Saturday, 14 August 2010

Winterfylleth - The Mercian Sphere (2010) 90/100.

British black metal is boasting a wealth of talent these days. The likes of Winterfylleth and Wodensthrone may be relatively new names on the global scene but they’ve been doing the rounds for years within the United Kingdom, steadily growing in fan base and reputation. ‘The Ghost of Heritage’, the Manchester based bands full-length debut, was an instant hit, particularly with followers of the black metal scene from within the United Kingdom. Bands like Winterfylleth, along with acts such as Iceni, Lyrinx and Wodensthrone tirelessly work on the live circuit within the British isles promoting their work and only now are they reaping the rewards that their efforts deserve. Winterfylleth have been shown great faith by heavyweight record labels such as Profound Lore and now Candlelight Records but they’ve always repaid the favour with stellar full-length albums.

First in the form of their Pagan-inspired debut, ‘The Ghost of Heritage’ and now with their sophomore follow-up, the very successful ‘The Mercian Sphere’, another tribute to Anglo-Saxon heritage and worship of bands like Drudkh and Ulver, two global brands of atmospheric black metal in a similar vein. Winterfylleth’s style hasn’t altered much from the first album which saw a Pagan brand of black metal being executed well. The album opens with ‘Gateway to the Dark Peak/The Solitary One Waits for Grace (The Wayfarer Pt I)’, a song which makes great use of Winterfylleth’s ability to use harmonised backing vocals, as well as a strong lead vocalist. The use of clean backing vocals occurs occasionally during the course of the album, something which adds a lot to the intensity of the atmosphere, as well as offering a more diverse sound to the band than acts like Drudkh perhaps don’t wish to explore. Although both bands are masters at creating memorable riffs, albeit Winterfylleth have a much catchier sound to their guitar work, as shown wonderfully on songs like ‘Defending The Realm’.

The acoustics, as well as the clean vocals, is also a ploy used on the part of the band to emphasis the folksy vibe in the atmosphere, a theme which was also explored on the debut, though with much less clarity. The production feels somewhat altered. It feels cleaner and clearer, leaving the listener with a much more satisfactory basis with which to analyse the music from. The production is still very bombastic in sound, highlighting the drumming and guitar work particularly well. The cleaner sound, despite the use of heavy double bass work and distorted guitar effects, allows the material to become far more comprehensible than on the previous album which took some getting used to due to the heavy style. The lighter moments, as on all three parts of the trilogy of songs on the album, are exemplary of how Winterfylleth cleverly work aspects like cleanly chanted vocals into the heavy atmospherics.

The glorious folk and Pagan mixture is wonderful and not too “flowery”, like some black/folk bands can make a habit of coming across as. When Winterfylleth do hammer their folksy roots, these aspects are done beautifully and tastefully in the form of Ulver-inspired songs like ‘Children of the Stones’, an acoustic and string based instrumental which clearly highlights the bands creative and diverse range of talents. The song writing hasn’t vastly improved, but it didn’t need to. It has made some headway as far as allowing the cleaner aspects to have more of an impact, but these elements remain infrequent and sparse. The bombastic, atmospheric black metal moments akin to acts like Drudkh, in particular Drudkh’s style of repetitious but hypnotic guitar work (as featured on songs like ‘Defending The Realm’ and ‘The Ruin’ in particular). The vocal approach is still very much the same.

Occasionally decipherable rasps that match the intensity of the instrumentation. They work side-by-side with the instrumentation to create an epic barrier in each of the songs, bar the quaint instrumental. Although I still very much love the debut, this sophomore feels far more “epic”, a word which has become more frequently associated with the British legions of black metal bands, such as Winterfylleth and Wodensthrone in particular, due to their association with folkish and Pagan inspired themes. Winterfylleth have had to be a bit more creative, and selective, with their work on this album because this sophomore does feature a number of longer songs ranging between seven minutes and two ten minute epics. Songs like this require a lot of patience as the build-up is generally quite slow, albeit very interesting and intriguing due to the use of acoustics on songs like ‘The Honour of Good Men On the Path to Eternal Glory’. All in all, this is a marvellous follow-up to a solid debut and with the continuance of such work, it’s only a matter of time before Winterfylleth find themselves conquering the atmospheric black metal world.

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