FELLWARDEN – Wreathed in Mourncloud (2020)REVIEW

Weeping, spilling grief-stricken body around the edge of coffin lid as a prelude to the otherworldly work of the mnàthan-tuirim, who’d send all respects and lament toward Gaelic afterlife, is this maiden all-knowing; Sight, divined from the dark set upon the foam-ridged hollow beneath the waves, grants prescience of the deceased’s fate in the twilight of Tír fo Thuinn. All wailing is dread felt for the eternal sorrow undersea. Am bron mara, the sea’s gloom leaves all hollowed ’til clearest Beltane day in commune and sight of those below. Death’s offering of physical torpor and slow’d passing time imbues gifts of self-reflection but also the exact right biological state to see glistening hill, forested glade, and eternally-beaten wave upon rock and gain perspective upon the earthen cyclical churn which we’ll all succumb to. Redolence of ozone (and farthest from the salt air’s cure) precedes the smoky respite of ‘Wreathed in Mourncloud’, an oaken-carved work fluid and woven in nature as the dewy sprays of sea’s foam above the soul’s tomb, wherein Fellwarden rests in moss and rock encased atmospheric black metal ritual — Expressing joy for the wilderness’ eternal housing of ancestral spirits this second album from the project builds temple atop sacred site, allowing for bigger statement and ‘more’ of their signature verdant, ethereal craft.

If we must equalize the field of battle down to its lowest common denominator, this side project from Fen‘s The Watcher most readily resembles the lush naturalist atmospheric black metal they’ve helped to popularize alongside their spiritual (and somewhat local) kin in Saor, Wodensthrone, and especially Winterfylleth. Moving and oft crescendo-toppling works that employ soaring melodies and introspective moodiness to convey their appreciation of the natural world and their own place in it. With the most succinct aim I’d see these bands as kin to Wolves in the Throne Room more than say, Agalloch but it is really just a matter of a few years between waves of inspiration. Fellwarden fits well enough into these spheres or, did particularly fit in on their first album (‘Oathbearer‘, 2017) where later non-symphonic second wave black metal snuck in around the edges. From my own point of view this second album has a bit more of a Falkenbach-esque spirit to its harmonized vocal work and folkish rumblings, cloud-like in motion and yet inherently black metal in statement. ‘Wreathed in Mourncloud’ is an experience I would most readily liken to a funeral for a just, or well accepted, death where the sorrow of the event gives way to a boisterous and heartfelt celebration of that life and their surviving else. With this in mind I’d suggest this second Fellwarden album is more of a ramping feat, readying its bombast with slow-climbing epics without losing the soil-bound sensitivity of ‘Oathbearer’.

The Watcher‘s intent to “embody the ambiance of the region through… epic black metal” aims towards the Lakeland or Lake District national park area in northwestern England which is not only known for its gorgeous natural areas but for its history of spawning (or, housing) several generations of Romantic-era poets and authors. Though I’ve not been to the region it’d make great sense that such a place, full of grand views from ancient summit, continue to speak to creation sparking Fellwarden into action circa 2014. Now also featured in Fen, drummer Havenless brings precision and endarkened aggression, meeting the roll of the hills with the spike of each crag as they’re ruminated over and given foil through fables and prose. At this point the project doesn’t appear to be exclusively studio-only any longer but that hasn’t stifled the dramatic, mountain-sized sights of its compositions which’ve adopted a ‘more of everything’ approach for a bigger second record. The general level of orchestration and harmonized vocal work has risen considerably and this’d influenced my comparisons to classic black/folk metal, pagan metal, and the spiraling upward popularity of those sub-genres beyond the late 90’s. This shouldn’t suggest we’re dealing with catchy 3-4 minute songs that are powered by simplistic melodies, though, as these pieces are elaborate and oft driven beyond the 8-10 minute mark, the most striking long-form pairing being the title track’s following “A Premoniton” which acts as its extended introduction.

“Scafell’s Blight” is perhaps the archetypal Fellwarden song and not only for its lofty, climb and melodic release but for its narrative in reference to Scafell’s Pike, a great summit with a view for miles and a plot of land with several prongs of historic interest protruding from its bald gravel peak. Donated to the National land trust in 1919, in honor of local servicemen who had died fighting in World War I, peak was named for its barren top with most folk history suggesting the name came from auld Norse “skalli fjall”. The Watcher builds his own mythic narrative, extending a muse upon the cause of its blighted baldness. From this point you can see the depth of theater available to those willing to meditate upon and investigate the layers of reality, fiction, and historical interest coming from the creative minds involved in Fellwarden, ideas which are certainly far too poured over and intricately achieved to consider a mere ‘side project’, as gorgeously moderne as Fen have become in their own evolution.

An hour-long blissful escape to landscape and the wonder it’d inspire is heartily welcomed in a period of time where many are avoiding even the most wide-open spaces in lieu of communicable ills. The blustering, tale spinning movement of ‘Wreathed in Mourncloud’ ends up being a brilliant step outside the self and into the resplendence of northern England’s natural beauty, all is bolstered by the thoughtful and expressive yarn The Watcher nurtures throughout. Throw in a gorgeous physical product, plastered with the foggy crag, barrow, watchfire, and fells of artwork by Kris Verwimp‘s hand and it’d feel less like a mere ‘follow-up’ and more a defining, lasting moment for Fellwarden. A high recommendation.

High recommendation.

Rating: 8 out of 10.
TITLE:Wreathed in Mourncloud
RELEASE DATE:June 26th, 2020
BUY/LISTEN/STREAM:Bandcamp [Digital]
GENRES:Atmospheric Folk/Black Metal

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