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To Unknown Shores - 75%

Tengan, October 14th, 2014
Written based on this version: 2014, CD, Candlelight Records

I have to admit I never really got into the folk-influenced black metal scene, with Skogen and Winterfylleth being the notable exceptions. The former for their melancholic beauty and the latter for their combination of aggression and subtle melodies. Needless to say ‘The Divination of Antiquity’ has been highly anticipated after its slightly uninspiring and lukewarm predecessor. The Englishmen has not so far made any giant leaps musically but still evolved their sound from album to album. This, their fourth full-length bears all the traits of being an odd relic from 9th century England, a time when the land was plagued by Viking attacks and every day was a struggle for the lonely wayfarer. An echo from the past, yet still a glimpse of an uncertain future, a future well hidden on past efforts by the quartet.

From a strictly musical standpoint fans of old will get few apparent surprises really. The drums move swiftly between a controlled mid tempo and a frantic up-tempo, controlling the intensity firmly throughout the album. The tremolo-heavy guitars more than often move in the mid- or doom-tempo seen on earlier works with a slight shift to more numerous slower passages. This tempo contrast towards the drums has worked well on their earlier albums in creating an underlying tension and does the trick once again. Working from a fundamental subtly folk-influenced riff on most songs, variation comes from small changes in the riff structure, hooks and smooth transition passages. Small means, yet effective in making 7 minute songs seem to pass in half the time. More apparent though is the more frequent use of beautiful melodic leads that lifts many songs on ‘The Divination of Antiquity’. Despite being clear as the rest of the production the guitar sound is the bands thinnest to date and lacks proper force, it feels almost constrained. The screaming black metal vocals, familiar to the initiated, however compensates admirably for the lack of power in the guitar works. Despite being held back in the mix, they bring pure power into the equation. Something lacking though is the clean vocals that brought for instance ‘Defending the Realm’ (both versions really) to amazing heights. Only present at the end of ‘Forsaken in Stone’ it fails to bear the conviction of earlier works. This is partly compensated by numerous chanting choirs throughout the album, but they do not quite do the trick.

From a strict musical standpoint this is an improvement over ‘The Threnody of Triumph’, but does not reach the brilliance of the debut and sophomore discs despite growing slightly with each of the so far seven spins. ‘The Divination of Antiquity’ does however offer an emotional journey seen on few albums ever before. A journey that with a bit of imagination is a logical continuation of the bands cover arts. Starting out with the aggression of the dark and perilous moors and mountains, the band evolved into more melodic and emotionally sophisticated territories with the incorporation of more and more tranquil and restful watercourses. Taking a glimpse at the cover of ‘The Divination of Antiquity’ one can correctly assume that this has simply culminated.

Starting out in the moors and mountains the listener is thrown between struggle and despair, melancholy and short reliefs. Familiar feelings for the fans, executed with experience and conviction, yet without that up-front aggression. In ‘A Careworn Heart’ however the tide turns quickly. Epic and beautiful it bears sanctuary and solemn relief to the fold. A stunning track! A last struggle quickly follows to reach the shore where security awaits, and yet uncertainty of what will come. The acoustic piece (the only one on the album) ‘The World Ahead’ is almost prophetically titled. The album then closes with the journey to unknown shores. Despite changing few parts of the musical formula compared to the opening tracks, the album ends with less intensity, more beauty and familial safety intertwined with a slight unease of the coming unknown.

Albeit growing with each spin, yet not reaching the musical peaks of the mountains of old, ‘The Divination of Antiquity’ sees Winterfylleth taking their well-established formula into emotional territories previously unknown. A journey leaving the listener with a sole question: ‘What will come to pass?’

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