Ester SegarraSTREAM
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2008: Winterfylleth, having laid the foundations of their UKBM style with The Ghost Of Heritage, are the subject of a Rapid Fire piece in these very pages. But already, the band were embroiled in controversy over their inference of lessons for modern society from the Anglo-Saxon past. In 2014, though, history, cultural identity, and our relationship with the landscape seem less like the preoccupations of right-wing fanatics and re-enactors than some of the central concerns of our time. On the eve of new album The Divination Of Antiquity, vocalist/guitarist Chris Naughton and Will Pinfold discuss past, present and future.

“A message of social change, of anti-establishment and of reconnecting with history and culture, is a positive message that needs to be put through an epic, uplifting lens. Thus, the music we make spans the full spectrum of emotions.

There are many refreshing things about Winterfylleth: the windswept grandeur and savagery of their music, their never-ponderous complexity, and from the point of view of the interviewer, their lack of black metal posturing. They make passionate music they care about and want people to hear – seems obvious, right? But in this, as in many things, Winterfylleth are not the average BM band. ‘Cold’ isn’t only a buzzword of BM; it’s a principle-turned-cliché. But for every frosty riff in Winterfylleth’s armoury, there’s a warm, expansive vista. The band doesn’t just sing about the moody landscapes adorning their albums; they evoke them through sound, and never more effectively than on The Divination Of Antiquity. Metal’s preoccupation with history has mostly been with its more violent aspects, but while that’s part of Winterfylleth’s vision, their examination of modernity through the values/spirit of the Anglo-Saxon world requires a more subtle approach, as Chris explains: “I think music should speak to people as well as the words, and I feel you can craft songs to have emotional peaks and troughs to lead you through the story you’re telling. Some politically motivated or change-motivated music can suffer from being a little simple in its delivery, with the point being to get the lyrics across. To me, you need both, and having great music, as well, makes it stick in your heart even more because it’s exciting in more than one way. Maybe that’s a very un-black metal outlook, as historically, the genre has been about nihilism, anti-religion, etc. We are those things, but in our wider social narrative, rather than overtly. I also think that a message of social change, of anti-establishment and of reconnecting with history and culture, is a positive message that needs to be put through an epic, uplifting lens; thus, the music we make spans the full spectrum of emotions.” This message is central to all of Winterfylleth’s works, and The Divination… continues the theme. “It’s about the process of divining, learning from things that have gone by in the past. It is also about how we don’t learn from history, and repeat ourselves as a people rather than taking forward our mistakes and making the world better.”

Perhaps because it’s often imbued with the bitterness and melancholy of experience, this positive message hasn’t always been perceived as one. In fact, a large part of the metal (especially BM) scene should be aggrieved by or even jealous of the media reaction to Winterfylleth. Even the most apparently serious of bands espousing hatred for mankind is rarely treated with the fear and caution that has surrounded the band. Whatever your political standpoint, there’s an irony in the fact that it’s more acceptable to sing about raping and disfiguring women or drinking the blood of Christians than about the culture of your nation. “I think it’s because people have no attention span and never look into things in more detail,” Naughton continues. “They just read the headlines and make their own minds up, which is dangerous and is indicative of the way social media and celebrity culture have overshadowed the need for wider reading and education within a lot of younger generations. I think we’re almost the pariahs here, and people view ‘black metal’ as being what bands like Watain do. This is probably not wrong; I just don’t want to start trying to be a parody of early 90’s black metal, and would rather relate our output to more positive – to me, at least – subject matter. There are thousands of bands who sing about Satan and dwell in the territory of supposedly evil subjects. The thing is, they are in a realm of what is essentially fantasy, so it’s easy to accept because it’s harmless to do so. I think when you start talking about something real, or true, it becomes wholly different for people and provokes a reaction.  I think if you don’t react to these reactions you find yourself in a world of superficial and subjective conjecture based on people’s fears of what they are told is socially acceptable. It’s a worrying place, but one we find ourselves in.”

The storm which engulfed Winterfylleth in their early years had brewed for some time, and although in retrospect, it’s easy to see that an atmosphere of McCarthyism had tainted the scene, it’s also true that BM has a history of outspoken xenophobia and racism in some quarters. But if the then-new generation of UK/Irish BM bands initially raised alarm bells with their passionate interest in national history and identity, it’s also true that the intelligent, historically informed way they tackled these themes has helped to cool that same moral panic. But the UK is one thing – are international audiences as receptive to the culture and mythology of the Anglo-Saxons? “I think it varies, as there will always be people who like you for the music rather than the concepts and people who like you for both. I think you have to connect with people on both levels or they won’t delve deeper into what you have to say. Our experience of other countries has always been very positive, and I think we’ve definitely won a lot of people over at shows who’d never seen us before. I think that UKBM has a real buzz for many people now in Europe and beyond, and I had many conversations with people from both ends of the spectrum, in terms of either full conceptual/political/social discussion through to just pure riff-worship, so there is no doubt still work to do.” Back in 2010, Winterfylleth graced the cover of ZT: a significant moment, not just because their second album, The Mercian Sphere, had fully crystallised their vision, but because they were part of a vital movement of likeminded bands. Heady days, but the momentum has yet to ebb… “Yeah, I think so,” Naughton nods. “A lot more bands have started to emerge as a result, particularly from Scotland with bands like Falloch, Barshasketh, Cnoc An Tursa, Haar, and many others coming through. I think now is a good time to be in a black metal band from the British Isles. When we’ve spoken before, I felt like we were an up-and-coming scene, whereas now, I feel like we are being taken more seriously on a global level and are being accepted beyond our shores. Obviously, I’d like to think we’re still at the front of that movement and have inspired others to come along with us, but I’m not sure we’re in a position to judge that.” On the evidence of The Divination Of Antiquity, it’s a fair judgement.

The Divination Of Antiquity is out now on Candlelight Records
This feature originally appeared in Zero Tolerance Magazine, issue #061.

061_MF winterfylleth - cover onlineREVIEW
The Divination Of Antiquity
Candlelight Records
Winterfylleth are probably due a backlash around now; but based on The Divination Of Antiquity it won’t be starting here. Significantly, for the first few listens, a strange fault in either headphones or laptop rendered the album purely instrumental; and it sounds massive. Hearing it again with the vocals in place it is harsher, but no less effective. Essentially (and this is where a lot of criticism may be accrued), the band has done nothing new with their sound, which remains epic, melodic black metal in a pretty familiar vein. In comparison with predecessor The Threnody Of Triumph,though,  it’s all more cohesive, more subtle and at the same time more powerful. Yes, it’s BM, but for the most part the tone isn’t – despite the tremolo-picked riffs and blastbeats – ‘grim and frostbitten’, instead the deep, multi-layered sound and vast, sombre melodies have a kind of organic warmth that matches the sweeping green landscapes that grace every Winterfylleth album cover. Predictable maybe, but ‘heritage’-leaning black metal is probably not the place to look for innovation anyway; what The Divination Of Antiquity does is to broaden Winterfylleth’s sound, perhaps inevitably allowing for more melody and gentle elements, such as the über –atmospheric ‘A Careworn Heart’.  This is not to say that the band don’t take risks; for all that their preoccupation remains the distant past, there’s no sense that these are guys who dress up as vikings at the weekend making a record (not that there’s anything wrong with that per se).  Winterfylleth’s focus on the Anglo-Saxon world has always been used as a mirror for modern times, highlighting themes such as ecology, continuity and national identity in a contemplative (if emotionally charged), rather than jingoistic, right-wing way. On the evidence of this album it wouldn’t be at all surprising if the band is on a familiar trajectory towards an ever more accessible, commercial and melodic sound, but for the moment their lyrics and ideas are matched by music that ranges from the brutal to the beautiful but is always highly effective.
will pinfold 5 (out of 6)



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