The way the English media tends to hype up their musicians is simultaneously cute and annoying. Whether it’s an indie rock group or, in this case, a black metal act, they never fail to hail almost every other band as “the next big thing.” Manchester’s black-metal-meets-paganism-and-folk quartet Winterfylleth had the luck (or misfortune) of being one such band. Cherished from their debut throughout their following two albums, the media set the expectations high, very high. And the band succeeded, for the most part, as they are commonly regarded to be one of the best current bands in their respective genre. Undeserved praise? Yes and no.
The truth is that Winterfylleth are a good band. Not stellar, not the best, but good. Their new release, The Divination of Antiquity, is a straight continuation of their previous efforts. It’s also a better album than The Threnody of Triumph from 2012. But no tectonic shifts occurred between the two releases and the band presents us with more of the same somber, English folk infused black metal. Not a bad thing in itself, of course.
The problem lies elsewhere; in the wear that can be felt in the songwriting, the déjà vu that the sound of some of the riffs bring forth. In reality, there are many similar, creative bands out there today and Winterfylleth, I’m afraid, fail to differentiate themselves. While listening to their music, it becomes hard not to think of bands such as Falkenbach, Primordial or Drudkh, to name just a few. It’s all been done before and often done better. Maybe that’s too harsh of an assessment since there’s strong material on this record and very nice moments scattered throughout the eight songs.
The tunes can be sorted into two groups based on subtle alternations in style. On one hand, there are faster and aggressive straightforward black metal tracks, accentuated by lots of tremolos, such “The Divination of Antiquity” and “Warrior Herd.” On the other, a richer and fuller sound rules the music and emphasizes doom-like moods and riffs on tracks like “A Careworm Heart” or “Whisper the Elements.” It’s on these maudlin songs that the band sometimes finds itself on the wrong side of the divide between the kitschy and the tastefully emotional.
It also feels as if the folk influences are less pronounced on this album. These elements are pushed in the background, becoming part of a constantly present source of inspiration, and only show themselves in full light on the acoustic “The World Ahead” or within some wonderful, surprising harmonies such as the ones on “Over Borderlands” and “Foundations of Ash.” It’s these moments and surprises that make Winterfylleth a better band. A nicely incorporated “pagan” chant or a wistful, beautiful melody which will make you feel like you’re standing on an edge of an enormous cliff, watching the ocean break against the rocks. Or something else, picturesque like that.
The second part of the album feels better thought out and features standouts such as “Over Borderlands” and the atmospheric and well-rounded “Forsaken in Stone.” All in all, the album feels a smidgen too long and the tracks a bit too repetitive, especially if we consider the bonus track “Pariah’s Path” that appears on some releases. It also seems they like try too hard to be epic, as if the themes and lyrics of the songs (paganism, British heritage, etc.) weren’t epic enough. The technical side of the record doesn’t disappoint. The sound is good, no lo-finess that could usually be attributed to black metal, but most acts stopped sounding lo-fi some time ago anyway. The only downside of the production is that the guitars carrying the harmonies and the super fast tremolos are sometimes pushed into the background and sound muffled, more like atmosphere-creating tools rather than proper, dominant electric guitars. The musicianship? Nothing stands out, but neither is anything out of place: the drumming, the guitars, the vocals, everything is up to scratch.
Not much has changed since Angry Metal Guy reviewed The Mercian Sphere. He would still find Winterfylleth boring. But the truth is that within the context of pagan/folk black metal, they have released another noteworthy, good album. In the broader scope of things, there have been and will be better metal albums this year.