
Unfortunately, I found almost nothing of what I love about Wehrkamp in If it's Real. Almost all of the songs have the same tone and structure, and I found nothing really deep or surprising in the composition. A couple of them try to set a faster tempo, but all in all I found it a slow album.
The general lyrical theme is concerned with loss: of love, of faith, of hope. Though this is not really my cup of tea, I believe the emotional content is where someone might find resonance with the album. I’d suggest it to someone who likes works of a more personal nature, to someone that maybe is interested in the theme of strained relationships between adults, one who values the poetic contents of the lyrics and sees the music just as an accompaniment and not as a central part of the album. In Italy we have cantautori, songwriters akin to poets (more often than not they are not good singers, nor players) who use music as a base to express their thoughts, frequently concerning love or the lack of it, sadness, depression, betrayal and so on. I found If it’s Real very close to the works of the cantautori in terms of themes and the singing style, but musically is this is more elaborate, so I surmise many people could like it.
It’s very different from metal or prog metal, something I’d define as pop/rock. Even the harsher riffs in Two Years and Too Late are not in my opinion enough to shift the balance towards metal. However, this does mean that Zonder and Wehrkamp have succeeded in stepping outside their previous boundaries and expectations.