An acoustic guitar has to be one of the most beautiful sounds to ever hit my ears. Even when it’s done shittily, there’s still a semblance of beauty in it. Yes, even in your shitty, fratty rendition of Green Day‘s “Time of Your Life” (you fucking know who you are). Jon Bonamassa can write a lick like it’s needed to live. Rodrigo y Gabriela can rock a Metallica song harder on acoustic guitar than Metallica can do on electric. And Johnny Cash, to the day he died, could pluck and strum a ballad that’ll play at all our funerals. On the metal homefront, Green Carnation‘s The Acoustic Verses and October Falls‘ acoustic compilation, Kaarna, are a couple of my favorite pieces of acoustic pieces. In their own ways—specifically vocals (or lack thereof) and strings (or, again, lack thereof)—they conjure up moods unlike the heavier side of the band’s catalogs. If you’re a fan of England’s Winterfylleth—and haven’t been living under a rock—this year’s The Hallowing of Heirdom is completely acoustic. No, I’m not talking about one or two songs. I’m talking about all twelve. Are you ready for this?
The first time I sat down with The Hallowing of Heirdom, I was in denial. With every song, I expected the sky to crack open and a dark sheet of black rain to pour from blood-red clouds. It never happened. And, as a result, I’m going to try to rate, compare, and measure The Hallowing of Heirdom against Winterfylleth‘s decade of atmospheric black metal records. For how much I hate the phrase, this is like comparing apples to oranges. It’s like listening to Bathory and Nordland II and being told it’s the same guy. To many, this new record will be a disappointment. To others, it will be a masterpiece. To some, it’s the definition of folky and Viking. To others, it’ll spawn images of tall men with daisies in their long, blond hair. Regardless of one’s initial thoughts, it’s the next level of experimentation for the band. And it’s pure beauty. Which’ll naturally, work well with the Angry (and Angery) Metal Guys.
The charm of The Hallowing of Heirdom is its simplicity, despite layers of folky, Viking atmospheres. On paper, it achieves what I would want from a record like this: Kaarna-meets-The Acoustic Verses, but you know it’s Winterfylleth. This is best represented by “The Shepherd,” “Frithgeard,” “Embers,” and “Resting Tarn.” The latter three are instrumental highlights. “Frithgeard” takes lush strings and soaring violins from the preceding “The Shepherd” to build a beautiful and powerful song that feels like Green Carnation‘s “Alone.” “Embers” and “Resting Tarn,” on the other hand, take their leads from the acoustic offerings of October Falls. They are simple, passionate, and well-placed interludes between the vocal pieces.
Of all the vocal-driven numbers on the album, “The Shepherd” is untouchable. As with each of the band’s albums, there’s always one song that stands out from the rest. And, on The Hallowing, this it it. From the opening moments it grows, it builds, it froths at the mouth to release itself from its seven-and-a-half-minute length. It’s got impressive guitar leads that act as a background to the surfacing strings and thick layers of Viking choirs. The latter elements are booming and powerful, harmonizing with beautiful masculinity. And, when it peaks, it’s fucking unforgettable. Unfortunately, this is the highest point of the record. Sad, because it’s the album’s first song. “Latch to a Grave” and the title track try to reach this apex but both stall. “Latch to the Grave” has an awkwardness in the first half that keeps it from peaking on the back. And closer, “The Hallowing of Heirdom,” doesn’t have the steam to power up the hill.
Other songs that try to rise to the levels of “Embers” and “The Shepherd” are the hooky “Æcerbot” and its instrumental counterpart, “On-Cýdig.” While both are good, they aren’t as memorable as the previous two. For the most part, the rest of the songs fill in the album’s gaps. And that’s the biggest issue with The Hallowing of Heirdom: it could benefit from some trimming. Though the entire disc is calming and beautiful, it’s fifty-five-minute length makes it difficult to absorb. That said, its smooth production showcases every pluck and strum, and it makes the keys and strings richer than they would have been.
An orange is an orange and an apple, an apple. Which one The Hallowing best represents, I don’t know. But it’s the furthest the band has have wandered from the beaten path. It’s courageous and, for its flaws, it’s good. With a little trimming, this would be a tight record that’d cement itself at the top of my acoustic favorites. That said, I can’t see acoustic records being a regular thing from Winterfylleth. So, I guess, you’ll have to take it for what it is.
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Spinefarm and Candlelight Records
Websites: winterfylleth.bandcamp.com | winterfylleth.co.uk | facebook.com/Winterfylleth
Releases Worldwide: April 6th, 2018