Fellwarden – Wreathed in Mourncloud Review

Be present. Find your center. Breathe. Since I started working from home in March earlier this year, I’ve finally started to feel the effects of working at a desk all day as a software engineer. As a result of spending a particularly exorbitant amount of time sitting in one place, programming and tuning into online team meetings from the office/studio room in my apartment, I’ve by necessity upped the ante on my occasional yoga practice. I’ve tried out a variety of online platforms and try to find small pockets of time to squeeze in a twenty minute class every other day. The themes I’ve observed instructors from different programs draw attention to such as “breathe deeply,” “come as you are,” and “be present in the moment,” are common threads, which when combined with gentle stretching and movement, are vastly calming. It’s these themes I’ve observed as being integral to a yoga practice which reinforce my skepticism whenever I come across an advertisement for metal yoga (yes, this has happened on more than one occasion!). What does this mean?! Are the poses more “metal” or do the instructors simply blast metal music during class? What kind of metal music? But while listening to Fellwarden‘s new album Wreathed in Mourncloud, I finally caught a glimpse of what a soundtrack to metal yoga might be! 

Fellwarden is an atmospheric black metal project created by Fen frontman, the Watcher and joined by fellow Fen drummer, Havenless. Much like many black metal projects we know (think Agalloch or Panopticon), Fellwarden’s music is inspired by the nature that surrounds them. For the Watcher and Havenless, the nature that surrounds them means the rearing landscapes and quiet, understated majesty of the fells of North-Western England. Wreathed in Mourncloud is the followup to their first full-length, Oathbearer released in 2017. Wreathed in Mourncloud is gentle, soothing, and cathartic, which is why I stand by my claim that it’s suitable for a yoga studio.

Fellwarden’s specialty is an intensely melancholic yet hopeful sound. The plodding chord progression opening “An Elder Reckoning” reminds me of my favorite song from the Inception soundtrack (“Time”), and the warm ambience and fuzzy guitars later in the track resemble the spacey atmosphere of Slowdive. Wreathed in Mourncloud’s title track is my favorite of the bunch. It starts off with a delightfully grief-stricken reverby riff floating above a bed of arpeggios before giving way to classic tremolo picking, blast beats, and raspy, snarly vocals. But while Wreathed in Mourncloud (which, by the way, what is a mourncloud?) is expansive and soothing, I don’t find the album the least bit memorable. It doesn’t explore any new avenues in the atmoblack space nor do I get any sort of clear message from the album’s six tracks. Doing my best to not sound impolite, dull is the best descriptor I can give of Fellwardens’s newest 55 minutes of music.

If I hadn’t just listened to Wilderun’s opus Sleep at the Edge of the Earth again a few days ago, my review of this album might not be so lukewarm. Fellwarden’s songwriting and orchestration on WiM doesn’t even begin to compare to Wilderun’s lush and intricate folk metal recordings, and the vocals on WiM were consistently a harmful distraction. Track after track, the vocals sound off kilter, lifeless, and starkly out of tune. The piano intro on album closer “Upon Stone” provides hope for a more impressive track than any other on the album. The beginning sounds more or less anthem-ic à la Coldplay or U2, but it was game over for me yet again as soon as the vocals came back into play for one last rousing hurrah a minute in.

All in all, WiM is a mellow atmospheric black metal record that won’t let you down if you want to feel something. As demonstrated by the higher quality material of related band Fen, I don’t think Fellwarden have yet released an album which lives up to their potential. Let’s hope Fellwarden come back with a more bewitching album next time around. On a closing note, this talk about metal yoga is leaving me more curious than ever to know what the experience is really like. Are the windows shrouded in billowy, black curtains? Is the air thick with burning sage? For now, I’ll be continuing my yoga sessions from the comfort of my apartment so I guess I’ll have to leave it up to my imagination. Namaste.

Rating: 2.0/5.0
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Eisenwald
Websites: fellwarden.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/fellwarden
Releases Worldwide: June 26th, 2020

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