UK black metal titans Winterfylleth rise to new height on ‘Threnody of Triumph’

Anyone who follows the “Game of Thrones” book series knows the saying, “Winter is coming.” Have I lost everyone in disgust with that incredibly geeky reference? Hopefully not. Anyhow, it means more than one thing in that series of books, the oncoming extended period of ice and snow that’ll encapsulate the region and the ongoing frosty, violent happenings that will further separate an already segregated world.

Same can be said for the name Winterfylleth, that being there are many meanings. For one, it is the Old English name for the month of October, that will have us in its grasp before too long. It also signals the oncoming of winter, the coldest of seasons that also is staring us right down in our path. Yet that approaching month and season can mean many things to people. It can mean the beginning of hibernation and seasonal depression, where folks stow away and eschew opportunities to be communal. It’s a means of hiding. It also can be a time of great celebration, as holidays near, people grow more cheerful, and we mark the end of a great year, a period of struggle, or something in between.

Winterfylleth, the English black metal band, also can be digested in many ways. On the surface, they can be absorbed as a band playing a primal, expressive form of music that has had more than its fair share of darkness. Put it on, forget everything, and get lost in the chaos. Also, one can get swept up in their cathartic compositions, indulge in their forays into their English heritage, and take it as a way to reconnect with our own pasts. I generally land somewhere in the middle of that, as I love their sound as a whole but always find something true and human beneath the surface. It also helps that their brand new record “The Threnody of Triumph” has landed at the end of September, as the air grows colder, the sun retreats earlier, and I begin to nestle into my collection of books and records and candles and beer. Their music is absolutely perfect for that setting, these seasons.

Winterfylleth are on a pretty consistent album-every-two-years clip, and they’ve taken their time to refine their sound and build their reputation. They debuted in 2008 on Profound Lore with their amazing debut “The Ghost of Heritage,” and along the line, Candlelight Records came calling, reissued their first record, and put out their sophomore release “The Mercian Sphere” in 2010. So we were due for “Threnody,” and what an enthralling collection it is. The 63-minute opus was on many most-anticipated lists for 2012, mine included, and it delivers in every way, resulting in the best album the band ever has produced. Yet, the way Winterfylleth have been improving and enriching their approach from record to record, they’ll likely top this one next time around. 2014, do you want to say?

The band — comprised of vocalist/guitarist C. Naughton, guitarist M. Wood, bassist N. Wallwork, and drummer S. Lucas — also achieve a new level of emotional outpouring in their music. They always achieved incredible, moving melodies in the past, but there’s something astonishing and life affirming about their playing, even when their subject matter is floating in darkness, and so much of what’s on “Threnody” is absolutely infectious and memorable. I can’t say enough about the band’s playing, and it’s another testament to just how much they’ve grown in their time together.

“Threnody” is not a quick listen. As noted, it runs more than an hour, but it’s an ideal album experience. The songs build toward each other quite well, and the nicely placed couple of interludes allow for regaining your ground and getting ready for the upcoming storm. The album opens with “A Thousand Winters,” a glorious, musically poetic cut that indicates right away just what kind of adventure lies ahead. “The Swart Raven” has a structure that reminds me a bit of Alcest, and it opens up into cathartic screams, colorful melodic black metal melodies, and even some acoustic flourishes for good measure. “A Memorial” is a bit more forceful, sort of like early Primordial, and a sense of sorrow washes over as the song reaches its abrupt conclusion.

“The Glorious Plains” has a harder driving opening, harsher vocals from Naughton, and eventually some Euro folk passages that give it a rustic finish. It sounds like a rousing battle anthem. “A Soul Unbound” has plenty of atmosphere and gaze, and the tempo is much slower, though no less heavy, than the rest of the songs. “Void of Light” is the shortest of all the songs that aren’t interludes, though it’s still more than five minutes long, and it runs into “The Fate of Souls After Death,” a song with savage drum assaults from Lucas and more death-like growls courtesy of Naughton. It’s quite heavy, yet also a change of pace, if that makes sense. The closing title cut is full of spirit and heart-wrenching expression, passionate vocals, and shoegazey thunder, that all dissolves into a pocket of ethnic folk that carries the record to its conclusion.

Winterfylleth are separating themselves from the rest of modern black metal’s pack, not only for their unique, historical-based content, but also for their great performances. You can hear the sentiment they put into these songs, and unless you’re dead, it’s impossible not to empathize or simply get lost in their music. This band gets more impressive and powerful with every release, and at least at this moment, the band never has been better. I expect that to change in a couple years, when they get even greater.

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