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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