Winterfylleth is a bit like a threesome: It looks awesome on paper, but in practice, someone ends up mostly sitting on the sidelines, feeling a little left out and fantasizing about slipping out to grab a killer sandwich. You see, every single time I sit down to listen to the English black metal band’s third album, The Threnody of Triumph, my mind drifts. Not to, say, the glorious culture and heroic triumphs of history’s many occluded peoples, or breathtaking mental landscapes of craggy coastlines and deep, peaty forests. No, my mind usually ends up wandering to the laundry, or a grocery list, or the latest way to use a sex analogy in a heavy metal review.
That’s not to say that The Threnody of Triumph is a failure, but just that the whole package feels too safe. All the proper elements are there, but then again, they’ve pretty much been there all along for Winterfylleth. The stirring, melancholic riffs are still stirring and melancholic, and the vocals still excoriate the vapidity of modern life and mourn the overshadowing of ancient ways with the urgent cadence of a distant storm.
“A Thousand Winters” opens the album on an immediately ferocious high note, with its blistering pace yet meditative central riff. The song also closes with some gorgeous chanted vocals, which are reprised at several other points throughout the album. “The Swart Raven” also makes effective use of those deep choral voices, and when it collapses back into its startlingly fast blasting and mournful pagan riffing around the six-minute mark, The Threnody of Triumph hits one of its highest highs.
The lush interlude of “Æfterield-Fréon” paints its pastoralism sweetly, with intently-plucked acoustic guitars and interwoven violin, but it verges on the overly-earnest. It’s one thing to recover lost history, but another to suffuse the entire past with the warm, rosy glow of optimistic revisionism. “The Glorious Pain” is another pretty excellent song, but like most of Winterfylleth’s pretty excellent songs, it pulls the same tricks, with the inevitable result that the edges of those tricks are blunted with each repetition. Moreover, the back-to-back pairing of “The Glorious Pain” and “A Soul Unbound” spends too much time in the same trudging midtempo, and although that makes the sprightly, straight-ahead opening of “Void of Light” awfully satisfying, the same torpid pace returns yet again in “The Fate of Souls After Death.”
Taken on a song-by-song basis, The Threnody of Triumph is good, and occasionally pretty great. But for every rousing melody, storming blastbeat, and deeply engrossing despondent passage, there’s a bogged-down midsection that doesn’t seem to go anywhere, an overly abrupt transition from moody midtempo to angry blast, and a song that sounds for all the world like one that preceded it. There’s never anything unpleasant about listening to The Threnody of Triumph – the warm, strident atmosphere is maintained even as the mood shifts from anger to sorrow and back – but given the obvious talent and vision involved, it’s hard not to come away frustrated. The rich, verdant style of folk-kissed black metal that Winterfylleth crafts isn’t exactly boring, but it treads too heavily on the unassuming. The plateau that the band finds itself on is an eminently pleasant one, but sometimes you need a change of scenery. Just like a threesome, I suppose, but then again, that’s how we got into this mess in the first place.