Winterfylleth – Home is Never Behind

Sunday, 31st March 2013

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The notion that black metal is a geographically-influenced entity has waned over the years. Thanks to the style’s sonic expansion and our hand-wringing over what constitutes a black metal band and what doesn’t, the odes to wilderness, fjords, and the earth have been reduced to a mixed message, spread across from supposedly Cascadian realms to the apropos Norwegian landscape. While the core principles of BM are as obvious as ever, the number of bands that truly uphold the style and spirit in such (for lack of a better term) “spirited” manner are few and far between. It’s probably why then, Winterfylleth’s new The Threnody of Triumph is the year’s preeminent black metal entry. It’perfectly encapsulates black metal with substance, pride, and (there’s that word again)…spirit.

Hailing from England, this four-piece uses a lyrical foundation of British heritage and history, along with a measured, melodically throttling assault. The band rarely muddles in transition; their attack is focused and on-target, resulting in broad-appeal (at least for the black arts) numbers that are both extreme and digestible. Alas, The Threnody of Triumph is deserving of the high praise we leveled at it, and should give Winterylleth the appropriate nudge to make them England’s elite black metal band.

We caught up with guitarist/vocalist Chris Naughton to discuss the band’s third album, the state of English black metal, and a whole lot more. Read on… You’ve never shied away from the English black metal tag, and now it seems there’s nice little push coming from you, Wodensthrone, Fen, and A Forest of Stars. What do you think has spurred interest in your scene? Perhaps people are looking for an alternative to the Scandinavian bands?

Chris Naughton: I don’t think there has ever been a really strong presence of black metal from the UK in the global scene. There is this whole idea about Venom starting it, but it was never really followed up on. It feels as though the UK is always a hotbed of new ideas, but that other countries always execute them much better than we do, in the shorter term. I think this was/is definitely the case with black metal historically, in that there were never really any UK bands doing it or really being recognised for it, other than say Cradle of Filth, Hecate Enthroned and Bal Sagoth.

I think that more recently (last four-five years) that UK bands have really found their way a lot more and have come up with some genuinely novel approaches to doing black metal. From my perspective it seems as though some, if not all the UKBM bands have shed the need for this rigidly orthodox image and style in place of new and original interpretations of what BM means to them. It’s very much the case with all the bands you mentioned and I would include bands like A Forest of Stars in there as well. It seems like each band has a desire to do something that matters to them and not to be a parody of the forebears of the genre or the 90’s Scandinavian bands. I genuinely think that bands from the UK are great at innovating and I think we always have been; even outside of metal. So it seems that now we find a few great bands doing something that means something to them, and it becoming a cohesive, global force of music that many people are relating too. Long may it continue! In a strange twist, you hail from a country where black metal was supposedly spawned via Venom, yet here you are with a degree of authenticity Venom never quite had. It makes one think about how far black metal has come since the 80’s, wouldn’t you say?

Naughton: As I mentioned before, I think it’s because the approach of the modern bands is perceptively more sincere in many ways. Many bands are no longer toying with comical and characterised ideas about Satan or anti-Christianity and are looking toward ideas that mean something to them, that have a social relevance or are intrinsically more serious than what has come before. It’s a little difficult comparing the new bands to the old bands because the musical, social and political landscapes have changed so much in the interim that bands are now having to react to modern situations and challenges. Back then, bands like Venom were breaking the ground of what was fairly unchartered territory for a genre that was finding itself; and one that was offensive or taboo for many people. These types of barriers have been broken in the time in between and so many bands are now looking to do something a bit more real or relevant now that people are engaged with metal as an art form. As it usually goes, a band’s third album is usually the most critical and I think you’ve delivered on Threnody of Triumph. You’ve really capitalized upon your strengths from the first two albums, yet this one feels more lively and spirited. Upon hearing the finished product, what was your resounding sentiment?

Naughton: We were obviously very pleased with the finished product. It can be quite a daunting task coming into your third album, so I think we were glad that we’d nailed another strong album. When your second album is so well received I think there will inevitably be a bit of self-imposed pressure upon the writing. I think once we realised that we just needed to write a record that we thought was great and just did what we do, and then it came quite naturally. I think we wanted more of the epic and passionate feelings to come out in this one and upon hearing, it I think we were all pleased that we’d managed that. Well as far as we viewed it. The reviews we’ve seen so far seem to be in agreement as well, so I’m hoping that people get behind this one as well as they did behind the last one. In comparison to The Mercian SphereThrenody has more of a melodic underbelly (i.e. “The Swart Raven,” “The Fate of Souls After Death”). What brought upon this change?

Naughton: I think the idea was to try and develop the emotion and dynamic in the music a bit more on this album, so I think that is the reason. We worked more on the lead guitars, layering and melody which I think comes through in the final thing. It’s strange because I would say the album is dark and melodic, so it really draws upon a number of sides of our sound and is a bit of a juxtaposition between the music and the concept. I’m particularly enamoured with the acoustic/violin interlude “Aefterield Freon.” It’s expertly placed in between “The Swart Raven” and “A Memorial.” Who’s responsible for the amazing violin work?

Naughton: My partner Caroline is responsible for the violin parts on the album, as indeed she was on the last one. She’s really rooted in the folk traditions of this country and it is great to have some of her creative input on the more acoustic/folk/ambient material. It was always an ambition of ours to pay tribute to the early music of our islands, and I think in these acoustic folk songs that we really do that. As well as this we’ve also been working on some traditional songs for a release after the album. More details to come! Keep your ears to the ground. For the last album, you used The Codex Exoniensis as your lyrical inspiration. Since a threnody is an ode to lost loved ones or friends, who are you directing it to?

Naughton: I suppose it’s about things on numerous levels. It’s about the transition of a person as they move through the stages of death and is a testament to how our ancestors believed in spiritual ideas such as this. On the other hand, it’s also a wider social commentary about the state of affairs in the world and the imposition of power over us all. It’s open for personal interpretation so I would like people to relate to it and not give too much away. You’ve based a lot of your lyrical focus on nature and your British heritage. It’s a topic few bands from your country are willing to tackle, so do you feel any sort of responsible in telling these stories through your music?

Naughton: Well, the reason Simon [Lucas, drums] and I met was over an appreciation of history; in particular the stories of the Peak District and our local area. We wanted to start playing black metal based around the stories and history in which we were so interested and bring them to other people. I think we also wanted to reconnect people to their history and backgrounds, because we feel that a link to history can have important applications in the modern world. We need, as people and as nations, to learn from our mistakes and triumphs to make sure that we are mindful of them in our policy making and decisions in the now. As such, this theme of history and its powerful lessons has always run through our lyrics. As for responsibility, I think it’s more a passion. People should be responsible with the information and do something with it. In America, there’s a noticeable lack of awareness for our country’s forefathers, especially from our youth. Have you discovered similar notions in Britain?

Naughton: Absolutely, that’s why we started to do what we do. I’ve talked a lot in interviews about the link between knowledge of your heritage and the struggles of now. I think it’s a social and cultural issue that many people are disconnected from their history and do not value knowledge in the same way as in the past. Without going into too much detail, I have a feeling that there is a power construct within governments and society that perpetuates this disconnection to remove people’s identity and impose things such as the EU upon them, particularly within Europe. We need to oppose it and a knowledge of the past is a way to do this. The cover art is simply breathtaking and I’m guessing it’s a shot from an area close to your homebase. Can you elaborate?

Naughton: The artwork was taken by the very talented Sara Lovisa at Austere Photography. The image is of a scene in Snowdonia, in Wales. A little further from home than say, the debut album, but a beautiful image of the UK countryside. On the live front, how are the new songs translating? Some are awfully long, so it must be a test of endurance for some of the guys…

Naughton: We’ve held back playing lots of them live until the album is out, so it’s still a bit of an unknown quantity in some senses. We’ve been playing “Void of Light” at most shows, as this is the one we’ve put out on samplers, cover mounts and that the label has been streaming in preparation for the album. I tend to find it quite self-indulgent when bands roll out loads of their new album before people have even heard it, so I wanted to wait till it was out. The first chance people will have to see some new stuff live is our set at Damnation Festival in Leeds in November. After that we will start to include it a bit more, but until then we’ll be getting to match fitness on those songs and seeing which will translate best into a live environment. Finally, what’s on the agenda for the rest 2012, going into 2013?

Naughton: We are playing Damnation Festival on 3rd November at Leeds Uni and in London with Anaal Nathrakh on November 30th. We will be planning a tour for 2013 and trying to get out to the festivals again next summer. The new album is out now, so pick up a copy and keep supporting what we do, as we couldn’t be where we are without you all.

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