English black metal band WINTERFYLLETH have returned with their third album in as many years, but determined to step away from the shadows that have followed them since their formation, CHRIS NAUGHTON tells Louise Brown how British metal is back in black.
“The idea of a ‘threnody’ is that of a deathly ode, poem or lament to those who you have lost and is a way of honouring their memory,” explains Chris Naughton of Northern England black metal collective Winterfylleth. New album ‘Threnody Of Triumph’ is, well, a triumph, continuing their uncompromising attack on Britain’s less than stellar black metal output, frontman and guitarist Chris and his colleagues, Nick Wallwork (bass), Mark Wood (guitars) and Simon Lucas (drums), have been driven to unleash three full-lengths in as many years, all more accomplished and ambitious than the last. Gaining critical acclaim, front cover status and live bookings galore (as well as the odd left-wing bashing, more on that later) Winterfylleth are a beacon of black metal Britannia.
“The album is based around the idea of how our forebears viewed spirituality in terms of how the soul and the body were linked and how the transitions through death worked,” Chris continues, explaining the themes behind their latest opus and the English eccentricity that weaves its way through everything Winterfylleth do. “The album is a linear narrative of a person dying and starts with their soul and body conversing about how they thought it would be ‘A Thousand Winters’ until they were to part. The album then moves through the bird of carrion coming to collect the spirit [‘The Swart Raven’], the body being buried [‘Æfterield-Fréon’] and having an elder tree put on its grave to protect the spirit from evil spirits, as is local custom in the high peak near to where we live. Moving into ‘A Memorial’ it is about grieving and finding comfort in what is left around you on ‘The Glorious Plain’. On ‘A Soul Unbound’ we finally reach a point where the soul is untethered from the mortal realm, until ‘Void of Light’ where it is fully entrenched in the transition between worlds. The next track ‘The Fate Of Souls After Death’ is fairly self-explanatory, ‘Home is Behind’ is the soul’s acknowledgement that has to move on. The final track ‘The Threnody Of Triumph’ is then about the people who miss the dead person coming to terms with the loss.”
It’s an in depth and stunning explanation. When so many bands tend to write lyrics as an afterthought it’s refreshing to see a band put so much scholarly discipline into their work. However, Winterfylleth’s insistence on celebrating English tradition and folklore, married with musical influence that unashamedly borrows from Burzum and Hate Forest has landed our four Northerners in a pickle.
“I think there’s a political message that runs with some of the people behind those bands that’s perhaps not positive but I think our musical influence comes from their music, the way they wrote the riffs and the feeling that they had in their music, not necessarily what they had to say,” Chris explains, frustrated at having to constantly defend himself against accusations of National Socialism. “I think we were quite keen to have something socially-relevant and that was about something we cared about and was positive. There’s always flak around but you have to be able to separate the individual from the output sometimes. In everything we do we are aiming to educate people about social issues and raise awareness of the link history can play in interpreting the modern world. Even if our songs are not always directly related to it, then underlying spirit that runs through Winterfylleth is that of change and of awareness. If our music makes you become more interested in history or in social issues then it has done its job.”
Not wanting to muddy an exceptional album with yet more shit-slinging and convinced, having known the band for some time now, that they are not the raging Nazis that they’ve been accused of being it’s interesting that Chris rarely gets asked about his religious beliefs, after all that’s at the forefront of all his music, much more so than the political stance. With ‘Threnody Of Triumph’ following the spirit from death to afterlife, is this album showcasing a spiritual side to the band?
“It is more of a narrative about ancient spirituality and the stories of ancient Britain, so is not a reflection of a personal spirituality of the band,” Chris is quick to point out. “In terms of my own personal views on faith, religion and humanity, they are firmly rooted in rational thought and atheism. To me, religion is our first, and worst attempt at explaining the world and it baffles me how humanity has been so short-sighted as to perpetuate it for so long. I’m not sure I can remember what I ate for breakfast last week, how on earth people give credence to a book written so long after the event, by people who couldn’t even have known what occurred is beyond me. Not only was it written so long after the fact, but it also came from some of the least educated and superstitious parts of the world in an era where societies further afield were way more socially and technologically advanced; holding no such beliefs. Through generations of wars and through violent coercion, religion has gotten into our establishments, governments and policy making; with people now perpetuating it as the norm. This is called cultural hegemony and we are all victims of it; some of us have just wised up to that fact.”
So while Chris is definitely not spending his Sunday mornings at Mass he’s certainly not sleeping in. An avid reader of books on history, folklore and politics, he is also a country boy, shunning the inner-city for the tranquillity of his surroundings.
“All the stuff we talk about wasn’t born in cities,” he says. “It was village communities and little outposts and different communities of people that lived in the Peak District [where the core of Winterfylleth live]. There’s a lot to learn by going out to the country and connecting with where you’re from, y’know? We always bang on about how great the British Isles are and how great the stories are so it would be kind of hypocritical if we didn’t go out and practice what we preach and go and look at those things and the natural environment.
“My favourite place to take my hound for a walk is in the Peaks. There are so many beautiful places to go walking out there and it’s a great location to get some fresh air and gain perspective. Places such as Derwent, Castleton and Edale are all amazing places to go walking. Besides the fact that they are beautiful parts of the world, they are also steeped in interesting history and folklore. So you can learn something as you go along. Getting out of the city is great, it gives you chance to come down from the stresses of city life and is something most people probably don’t do enough of.”
The folklore elements that Chris talks of interweaves its way into Winterfylleth’s music. Not a folk metal band by any stretch, however there are elements of folksong throughout their output, with acoustic passages and vocal harmonies that are reminiscent of England’s song and dance tradition. This has lead to the band being asked by Roman Saenko, of Drudkh and Hate Forest, to contribute to a forthcoming compilation on Season Of Mist of band’s performing their own homeland’s musical history.
“We did a version of ‘John Barleycorn’, I think that’s one of the most quintessential folk songs there is,” Chris explains. “It’s the one everyone seems to know whether they’re young or old and we’ve got quite a dark version of it. We also did an English version of quite a famous song called ‘Twa Corbies’, song about a solder who has died and these three ravens who want to eat him and then we did an instrumental one actually, which is from a place called Abbot’s Bromley. They have this dance they do one a year at night, so we did our own interpretation of the repetitive tune that they play. It’s really cool to be able to do a non-metal record.”
Although Winterfylleth are a four-piece they have, on this album and their last, 2010’s ‘The Mercian Sphere’, been joined by Simon’s sister, folk musician, Caroline Lucas. “She’s my partner so we discuss things all the time and all the good and the crap that I write so it’s good to have her perspective on stuff,” Chris reveals. “It’s interesting, bouncing ideas off a non-metal person and she’s quite musically learned as well, which is always pretty useful. That definitely helped, having another kind of crap filter on the album.”
Her violin accompaniments, particularly on ‘Æfterield-Fréon’ showcase a band willing to take their compositions beyond the realm of buzzing black metal nihilism, but it’s important to know that Chris has been playing and learning his craft for over 20 years.
“I didn’t start off playing guitar,” he admits. “I started off playing in all the crap bands you have at school, doing whatever instrument they ask you to do and playing bloody recorder like everybody else does in this country. When I picked up the guitar I was maybe 13 and when I finally found out how to play I started [drone-doom band] Atavist in 2003. We messed around with that for a year or two until we got Jamie Sykes from Burning Witch in the band which was brilliant. At the time I was in quite a bad relationship and I saw that that was coming out in all the albums – it might as well have been called ‘I Have No Interest In Going Out With You Anymore’.” he laughs. “Pure teenage loathing! Simon was in the band by that point and we were like ‘this isn’t really where we’re at any more’. You kind of find your feet, don’t you? We’d always been into stuff like Hate Forest, Ulver, Enslaved, so we just decided we were going to start making records that were a bit more black metal. We’d always had this interest in history and y’know, Simon is kind of Mr History and was really up on all the folklore stuff so we talked about what we were interested in and what Winterfylleth could be.”
Forming in 2007 Winterfylleth couldn’t have come at a better time. Black metal in the UK had been vomited forth by Venom in the 1982 but had since taken a nosedive with notable stand-outs being Cradle Of Filth’s early output and, well, that’s it.
“I think that’s one of our proudest things,” Chris says of Iron Fist suggesting that he perhaps helped black metal return to its birthplace. “We were approaching it on our own and in doing so we came across people who were doing it too but in a different way. We met Wodensthrone, A Forest Of Stars, the early incarnation of Falloch and all these guys that were doing a very similar thing. It’s strange isn’t it? I always felt that we had a really crap BM scene over here. If I sit here and think about it really hard I can think of about three British black metal bands and even then in a loose sense. There was Bal Sagoth, Hecate Enthroned and then Cradle Of Filth. I’ve said in interviews before that we, as a group of nations, have this way of creating music; think about all the great stuff that’s come out of England: heavy metal, punk rock, indie rock, yet everyone else seems to get them and run with them and do them better than us.”
With ‘Threnody Of Triumph’ those days are gone. Hail England. Hail English black metal.
Originally printed in Iron Fist #1
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