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For whatever the protestations laid against it by many with a long-term involvement, the British underground metal scene, the birthplace of countless great acts down the years, has in recent times been the bearer of some great fruit, notably on the black metal side of the fence. No longer content with merely aping the works of our northern Nordic cousins, it seems the tide is turning towards the creation of atmospherically rich, ambient infused black metal within which Winterfylleth, Wodensthrone and Altar of Plagues are among the leaders and in a delicious perk of the job, I've been given all three to review - first in the spotlight, Manchester residents Winterfylleth...
Thanks to a recent appearance on the cover of the esteemed Zero Tolerance magazine and a last minute addition to the Bloodstock bill, Winterfylleth have seen themselves become the focal point for the UK black metal movement. With an image stripped to it's core essence, that is devoid of the clichéd BM corpsepaint, spikes, leather, pseudonyms and even long hair, all that is left to judge the band on is their wonderfully rich and organic, Drudkh-influenced tomes, which on second album "The Mercian Sphere" has reached superlative levels of beauty and majesty, right across their expansive plains of heathenish black metal, clean vocal verses and acoustic ambience. Big words indeed, but one listen to opening track "Gateway To The Dark Peak / The Solitary One Waits For Grace (The Wayfarer Pt I)" will reveal all of this to be true as the reverberating vocals of C. Naughton gracefully morph into some of the most heroically proud clean chanting I've yet heard come from a metal band. "Awakens He, Bereft Of Kinsmen (The Wayfarer Pt II)" continues in a similar, albeit more relaxed vein; "The Fields Of Reckoning" is stunning and uplifting despite it's sonic extremity, while "The Ruin", "When The Woods Were Young" and "The Honour Of Good Men On The Path To Eternal Glory" all realise the acoustic and ambient air that breathes throughout. Underneath the band's innate ability to vary these feelings and moods is however the stellar performance of the harsh black metal core; most akin to recent legends Drudkh and Negura Bugnet it also recalls older Enslaved and Ulver while maintaining an audible and approachable feel. If honesty had a sound, this would be it.
The band's lyrical themes are worthy of examination too. Espousing the mundane fictional Satanism of 'true' BM Winterfylleth have ironically found themselves sounding more 'true' than most by pursuing a path close to their hearts - English Heritage, with an aim to bring awareness to England's historical stories folklore, landscapes and ancestral past. It's intelligent and well-researched and worthy of backing the nobility and bravery that has been weaved into the structure of each song.
If this were the only great blackened/folkified album coming out of Britain this year it would still be a year to remember, but to have serious competition in the form of Wodensthrone is great for the health of the scene. Metal needs bands and albums like this, in an age where the true essence of the genre is slowly washed out with polished productions and copycat acts, Winterfylleth have made a great mark on "The Mercian Sphere" that is worthy of being lauded amongst the greats of this particular corner of black metal.
Originally written for www.Rockfreaks.net
British black metal is boasting a wealth of talent these days. The likes of Winterfylleth and Wodensthrone may be relatively new names on the global scene but they’ve been doing the rounds for years within the United Kingdom, steadily growing in fan base and reputation. ‘The Ghost of Heritage’, the Manchester based bands full-length debut, was an instant hit, particularly with followers of the black metal scene from within the United Kingdom. Bands like Winterfylleth, along with acts such as Iceni, Lyrinx and Wodensthrone tirelessly work on the live circuit within the British isles promoting their work and only now are they reaping the rewards that their efforts deserve. Winterfylleth have been shown great faith by heavyweight record labels such as Profound Lore and now Candlelight Records but they’ve always repaid the favour with stellar full-length albums.
First in the form of their Pagan-inspired debut, ‘The Ghost of Heritage’ and now with their sophomore follow-up, the very successful ‘The Mercian Sphere’, another tribute to Anglo-Saxon heritage and worship of bands like Drudkh and Ulver, two global brands of atmospheric black metal in a similar vein. Winterfylleth’s style hasn’t altered much from the first album which saw a Pagan brand of black metal being executed well. The album opens with ‘Gateway to the Dark Peak/The Solitary One Waits for Grace (The Wayfarer Pt I)’, a song which makes great use of Winterfylleth’s ability to use harmonised backing vocals, as well as a strong lead vocalist. The use of clean backing vocals occurs occasionally during the course of the album, something which adds a lot to the intensity of the atmosphere, as well as offering a more diverse sound to the band than acts like Drudkh perhaps don’t wish to explore. Although both bands are masters at creating memorable riffs, albeit Winterfylleth have a much catchier sound to their guitar work, as shown wonderfully on songs like ‘Defending The Realm’.
The acoustics, as well as the clean vocals, is also a ploy used on the part of the band to emphasis the folksy vibe in the atmosphere, a theme which was also explored on the debut, though with much less clarity. The production feels somewhat altered. It feels cleaner and clearer, leaving the listener with a much more satisfactory basis with which to analyse the music from. The production is still very bombastic in sound, highlighting the drumming and guitar work particularly well. The cleaner sound, despite the use of heavy double bass work and distorted guitar effects, allows the material to become far more comprehensible than on the previous album which took some getting used to due to the heavy style. The lighter moments, as on all three parts of the trilogy of songs on the album, are exemplary of how Winterfylleth cleverly work aspects like cleanly chanted vocals into the heavy atmospherics.
The glorious folk and Pagan mixture is wonderful and not too “flowery”, like some black/folk bands can make a habit of coming across as. When Winterfylleth do hammer their folksy roots, these aspects are done beautifully and tastefully in the form of Ulver-inspired songs like ‘Children of the Stones’, an acoustic and string based instrumental which clearly highlights the bands creative and diverse range of talents. The song writing hasn’t vastly improved, but it didn’t need to. It has made some headway as far as allowing the cleaner aspects to have more of an impact, but these elements remain infrequent and sparse. The bombastic, atmospheric black metal moments akin to acts like Drudkh, in particular Drudkh’s style of repetitious but hypnotic guitar work (as featured on songs like ‘Defending The Realm’ and ‘The Ruin’ in particular). The vocal approach is still very much the same.
Occasionally decipherable rasps that match the intensity of the instrumentation. They work side-by-side with the instrumentation to create an epic barrier in each of the songs, bar the quaint instrumental. Although I still very much love the debut, this sophomore feels far more “epic”, a word which has become more frequently associated with the British legions of black metal bands, such as Winterfylleth and Wodensthrone in particular, due to their association with folkish and Pagan inspired themes. Winterfylleth have had to be a bit more creative, and selective, with their work on this album because this sophomore does feature a number of longer songs ranging between seven minutes and two ten minute epics. Songs like this require a lot of patience as the build-up is generally quite slow, albeit very interesting and intriguing due to the use of acoustics on songs like ‘The Honour of Good Men On the Path to Eternal Glory’. All in all, this is a marvellous follow-up to a solid debut and with the continuance of such work, it’s only a matter of time before Winterfylleth find themselves conquering the atmospheric black metal world.
In recent years Britain has seen a wealth of very impressive artists rearing their heads from its rather stagnant black metal scene. These artists have renewed the vigour of Britain's metal scene and, with their longing for a time long past, perhaps renewed the strength of those Britons proud of their heritage. Among these bands is the band in question here. Winterfylleth are a band for whom heritage and the preservation of such is very important and this comes across through their chosen genre, a rather Pagan-styled black metal, and their lyrics.
'The Mercian Sphere' is the follow up to Winterfylleth's excellent debut album 'The Ghost of Heritage', released in 2008, and it is most certainly a worthy successor. This time around the songs are often longer and sometimes far more diverse in sound. While a pounding yet melodic black metal base is certainly still in place there are various interesting ideas abound here. Take, for instance, the haunting and mystical folk/neofolk sounds of 'Children of the Stones' and 'When the Woods Were Young' which do far more than set an atmosphere. These songs are worthy folk songs by themselves. Wistful and beautiful with melodies that feel as though they could have come from a time long ago. Another deviation from the general black metal sound can be found in 'The Wayfarer Pt.3 – To Find Solace Where Security Stands'. The song moves from an intense black metal sound through various movements to an eventual epic and very stirring guitar section which reminds me a little of one of Winterfylleth's influences, the legendary British Anglo-Saxon metal band Forefather.
That is not to say that album does not contain a wealth of blasting black metal excellence, however, as many of the songs such as 'The Fields of Reckoning' and 'Gateway To the Dark Peak/The Wayfarer Pt.1 – The Solitary One Waits For Grace' are intense and reminiscent of black metal of bands such as Drudkh except with a somewhat more immediate sound.
A highlight of the album for me is the fantastic 'The Ruin' which moves from a very heavy and pummelling black metal introduction to a melancholic acoustic guitar section with the vocalist whispering his lyrics in a voice with an echo effect. This always sends shivers down my spine and represents, to me, the feel of walking through a ruined castle thinking about how it became so. The eventual movement back into a heavy and driving riff with the vocalist roaring the fantastic line 'Hence to reign hereafter... The Angle!' is very effective and a fantastic juxtaposition with the quiet midsection. The two epics of the album 'The Honour Of Good Men On The Path To Eternal Glory' and 'The Wayfarer Pt.3 - To Find Solace... Where Security Stands' are also highlights. Both of them being like ancient tapestries woven brilliantly from many different sounds. 'The Wayfarer Pt.3...' in particular is a fantastic conclusion to the 'The Wayfarer' trilogy with its epic guitar melodies and inspiring sound.
'The Mercian Sphere' is definitely one of the highlights of the music of 2010 so far for me. I would recommend the album to anyone looking for an inspiring ode to times long gone or, in fact, anyone who has an interest in the Pagan or nature-inspired spheres of the black metal genre. With bands like Winterfylleth, Iceni, Wodensthrone and Fyrdsman Britain seems set to reclaim its place as an important country for metal.
Along with their fellows Wodensthrone, Manchester's Winterfylleth represents one of the brightest hopes from the Old Country in terms of honoring their forebears with forceful, melodic reckoning sorrow delivered like a charge to battle. The young band's debut The Ghost of Heritage was a fresh record when it released two years ago, and the band seek to expand upon that and perhaps take advantage of their leap from Profound Lore to Candlelight Records. Armed with tales of warfare and pride, they've lined up nearly 70 minutes of newer material, with the exception of the newly revised "Defending the Realm", which has an additional minute tacked on.
The style is not exactly novel for a band with pagan intentions. Black metal rasps or hymnal cleans over riffs that are perhaps more melodic and atmospheric than the genre's occult/Satanist forefathers, and through the storming assaults the band will break for an acoustic piece with some whispered vocals, like the winds of olde that have carried their inspiration into the young minds (i.e. "Children of the Stones", which is somewhat haunting). I was quite surprised to find many of the longer, harder tracks not so fulfilling, like "Gateway to the Dark Peak/The Solitary One Waits for Grace (The Wayfarer Pt. I)" or "Awakens He, Bereft of Kinsmen (The Wayfarer Pt. II)". The album sounds excellent, and the band do not lack for dynamic ability, its merely a lack of truly inspiring riffs.
Once one delves further into the album's contents, though, they meet with more satisfactory results, like the glinting steel that shines beyond the rolling tones upon "The Fields of Reckoning", or the epic "The Honour of Good Men on the Path to Eternal Glory", which mixes a tasteful, substantial acoustic intro with some desperate, hard riding rhythms that descend one into the melancholy of more innocent times. Days when conquest and honor were acceptable mediums, before England and Europe began its descent into corporate cess and the inevitable identity crisis it now suffers. The other lengthy piece, "To Find Solace...Where Security Stands (The Wayfarer Pt. III)" is also quite worthy, never quite risking to bore the listener. I also enjoyed the sprightly acoustic "When the Woods Were Young" and the swollen glories of "A Valley Thick With Oaks".
I won't say I was thrilled with The Mercian Sphere, and in fact I was not as impressed as by their debut album, but this is hardly a letdown if you're seeking something inspired by more than the usual demons and goat sacrifices, and I'm always happy to see a group of men or women grasp their roots with fondness rather than forgetfulness. They can write, they can play, I just think they could write material a little more interesting than what we're given on the sophomore. Half the tracks are bloody good, but the remainder are just passable. A slight push in variance, a more complex twist in some of the thundering, melodic barrages, and they'll have a master's grasp on their rustic window to the past (and, if society continues to fall to pieces, their potential future).