Winterfylleth, by now, should be a name familiar in black metal circles. On the eve of the release of their seventh studio album, “The Reckoning Dawn”, we spoke to Chris Naughton about all things related to the band. Their love for English heritage and culture, and the importance of knowing your roots.
There is a common misconception that interest in ones heritage is a sign of elitism. Some go as far as to consider such things as racist or ring-wing fascist ideology. Which is far more often than not distant from the truth. The dictionary defines nationalism as an ideology and movement that promotes interest of a particular nation. Especially with the aim of gaining and maintaining the nation’s sovereignty over its homeland. In a word; history.
This is a topic that has followed England’s Winterfylleth for almost as long as they have been a band. And needs clarification. Adoration for ones culture does not denote that of other cultures or societies. As such, Winterfylleth’s five members are eager to create art that echoes back to the vast and fascinating history of their homeland. Of England. A nation with a lot of history – much of which can still be visited and seen today.
The term black metal was coined by England’s Venom – yet English black metal has yet to really flourish as you might think. Sure, bands like Cradle Of Filth had their moment in the sun, before turning more towards the Goth scene. Bal-Sagoth too had a great run. In more recent years, the torch has been carried by bands like Fen and Wodensthrone – and of course, by Winterfylleth.
With the eminent release of the groups seventh studio recording, the time was right to speak to the bands guitarist and vocalist, Chris Naughton.
Winterfylleth describe themselves as “English Heritage Black Metal”. Music made to celebrate the rich culture of England.Our heritage is our inheritance – what the past has conceded to us, what we value in the present and what we choose to preserve for future generations. In this case, as was the way for many generations – Winterfylleth weaves tales of ancestry through song.
Heritage is the history, unique knowledge, values and traditions that have developed by a combination of genes and environment over time. Heritage, whether it be national, cultural, or family is an endowment of unique sets of historical knowledge; but foremost, heritage is your history. It is responsible for how we came to be, it is a very large part of who and what we are, and it can determine what we will become. As humans, we are free moral agents; because we can determine our future to great degrees, we may delude ourselves into thinking the past has no impact on us. But choices and past events have very profound and long-lasting impacts on any decision we can possibly make; therefore all decisions or choices made now are done so in the context of the past.
“I think it’s incredibly important to be aware of your own history and culture throughout the ages; despite it being a much-maligned sentiment in this modern world”, comments Naughton. “I think lots of people – who often have quite a fixed mindset – can’t seem to separate the idea of history, culture, heritage (and taking pride in that), from some kind of assumed populist mentality. How can people truly have a sense of who they are if they have no idea where they’ve come from? A tree with no roots will ultimately die after all, and I think we can all agree that is a bad thing. Too often we are told that a veneration of heritage and the culture in which a people have come from is a bad thing, and there is deliberate focus cast on the negative things that have manifested from a culture. But we should not let this detract from celebrating and learning about the aspects and traditions of our heritage that have made us who we are today.”
“It seems to be quite an emotive thing to connect with your traditions, literature, folklore and myths of place, and culture, but we see no issue with that and want to interest others in it,” explains Naughton. “I like that there are folk tales, riddles, mysteries and esoteric stories that arise from these isles, that could easily rival that of anywhere else. It just seems to have some kind of stigma because its from the United Kingdom. But when things like Norse mythology have become an almost cartoonish subject matter for many, its nice to be able to walk a different path from that and find the beauty and interest in our own surroundings. A listen to our previous album “The Hallowing of Heirdom” would show you some interest and striking parts of our history that we explain in depth in the liner notes.”
There is something about the black metal genre that lends itself so well to history. Perhaps due to the roots of the genre itself. Like the history of England and many other cultures, black metal’s roots are bloody and controversial. Meaning not every aspect can be showcased as a highlight. There has been moments where black metal has been bleak. Soaked in murder and carnage. It was born out of a disdain for the usurping of Scandinavian culture. As a rising and very violent protest against Christianity for the way it paved over the heritage and culture of places like Norway, seeking to completely eradicate the past.
“I think the idea of storytelling, mythology, folklore, nature, esotericism and spiritualism all play into black metal really well,” says Naughton, “as they allow you to relate otherworldly or poignant stories from the past to modernity using atmospheric music. That is of itself quite evocative. Given that black metal is mostly geared around creating atmosphere and feelings for a listener, they just seem to gel together really well in that context as well. Winterfylleth songs are often about relating stories of old to the struggles of the modern world. So we tend to write lyrics that focus on certain aspects of modern society and use them as a critique of it; or perhaps as a point of interest to incite the interest of others in it. Matching that to a song depends on the mood of the track and the sentiment of the lyrics. We tend to write each in isolation and then marry them up when we record them; usually based on which ones fit the mood of the music best.”
English Heritage is the guardian of over four-hundred sites and monuments, the most famous of which include Stonehenge, Iron Bridge and Dover Castle. It is a land replete with visible history and culture. Medieval castles, mysterious carvings and stone monuments – buildings, roads and bridges left over from the Roman invasions. England, the United Kingdom and Ireland are a wealth of culture. There are more than enough places to visit. It would surely take a lengthy lifetime to take them all in. And that doesn’t even take into consideration the sites on the neighboring Isles and countries.
“Winterfylleth has always had a spiritual connection with a little place called Castleton in the Peak District,” says Naughton. “It’s where the hill Mam Tor is, and its where the cover image of our first album “The Ghost Of Heritage” was taken; at Peveril Castle. For me, that’s a great place to visit, as there is a lot there. Mam Tor, Peak Cavern, Blue John Cavern, Peveril Castle, the walks up Winnats Pass and Cavedale and so on.
Scandinavian bands have long sung about their heritage without much criticism.Yet there has been accounts of controversy about Winterfylleth’s choice to create music based around English heritage. Strange, that some can celebrate their backgrounds while others are frowned upon for doing the same. Most of those controversies are a decade old now. Yet some like to drag up the past. Funnily enough, to use the past against a band known for creating music music – that deals with the past.
“Sure, there have been some controversies, as I mentioned before, but that’s more to do with people’s misunderstandings and assumptions, rather than anything real,” states Naughton. “We have an open-door policy in a sense. Its easy to say things blindly online, but why not come and ask us personally? Our social accounts are open if anyone feels passionately enough to debate about things. Most of the time they are not and are only basing their judgments on a top-line sentiment, so just want to cast it out into the world to seem antagonistic to what they think we are. An easy thing to do when it costs you nothing I guess.”
The bands newest body of work, “The Reckoning Dawn” follows an album that stepped away from what one might expect. “The Hallowing Of Heirdom” was a very well received acoustic album. Folk type tunes about, well, folklore. The days where black metal bands focused on purposely making their albums sound their absolute worst are long gone. The evolution of the genre has seen all manor of non-traditional instruments an ideas permeate their way into the sound. To use one of the legends of the style as an example; Ihsahn released an album earlier this year, chock full of saxophone segments – and it works surprisingly well.
“I think it follows, that if you’re a creative person, or ‘creative people’ in our case, then you never really stop writing,” says Naughton. “While we do have more focused weeks/months of writing, as a band, when we are preparing to do an album recording, I think there is always a base level of writing that’s occurring in the background anyway. That considered, I find its generally good practice to leave a guitar lying around the house, as ideas can just come to you in the moments you pick it up and start playing it. While that may sound obvious, I know some artists who only ever write when they are writing, and don’t necessarily do it at any other time.”
“To me, that can create quite a pressured scenario for creativity and may not always lead to your best work; as the ideas may not always have the space to grow and be critiqued properly. So, I like to take the view of writing things with no immediate end in mind, and then coming together every eighteen months or so to make the ideas into an album. Its not always so simple to do that with everything else in life, but that’s generally how we work.”
“When it comes to returning to the Black Metal sound, I don’t think that was ever in question. We are a Black Metal band, and its mainly what drives us; as fans and as writers. When we started to make “The Hallowing Of Heirdom” it was never originally going to be a Winterfylleth album. But as things progressed, we knew that it had to be one. Equally, it was never meant to be a permanent deviation in sound for us, but rather an interesting slant on the band’s sound that could open up different audiences and events to us. I think its fairly well known that other black metal bands have made credible acoustic albums, or used acoustic instruments in their music, and I guess we are no exception. Folk music is important in the bands history and so we wanted to prove to ourselves that we could make a credible folk album that encapsulated the atmosphere and the emotion of the Black Metal albums, but without the use of distortion and electric guitars. I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of us doing something else in that style, as it was, and is, an important side of the band’s sound.”
Perhaps further exploration of the acoustic medium would be interesting. Maybe Winterfylleth can incorporate some historical sounds and instruments to go along with it when that day dawns. Perhaps draw from the other Isles and countries that share similar culture. Whose histories are intertwined. Pipes and wind instruments would be interesting, in my opinion.
“We had a number of acoustic ideas left over after “The Hallowing Of Heirdom”. One of them became ‘Absolved In Fire’, which is track three on the album. So while we explored some of it on this album I guess we were more focused on making a metal album again and were not as keen on revisiting the acoustic material so soon. So, we didn’t do a lot with the other ideas we had. I think we will do something with them, when the time is right, and the mood takes us.”
Whenever the term black metal is used, the conversation will almost always harp back towards the great Scandinavian countries that made the genre what it is. One of the bands, Enslaved, was covered by Winterfylleth for the new record – and their rendition is something to experience.
“We went on tour with Enslaved in 2012 when we released “The Threnody of Triumph” so we became great friends with them during that; and have always been big fans of their music anyway. I think “Frost” is an album of theirs that we all love and wanted to cover a track from. The original track is pretty chaotic and was recorded by the band when they were young, so sounds quite raw versus their newer material. I guess we were keen to give it the Winterfylleth treatment and put it into our tuning, sing it in English and try to reign it in a little. I think it came out really well and I’m pleased with it.”
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“Grutle Kjellson (Enslaved) has heard it and I was talking to him about it the other day. We actually re-named it from ‘Wotan’ to ‘Woden’, as that represents the version of that God’s name in our native tongue.”
Winterfyllth’s pre-sales for this new record, released during a global pandemic, are impressive. That’s if their bandcamp page is anything to go by. All of the physical media options show as sold out. Meaning that people like myself, who waited too long, will have to wait for a second pressing to secure themselves a proper copy. Digital downloads remain available, however.
“I think its important for us as a band to use this opportunity to still put out the album, and maybe bring people a little excitement or hope, in what have been quite dreary times. It didn’t make sense for me to sit on the album when it had already been manufactured and when we could potentially use it as a tool for good. I know it has brought a lot of people a point of interest while they are locked in the house, and I think that is why we wanted to do it. Whether or not that’s the right decision commercially is yet to be seen, but that’s not what this is about right now, and I hope our fans would want to check out and buy our new albums regardless of the situation. So lets hope we were right.”
Surley, Chris Naughton is correct – and let end off by saying the bands new album deserves to sell well. It is one fantastic slab of English black metal.