British black metal outfit Winterfylleth certainly produce music that is tiresomely consistent: Their signature sound features monotone, alto-1 desperate vocals, thin but relentless guitars, blast beats, and just a modicum of melody squeezed in. Prior efforts, particularly 2012’s Threnody of Triumph, also broke up the monotony of the standard Winterfylleth sound with some Renaissance-style acoustic string compositions. For The Dark Hereafter, their fifth full length, the band has expanded on the melody idea, dropped the acoustic numbers, and thrown in a cover of an Ulver tune AND included a track previously available only on bonus disc.
Like past albums, The Dark Hereafter is pure pagan black metal – untenably connected to the earth upon which generations of Englishmen have spilled their blood for various, sometimes noble, reasons. The true shift here is in the extended use of melody. Rather than weaving a melody underneath the mix, Winterfylleth now allow the melody to drive the composition. There are more passages where octaves and other lead intervals seek to provide atmosphere and subtle beauty rather than their largely monotone delivery of old. As such, the band is finally beginning to separate itself from other UK bands playing pagan-ish black metal.
While not everything on the album works, 13-minute epic track “Green Cathedral” stands out as a clear winner. Employing slower melodies and more mournful, clean drone vocal style to support the higher pitched screams, it’s immediately obvious that this song is different. The track opens with a slow crescendo, also not a regular in the Winterfylleth playbook. As the guitars enter, they begin less distorted than usual, picking out forlorn melodies. And, for once, the band lets it just hang, allowing the track plenty of room to breathe. They let the emotion build before slamming the listener like a boat being driven into a cliffside. It’s over three minutes into the song before the drums eventually enter alongside the rhythm guitars, adding a thick, foreboding structure to the overall tune. It’s the patience and slow burn that make “Green Cathedral” the standout. And it’s in these rare moments of compositional subtlety that the potential of Winterfylleth is realized.
Their lyrics are, as they always seem to be, the recounting of grand British tales. Which, with the United Kingdom recently voting to leave the European Union (a phenomenon known as “Brexit” in this day and age of hashtags) is likely exciting news for these British Nationalists. There are tales of war, and of ancient beliefs and an attachment to the very soil upon which these tales take place. And the lyrics are enhanced by the atmosphere within each song. The war-centric “Ensigns of Victory,” for example. The way the treble-heavy guitars of “Pariah’s Path” bring to mind landscapes of rolling plains. And how the frantic blast beats and harsh rasps on “The Dark Hereafter” serve as reminders of the violent winds that howl across the ocean and blast the isles with white-capped waves.
Also worth noting: The aforementioned “Pariah’s Path” was actually previously released as a bonus track on Divination of Antiquity, so there are actually only three new tracks on this record when you also consider the fact that the final track, “Led Astray in the Forest Dark,” turns out to be a cover of Ulver’s “Capitel I: I Troldskog Faren Vild” (from 1995’s Bergtatt). So, while the album shows promise, much like all Winterfylleth albums, it manages to fall short of the remarkable expectations that have belied the true nature of the band. These guys have been promulgated, backed and banked-on, but as songwriters, they have yet to break out of the mold and fully come into their own. In a way, it’s looking like they may never live up to the hype.