Winterfylleth - The Hallowing Of Heirdom - (9/10)
Published on May 19, 2018
When a band actively choose to pull a complete reversal of their style, rather than let it happen naturally over time, it’s always seen as ‘making a statement’. Eluveitie did it back in ’09 with Evocation and subsequently angered many fans. In the case of Winterfylleth, however, this is something that we should’ve seen coming a mile off. The British black metallers frequently inserted acoustic interludes into their albums, and have always been quite adept at doing so. Therefore, an entire LP dedicated to the more serene side of the band was always on the cards. I have always greatly respected Winterfylleth for their embracing and proud displaying of their English heritage, a subject in history not often explored within the realms of metal. Many of their melodies have foundations in old English folk music, and almost all of their lyrics are written in ye olde poetic style, so producing a whole albums-worth of acoustic folky material not only makes perfect sense, but elevates their music to a higher plane where it feels even more in touch with their roots than ever. (Listen to their version of 16th century English folksong “John Barleycorn” first, to give you a taster – it’s magical!)
The first keyword that whirls around my mind with every listen of The Hallowing Of Heirdom is ‘evocative’. Using only lento tempos and a limited arsenal of timbres (if you dislike the sound of a nylon guitar, you’re screwed!), it’s surprising how many emotions can be evoked across the landscapes of this LP. Having a brief description of the meaning behind each track in the CD booklet is a great idea which helps prevent the audience being alienated. Even if you hail from outside the British Isles, it’s hard not to feel some connectivity to the material on offer, due to its sincerity and weird combination of tenderness and poise. The overall sound is one of quiet confidence; delicate, yet totally in control. The mixing job is phenomenal. Even though the texture can be sparse, each instrument and voice feels fused and working as a well-oiled machine…a plow, say (I promised myself I’d keep the imagery of this review appropriately rustic).
Speaking of evocation, it’s hard to not to let this album conjure up images of wooden sheds, autumnal woodlands, cropped fields and rusty farm equipment. It’s been quite a while since a record activated my imagination as much. It’s not just the beautiful artwork or the wistful song titles like “Resting Tarn” and “Elder Mother”, it’s the simple-yet-effective use of folk melodies that have the same hypnotic effect as a well-written sea shanty. The guitar melody that circles around the opening of “On-Cýdig” is one such mesmerising example. Percussion is kept light, but no less effective. The occasional bash of a tambourine or whoosh of a cymbal here and there is integral to the Anglo-Saxon mood, but never becomes intrusive. Most notably, we have the utterly gorgeous choral vocals that completely absorb the listener. Both the opener “The Shepherd” and the closing title-track are drenched in sublime, haunting voices that are both lavishly thick and eerily ethereal. Bookending the album with these two gems was a masterstroke, starting and ending the experience with the two biggest highlights.
Picking out individual highlights elsewhere is a difficult task, as the whole record ebbs and flows with the fluidity of a mountain spring. The strings, both synthesized and authentic, add a basting of old English character but never become the central focus. Their timbre alone is enough to provide an extra dimension of atmosphere, while simultaneously producing some of this album’s most sumptuous harmonies. Occasional peekings of miscellaneous instrumentation – such as the glockenspiel or the spoken word section of “The Nymph” – add layer upon layer of different moods to keep listeners interested (not to mention that creepy-ass giggle!). However, if your attention drifts mid-album, I honestly wouldn’t blame you! The Hallowing Of Heirdom feels like an experience, rather than a mere collection of songs. Go lie in a sun-baked rapeseed field with your wicker hamper and lose yourself in an hours-worth of the musical equivalent of the Peak District in autumn.