When I took the dog out for a nice long walk in the woods this morning it was rather foggy, and I took a few pictures as the scenery put me very much in mind of the kind of imagery that can be found on numerous black metal albums, such as “The Dark Hereafter” by Winterfylleth, Darkthrone’s “Panzerfaust”, “In These Woods, From These Mountains” from The Wretched End and “Death Of The Sun” by Wyrd.
Naturally this, coupled with the atmosphere such conditions evoke, led me to spin some black metal albums when I returned home. One of these albums found itself on repeat, and it seems more than appropriate that the record in question was “Pure”, the latest release from Norwegian band In The Woods…
The band formed way back around 1992 by three members of metal band Green Carnation – being guitarist Christian “X” Botteri, bass player Christopher “C:M.” Botteri and drummer Anders Kobro.
Adding singer Jan Kenneth Transeth and guitarist Oddvar “A:M” Moi, the band released three studio albums between 1995 and 1999 before the band split in 2000 after the release of compilation album “Three Times Seven On A Pilgrimage”.
In 2014 it was announced that the initial threesome of Botteri, Botteri and Kobro had reunited as In The Woods… and then last year came news that singer James Fogarty was to complete the new incarnation of the group. These four are responsible for “Pure”, with additional lead guitar provided on the final three tracks by Bjørn “Berserk” Harstad.
Looking at the few pictures of the band that can be found online you’d be forgiven for thinking that In The Woods… are not perhaps the happiest of bands. Lyrically, however, “Pure” would seem to counter that to some degree with lines such as “…a shining future waiting, a promise of the pure…” or “…we left the darkness, walking into the light…” to balance against mentions of darkness, black holes and grief.
Musically, the band are not straight forward black metal by any means. With progressive and avant-garde stylings present throughout their relatively brief back catalogue one could perhaps make comparisons to the likes of fellow Norwegian act Ulver. I felt there are echoes of modern-day Enslaved and Swallow The Sun to be heard within these grooves.
What’s beyond dispute (at least to my ears) is that this is the kind of album that lends itself perfectly to this time of year and the colder, gloomier weather that comes with it – just as the aforementioned Swallow The Sun’s epic three-disc “Songs From The North” from last year still does. Granted “Pure” cannot compare with “Songs…” in terms of scale and variety but more than holds its own as a great piece of work.
Opening with the title track the vibe is at once doomy yet spacey, and displays the album’s rich and warm production. Fogarty’s voice is powerful enough to stand out over the heaviness of the guitars, bass and drums and the compositions are both complex and accessible – which is no mean feat.
There isn’t a truly weak track on this record, but for me the picks of the bunch would have to be “Towards The Black Surreal”, “Cult Of Shining Stars” and the ten-minute-plus instrumental piece “Transmission KRS”. “The Recalcitrant Protagonist” isn’t far behind either.
Guitar work throughout the album is imaginative and impressive. Sometimes hypnotic and sometimes crushing, but never dull. The same can be said of the vocal lines too. I suppose atmosphere is the word that might best be used when thinking about the sound of this record.
Many reviewers have commented that the album sounds dated and disappoints in comparison to the group’s earlier work. Well, “Pure” is my entry point to the band so I am, I guess, in the fortunate position of not being able to hold it up against the likes of “Omnio” (1997) or the debut “Heart Of The Ages”. I wouldn’t agree that the material sounds dated, however. To me “Pure” is fresh, has vitality and is an organic sounding album that ought to see wider recognition that will likely be the case for a relatively low-key band in a niche genre. Good stuff!…
1. Pure / 2. Blue Oceans Rise (Like A War) / 3. Devil’s At The Door / 4. Recalcitrant Protagonist / 5. The Cave Of Dreams / 6. Cult Of Shining Stars / 7. Towards The Black Surreal / 8. Transmission KRS / 9. This Dark Dream / 10. Mystery Of The Constellations
I have talked briefly about Manchester-based black metal band Winterfylleth before, when they were the opening act at Behemoth’s 2014 show at the O2 Academy in Birmingham. At that time I mentioned that the band’s name is taken from the Old English for “Winter Full Moon”. Other sources have stated the word to represent an ancient heathen festival to welcome the first full moon of winter, and others still that it simply means “October”. The band’s own stance on this, taken from their official website, states that it “represents the first full moon in October as well as the Anglo-Saxon festival of the arrival of winter.”
Lyrically the group strive to portray “tales of England’s archaic history, re-counting major events, battles, the spiritual outlook of the people and the way they lived and even draw inspiration from certain sites and scenery that grace the countryside of England and have played an integral part in England’s history.”
This intent has led to accusations of racism in the past and the band describing themselves as English Heritage Black Metal is bound to draw comparisons with other bands who celebrate the ancient heritage of their particular countries. Inevitably this national pride is often viewed as national socialism, or simply put, Nazism – particularly during turbulent times such as those we find ourselves in these days with such fierce debate around subjects such as multiculturalism and migration where folk talking of their country’s history are often perceived as anti-everywhere-else.
I am not overly concerned with the personal views of the members of bands that I listen to, and take the view that the lyrics form a part of the whole package – just as plot elements of films and books do – and that I don’t have to agree with or endorse any such views to appreciate the music on offer, as touched upon when talking about Shining’s latest album “XI : Everyone, Everything, Everywhere, Ends”. That said, I do not personally feel that writing and singing about the history and landscapes of your homeland should be considered as racism and that too often these days political correctness does more harm than good.
Anyway, enough rambling – what’s the new record like, I hear you ask? Well, “The Dark Hereafter” is Winterfylleth’s fifth studio album and follows on from 2014’s offering “The Divination Of Antiquity”. The first thing to note is that whilst previous albums have nine or ten tracks and clocked in at around an hour, this one contains only five tracks and has a duration of just over 40 minutes.
Of those five tracks one, “Led Astray In The Forest Dark”, is a translated-into-English cover of a track first recorded under the title “Capitel I: I Troldskog Faren Vild” by Norwegian band Ulver back in 1995 on their debut album “Bergtatt – Et Eeventyr I 5 Capitler”. Ulver are one of the band’s primarily influences, along with acts such as Enslaved and Slavic black metal bands like Drudkh. The album artwork is also clearly influenced by the Ulver debut.
Another track, “Pariah’s Path”, appeared as a bonus track on the aforementioned “The Divination Of Antiquity”. This suggests that, even though band leader Chris Naughton reckons that they are about two albums further down the line in terms of writing they were perhaps a little short of inspiration when preparing for “The Dark Hereafter”?
Whether or not that is the case I do think it’s fair to say that this is another really good record from one of the shining lights of today’s black metal scene. It may not be black metal in the traditional corpse paint and Satanism sense, but there seems to be a definite shift in appreciation for history and nature in recent years and Winterfylleth’s music fits in with this perfectly.
This isn’t “summery” music. The soundscapes here compliment the colder and bleaker seasons and suggest the majesty and beauty of the beautiful lands in which we live. Beauty may seem like an odd choice of word for such harsh and brutal music but the elements of folk music (though there is less of that than on the previous albums) together with clean and choral vocals that form part of the sound help to give a broader feel to proceedings. I also think it’s perfectly possible to appreciate the beauty in our landscapes during the coldest and wettest times of year so see no issue with doing the same with the aural representation on this album.
Of the remaining tracks it is without doubt “Green Cathedral” that is the highlight and centrepiece of the whole record. Not only due to its length (using up 13 of the 40 minute total) but also due to the sheer expansiveness of the song. Apparently influenced by author Ben Myers who wrote “The Green Cathedral is a place, a series of places, a philosophy, a feeling, a mind-set, a movement, a lack of movement, a meditation. Many meditations. It is walking and running, sitting and seeing…” this is surely the group encouraging us to get out and reconnect with nature – or at very least imagine that we are doing so whilst immersing ourselves in the music (best experienced through headphones). A truly excellent piece of music.
Winterfylleth these days features founding members Naughton (vocals / guitars) and Simon Lucas (drums / vocals) joined by long serving bassist Nick Wallwork, new boy guitarist Dan Capp (who also does the artwork) and keyboard player Mark Deeks. Though the overall sonic template hasn’t altered much since day one for this distinctive outfit I do feel that each release has shown some progression and development from the previous one, and “The Dark Hereafter” is no exception.
Although if you discount the inclusion of “Pariah’s Path” it is essentially only really three new songs and a cover this is still a really worthwhile addition to the band’s catalogue. The title track and “Ensigns Of Victory” are good, if typical, Winterfylleth tunes, but the best of the record is without doubt the aforementioned “Green Cathedral” and the really great version of “Led Astray In The Forest Dark”. Well worth exploring as the winter draws in…
“The Dark Hereafter” tracklist:
1. The Dark Hereafter / 2. Pariah’s Path / 3. Ensigns Of Victory / 4. Green Cathedral / 5. Led Astray In The Forest Dark
I have just discovered a relatively new folk metal band, going by the name Wilderun. Unusually for this genre, the band isn’t from Europe but actually originate from Boston, Massachusetts.
Formed in 2012, the band comprises vocalist / guitarist Evan Anderson Berry, guitarist Wayne Ingram, drummer Jon Teachey and bassist Dan Müller and already have a well received album under their belt with debut release “Olden Tales & Deathly Trails”.
“Sleep At The Edge Of The Earth” is their second album, and what a good record it is. Opening with the acoustic instrumental “Dust And Crooked Thoughts”, I was reminded a little of the likes of the equally atmospheric “Children Of The Stones” by Winterfylleth, though I felt that this track is perhaps more Viking flavoured with the addition of choral sounds.
Then it’s into the four-song “Ash Memory” – a diverse suite that brings to mind European folk metal bands such as Ensiferum but also the progressive metal of Opeth. In fact the album as a whole should, I would have thought, appeal to fans of Mikael Åkerfeldt and Opeth, such is it’s breadth of vision.
The record is very well produced by the band and Jason “Jocko” Randall and is sonically rich – it sounds superb through headphones.
As well as the main guitar, bass and drums, and additional lead guitar supplied by Joe Gettler, other more folky instrumentation is employed by the band, including dulcimer, mandolin, autoharp and banjo, and there is some excellent cinematic orchestration arranged by Ingram and Müller that really enhances the whole listening experience.
Following “Ash Memory” is the nearly ten minute duration “The Garden Of Fire” where the Opeth comparisons feel particularly apt with a mixture of harsh and clean vocals and some decidedly Opeth-like guitar work. That said, whilst it may not be overly original it is nonetheless a demonstration of the very good songwriting skills of Berry, who composed the whole album.
“Linger” showcases the more mellow side of the band before the eleven minute epic “The Means To Preserve” which is a little like a snapshot of the record as a whole, containing, as it does, the full range of styles and tempos found throughout. A spellbinding number for sure, which leads to the closing title track which reprises the melody of the opening instrumental in a more cinematic setting – in fact, like the rest of the album, to my mind it could easily work as a soundtrack the TV series “Vikings”.
Bearing in mind that this is just their second album I am seriously impressed with “Sleep At The Edge Of The Earth” – a contender for top ten albums of 2015 without doubt…
“Sleep At The Edge Of The Earth” tracklist:
1. Dust And Crooked Thoughts / 2. And So Opens The Earth (Ash Memory Part I) / 3. Hope And Shadows (Ash Memory Part II) / 4. Bite The Wound (Ash Memory Part III) / 5. The Faintest Echo (Ash Memory Part IV) / 6. The Garden Of Fire / 7. Linger / 8. The Means To Preserve / 9. Sleep At The Edge Of The Earth
Inspired in part by the fact that yesterday was St. George’s Day, but also due to my music listening this week veering towards the extreme end of the metal spectrum, I have been listening again to Winterfylleth‘s “The Divination Of Antiquity” and Wodensthrone‘s “Curse”, both of whom celebrate the history of this country along ancient and pagan lines. In addition, I have been checking out the new album from Forefather, “Curse Of The Cwelled”.
Hailing from Surrey, Forefather were created in 1997 by brothers Wulfstan (lead vocals, guitars, bass) and Athelstan (guitar, bass, keyboards and backing vocals), both taking their names from prominent Anglo-Saxon figures.
As Forefather they have six previously released albums from 1999’s “Deep Into Time” through to “Last Of The Line” in 2011. Taking their inspiration musically from the likes of Iron Maiden and Burzum, Forefather’s lyrical inspiration largely comes from the Anglo-Saxon era of English history. Like many bands of their ilk, Forefather are often accused of racism for their celebration of English heritage – an accusation that we seem to do well in this country, arguably much more so than in countries where groups celebrate their own heritage, such as Scandinavian bands?
New album “Curse Of The Cwelled” (cwelled apparently being an alternative archaic spelling of the word quelled) carries on the band’s mixture of black / pagan / folk tinged metal, though are more melodic and accessible than many black metal bands.
A few thoughts on some of the songs contained on this album then, and what I believe to be the inspiration behind them…
The opening track “Havoc On Holy Island” starts with monastic chanting and sounds of the sea and goes on to tell of the Viking raid of Lindisfarne in 793 CE and is a mid-paced number, featuring strong melodies in the guitar lines, and instantly draws the listener in.
Viking invaders are again the source of the more furious sounding “By My Lord I Will Lie” – this time referring to the Battle Of Maldon in 991 CE.
The atmospheric title track concerns itself with the Norman conquest of the Anglo-Saxons in 1066 and the band’s belief that things began to deteriorate from then and includes some Old English narration taken from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the modern translation of which states “They built castles all across the land, and oppressed the wretched people, and afterwards it grew ever worse. May the end be good, when God wills”.
The effects of the aftermath of the black death on farm labourers and the like leading to the subsequent Peasant’s Revolt of 1381 CE forms the basis of “Rustics To Remain”, and closing track “The River-Maid’s Farewell” is a catchy instrumental number with a strong mediaeval feel.
Considering that Forefather are a two-man band who handle all the music and vocals this is a work of great accomplishment all round. This isn’t a genre, or lyrical area, that will appeal to all but for fans of the aforementioned Winterfylleth etc. this is well worth checking out.
“Curse Of The Cwelled” tracklist:
1. Havoc On Holy Island / 2. The Anvil / 3. By My Lord I Will Lie / 4. Fire Of Baited Blood / 5. Curse Of The Cwelled / 6. Awakened Hate / 7. Painted With Blood / 8. Rustics To Remain / 9. Edge Of Oblivion / 10. Master Of Fate / 11. The River-Maid’s Farewell
Friday 12th December 2014 – my second gig within a fortnight. It’s been a few years since I attended two concerts so close to each other! This one was for the penultimate show on Polish black metal band Behemoth’s “UK Satanist Tour 2014 E.V.” I hadn’t previously attended an extreme metal show, so no matter what, this was going to be an interesting experience.
Following the (presumably unintended) comedy security ensuring that the fans queuing up outside left a big gap, enforced by crowd barriers, for the entrance to the closed (and therefore unlikely to be used) car rental business next door, the doors of this 3,000 capacity venue opened at 6:00pm – showtime starting early to accommodate four bands before the venue’s curfew of 10:00pm – in place, it seems, to allow for the regular club night.
Having perused the merchandise stands and found a suitable vantage point to the side of the light and sound desks, at 6:15pm the show opened with Winterfylleth, a black metal band from Manchester. The band got together in 2007, and are dedicated to spreading the word regarding England’s historical ancestral past, folklore, and landscapes – indeed their name is derived from the Old English for “Winter Full Moon”. These themes definitely strike a chord with me, and I have enjoyed their four albums so far, from 2008’s “The Ghost Of Heritage” up to this year’s “The Divination Of Antiquity”
Unfortunately, and I cannot put my finger on why, Winterfylleth just didn’t come across very well live, to me. Visually, it’s a case of four guys wearing plain black t-shirts (and in the case of frontman Chris Naughton a plain black baseball cap too) and little in the way of movement. One might argue, fairly, that this is to allow the music to do the talking. On this front, though, their short set was a little too samey, not really allowing for much of the light and shade that graces their recorded output. With just 25 minutes to fill, the band’s tendency to the expansive soundscape meant that they were able to fit in a mere four tracks. This wasn’t helped by the guitars seemingly needing retuning between each number, which in itself caused momentum to slip a little.
1. Over Borderlands / 2. The Swart Raven / 3. The Divination Of Antiquity / 4. Whisper Of The Elements
1, 3 and 4 originally from “The Divination Of Antiquity” (2014) / 2 originally from “The Threnody Of Triumph” (2012)
Next up, after a very short break, were Swedish three piece heavy metal band Grand Magus. A more traditional sounding metal style, not a million miles from the likes of Manowar, with clean vocals and impressive and melodic guitar solos.
Although I had not connected greatly with Grand Magus on record before, I was familiar with some of their material – which is easily more instantly accessible than the extreme metal of the other bands on tonight’s bill.
Guitar retuning was again a feature here, though less so than with Winterfylleth, but the biggest issue I had here was that, because Grand Magus are your basic power trio – guitar, bass and drums – it meant that the lack of continued rhythm guitar underlying the sparkling guitar solos left an audible hole to fill.
Nonetheless, and despite the short space of time they had to fill, the band got the crowd singing along, and were very well received.
1. I, The Jury / 2. Like The Oar Strikes The Water / 3. Steel Versus Steel / 4. Triumph And Power / 5. Hammer Of The North
1 and 5 originally from “Hammer Of The North” (2010) / 2 originally from “Iron Will” (2008) / 3 and 4 originally from “Triumph And Power” (2014)
Following another short break it was the turn of Decapitated, a technical death metal band from Poland. Formed by guitarist Wacław “Vogg” Kiełtyka in 1996, the band have released a series of impressive albums, culminating in their latest two albums, 2011’s “Carnival Is Forever” and 2014’s “Blood Mantra” achieving top twenty status in the U.S. Heat chart.
A very impressive light show accompanied the band’s brutal riffing and Rafał “Rasta” Piotrowski’s death growl vocals, and helped to visually accent some relentless drumming. Not an easy listen by any means, but I felt quite captivated by the sheer power and ferocity being exuded from the stage.
1. Veins / 2. The Blasphemous Psalm To The Dummy God Creation / 3. Blood Mantra / 4. Pest / 5. Exiled In Flesh / 6. Instinct
1, 2, 3, 5 and 6 originally from “Blood Mantra” (2014) / 4 originally from “Carnival Is Forever” (2011)
At 8:40pm the house lights went down again, which was greeted with a huge roar from the crowd. The atmospheric intro tape began to roll the for the headliners, black metal giants Behemoth.
Out of the darkness came the slowly building opening of “Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel” with bassist Tomasz “Orion” Wróblewski and guitarist Patryk “Seth” Sztyber standing, hooded, on platforms either side of Zbigniew “Inferno” Promiński’s massive white drum kit in front of a huge backdrop depicting the band’s sigil, whilst frontman Adam “Nergal” Darski stepped up behind his elaborate microphone stand – like some kind of cross between a church lectern and a Roman standard – and began to unleash an epic performance.
Started by mainman Nergal in 1991, Behemoth have gone from strength to strength, with each album being, to my ears, musically and sonically superior to that which had gone before it.
Latest album “The Satanist”, the band’s first since Nergal’s successful fight against Leukemia, is a superb recording. Sprawling, grandiose, intense and brutal with orchestral and choral backing adding even further colour to the intricacies of the band’s music.
I must confess that my initial reactions, as I discussed the gig with my wife the next day (she didn’t come with me, with extreme metal not really being her thing) were that there were too many intro tapes between songs and not enough interaction with the audience.
On reflection, however, and having spent the past week with “The Satanist” on regular rotation on my virtual turntable, I now feel somewhat differently about the whole experience.
From the moment the lights went down just before Behemoth’s set began, the show became almost a religious experience.
If you weren’t aware of the lyrical content of the band’s material, the message was quite clearly visually presented. There was a lot of symbolism – the sigil backdrop, the band’s double headed eagle on the platforms, the hoods that they wore when they came on stage, the corpse paint and blood, etc. Add to that a fantastic light show, with the reds being particularly effective in adding to the aesthetic I feel.
Musically, however, is where things count the most. And it’s here that Behemoth really triumphed. I believe that something that detractors of heavy metal, and extreme metal in particular, often overlook is the sheer technical ability of many of the musicians involved. Well, Orion’s fluid bass playing anchored everything perfectly, meshing with the phenomenal drumming of Inferno.
Having played drums myself, I can honestly say Inferno’s speed and technique is frankly awesome! To play the way that he does, utilising all four limbs simultaneously at breakneck speed may not be unique in this genre of music, but still his performance was very impressive.
On the guitar front, both Nergal and Seth played with ferocity and precision. Razor sharp rhythms and devastating leads all combining to an all out attack on the senses.
Finally, Nergal’s vocals. Whilst black metal lyrics are often near impossible to decipher without a lyric sheet, Nergal’s delivery is one of the most accessible that I have heard, without sacrificing any of the “nastiness” required. Behemoth performed a brilliantly paced set, visually and musically compelling from start to finish.
The encore brought the closing track from “The Satanist”, the excellent “O Father O Satan O Sun”. As the track reached the midway point, the lights dimmed for a moment whilst the music continued, and when the red lights shone on the stage again it felt akin to a kind of black mass.
All four band members were wearing horned masks (like those on display in their “Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel” video), Seth and Orion standing back up on their respective platforms whilst Nergal stood still directly in front of Inferno’s kit, playing the hypnotic final section of the song whilst the spoken word part was played:
“O Lion-Serpent Sun, The beast that whirlest forth, a thunder-bolt, begetter of life! Thou that flowest! Thou that goest! Thou Satan-Sun, Hadith, that goest without will! Thou Air! Breath! Spirit! Thou without bound or bond! Thou essence, air swift-streaming, elasticity! Thou wanderer, father of all! Thou wanderer, spirit of all!
Hear me, and make all spirits subjects unto me; so that every spirit of the firmament and of the ether, upon the earth and under the earth, on dry land and in the water of whirling air, and of rushing fire, and every spell and scourge of god may be obedient unto me.
Thou spiritual sun! Satan, thou eye, thou lust! Cry aloud! Cry aloud! Whirl the wheel, O my Father, O Satan, O Sun!”
1. Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel / 2. Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer / 3. Conquer All / 4. Decade Of Therion / 5. As Above So Below / 6. Slaves Shall Serve / 7. Christians To The Lions / 8. The Satanist / 9. Ov Fire And The Void / 10. Furor Divinus / 11. Ludzie Wschodu / 12. Alas, Lord Is Upon Me / 13. At The Left Hand Ov God / 14. Chant For Eschaton 2000 / 15. O Father O Satan O Sun!
1, 2, 8, 10, 11 and 15 originally from “The Satanist” (2014) / 3 and 6 originally from “Demigod” (2004) / 4 and 14 originally from “Satanica” (1999) / 5 originally from “Zos Kia Cultus (Here And Below)” (2002) / 7 originally from “Thelema.6” (2000) / 9 and 12 originally from “Evangelion” (2009) / 13 originally from “The Apostacy” (2007)