A natural philosopher pinned behind glass with ear cupped against the cold pane, listening for the sound of the dust settling on sunlit hills, hears a little more than the droning sea-noise of the skull’s shell. Throbbing and easing rhythms he’d chase with great interest are merely heart and blood, rising and falling in absurd biorhythmic feedback loop — Nature’d never call so willingly to a calculated creature so rightfully encased. Refuge for the hermetic within blinding sparks of thought persists long enough yet, a yearning for the rhythmic satiety of trilling bird and groaning trees as a heated summer wind drives him to craft perilous and damning string unto noose strong enough to release captivity’s forced mirror-bonding. What’d step the determined down from death’s slumped over shouldering of the defeated human carcass? Perhaps it could be the triumphant, anthemic and primally satisfying rasp n’ ruinous cascades of atmospheric/melodic pagan black metal artists such as Winterfylleth, whom offer a considerable respite from unnatural horrors with their well-seasoned and high-spirited seventh full-length, ‘The Reckoning Dawn’. On a tear, and without a break since 2007, yet somehow breathing deeper than ever in the midst of their own blackened resonance the Manchester based quintet return with what may be their most spirited release of this last decade.
I’ll certainly admit to being a fairweather friend to Winterfylleth over the years, they’ve long been interesting but only certain releases have spoken to me as above average — Their first album (‘The Ghost of Heritage‘, 2008) had come as an unexpected surprise, wherein expansion of the melodic and atmospheric black metal rhythms of their demo (‘Rising of the Winter Full Moon‘, 2007) found a high professional standard. It’d been ‘The Mercian Sphere‘ (2010) that truly set the bar in terms of not only guitar work but a slightly more distinct range of melodic ideas, offering shades of auld Norwegian menace while serving their own Celtic gods; In an era where every band was plainly pushing out Wolves in the Throne Room-alikes Winterfylleth were notably standing out. From that point it’d seem their interest moving forward began to center around incorporating naturalist folk elements, such as acoustic interludes, to the effect of what I’d would consider ‘Bergtatt‘-esque luminance. Despite this change coming slow and easy I’ve long clung to an emotional attachment to ‘The Mercian Sphere’, where I’d felt the rhythm guitar work was gripping the skeleton through the flesh like a spectral hand and shaking it fast. As the band moved to a space between Wodensthrone-esque epics and a few bursts of Forefather‘s energetic spirit I’d felt ‘The Divination of Antiquity‘ (2014) was the point of “Alright, you’ve got this gig down. What else?” and perhaps only because they’d release ’em every 14 months or so. In some respects Winterfylleth have reached back to their earliest and now thickest roots for ‘The Reckoning Dawn’ but their discography has been thorough enough that it has some great potential to register as an ‘expected’ record amongst those who’d not deign a deeper listen.
For the devoted fan, or perhaps anyone finding some great spiritual fulfillment in the fully acoustic and new-aged choral folk expanse of ‘The Hallowing of Heirdom‘ (2018) the step back toward guitar-driven and highly textural rhythms taken on ‘The Reckoning Dawn’ may prove a proverbial polar opposite, sounding a bit like earlier Mgła or Uada for great stretches of 8-9 minute atmo-melodic black metal songs. By moving away from hymnal vocal layers and any folk metal intrusions this seventh Winterfylleth record rests upon my mind as an inspirational set of fresh-winged boundlessness, a bout of emotionally driven focus shot towards the sun that’d delight in soaring with no matter where it’d land. “Misdeeds of Faith” in particular pulls my mind back to their second album while shoving that earthen focus off a cliff, forcing a gliding (again) anthemic burst that’d feel menacing yet nigh religious for its bellow chorales. Satisfying as the first volley is, the real hulks of the listening experience stamp ground with melodic black metal hooks rather than furious recollection of old; “A Hostile Fate (The Wayfarer Pt. 4)” is the loudly beaten chest of Winterfylleth in celebratory reminder of their notable grasp of fluid, resplendent and skeleton-thrashing black metal movements. It is the shuddering, shimmering and emotionally embroiling rhythms within that’d help to spark my interest in this project once again. To feel “lifted” by a simple three-layered tremolo picked piece and its woven movements is not an uncommon event for a weirdo like me but I’d at least suggest the altitude achieved within certain pieces on ‘The Reckoning Dawn’ is substantial and repeatable.
“Absolved in Fire” is another enormous 10 minute piece that is both hard to ignore and redeeming yet my mind would frequently push past it and on towards Side B. By the third listen I began to anticipate the title track’s send-off of Side A, the coming glory of “A Greatness Undone” — The melodious development and nuanced patternation of this song has proven an infection, a rare event where I’d put on just that song and need to be lost within it for a few hours. In the greater scope of the album there are many comparable moments and frankly it’d just been the track that’d sucked me in, the one I’d connected to most heartily to start. I’m certainly not one to downplay any point of emotional connectivity with a black metal album and “A Greatness Undone” acts as a crowning moment for my greater exploration of where Winterfylleth are today. “Yielding the March Law” helps to secure the ‘melodic via atmospheric black metal techniques’ station of the full listen while also keeping the core pace of Side B from dwindling as the potential exhaustion of an hour-long black metal album sets in. The use of choral vocals from the opener reprises here most notably and this is a strong idea I’d wished Winterfylleth capitalized upon more for emphasis, I’m not saying they need to go full-on Falkenbach but it is a strong piece of their oeuvre that could be pushed further.
“In Darkness Begotten” is arguably the album’s biggest moment, a mournful nine minute send-off that begins crashing about like a furious boar and ends a collapsed spear-filled tragedy in golden field. Reaching a point of furor akin to ‘Aura’-era Bölzer at the highest point of energy and then relaxing into a more fluid set of atmospheric black metal crescendo makes this one of the more thrilling pieces of the set though the fading last third of the song does end up feeling like a bit of a fizzle out than a ‘bang’. Not every song is golden but all fit well into a remarkably listenable hour of Winterfylleth that has reignited my own personal interest in their way forward; What is old feels new and what is new never feels dryly commercial or redundant. ‘The Reckoning Dawn’ is at least as good or better than ‘The Mercian Sphere’ and thus I can give high recommendation of it.
High recommendation. 4.0/5.0
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