After five atmosphere-charged black metal albums – and one acoustic release -, Manchester’s WINTERFYLLETH took to the stage at Bloodstock to celebrate not only the first festival to give the band a headlining show, but the first decade of its existence. The Siege Of Mercia is volatile, enthralling, and triumphant, a true sonic (and visual) representation of a band at its peak. Lord Randall recently sat down to talk to bassist Nick Wallwork about the live set, the band’s most recent studio album, The Hallowing Of Heirdom, and where the quintet are headed from here…
THE FATHERS OF ALBION
Interview with Nick Wallwork of WINTERFYLLETH
By: Lord Randall
Rebel Extravaganza: The Hallowing Of Heirdom was released just after the 10-year anniversary of WINTERFYLLETH, now the live album. Was this a conscious effort to both commemorate and put a stamp on the whole “first ten years” thing, to maybe free up the band to take another path, or just the way things happened to come along, inspiration-wise?
Nick Wallwork: The idea to do an acoustic album wasn’t really part of any grand plan or anything, it just sort of came about. A few years ago, I was living with Chris and we were jamming a lot of acoustic ideas, purely with the guitars lying around the house and formulated the idea of perhaps doing an acoustic side project – an EP or something. However, as things progressed and more and more material was coming out, it was clear that this could be something bigger and so the idea of doing it under the WINTERFYLLETH banner came about. This allowed us to expand on the ideas much more and ended up with the album you hear today.
I suppose the recent live album, The Siege Of Mercia, is more commemorative of the first 10 years thing, and the Bloodstock show was a bit of a stamp on that – certainly one of the biggest shows we have played to date. And you get a good impression of that on the record.
RX: Couple questions regarding The Hallowing Of Heirdom: Did you always know you had an acoustic-based album waiting to be delivered, and do you feel The Hallowing Of Heirdom would’ve been the same if it’d been released earlier in your career?
NW: As above, The Hallowing… wasn’t pre-planned initially. It came about as a product of those initial acoustic ideas pouring out at that particular time of writing. I think our acoustic efforts have progressed and got better throughout our albums, and so I feel we had reached a point where we were able to do this idea justice – I don’t think it would have sounded the same if it came earlier in our discography. We now have Mark Deeks as a permanent member, so he was a great source for expanding the sonic palette of the record – scoring the string parts etc., – certainly not something that would have been in our power back when we were doing The Mercian Sphere or The Threnody Of Triumph, for instance. I’m very happy with how it turned out – and even after over a year of it being out – there is very little I would change about it.
RX: If I could get you to delve a bit into the reasons for the choice of ‘The Shepherd’ as an opening track, and the lyrical inspiration for ‘Latch On A Grave’…
NW: ‘The Shepherd’ is based on a poem called ‘The Passionate Shepherd To His Love’ by Christopher Marlowe from 1593, which is one of the earliest examples of English Pastoral poetry. It is often studied by English Literature students and is quite a uniquely British type of verse, referencing views of pastoral idyll and a heartfelt love for the natural world. The words are used to create a private, flawless vision of rural life within the context of personal emotion and seem to profess romanticism for elements of the natural world. I think these kinds of sentiments echo our own feelings of romanticism for the natural world and instill a deeper feeling that it is a thing worth saving, rather than exploiting.
There is also a companion song to this one on the album, called ‘The Nymph’ which is a poem by Walter Raleigh called ‘The Nymph’s Reply To The Shepherd’ which is a line for line rebuttal of the ‘The Shepherd’. It’s a slightly sarcastic, take on the pastoral romanticism of the opening track and provides a deeper look into the somewhat jaded and sarcastic nature of British humour, and was an interesting companion song to the opener. It was performed by Angela Deeks, who is Mark’s wife and also a very talented stage performer in her own right. It was also a nice change from the mostly male voices on the album, and was fitting for a track which is supposed to be the words of a female field nymph replying to a male shepherd.
‘Latch To A Grave’ is based on a Riddle (no. 53 if memory serves) from the Exeter Book, which is one of the annals of Long verse Anglo-Saxon poetry. Essentially the lyric is formed of the riddle and guides you through a series of statements describing scenarios in which an item is used, the end line of which is missing, but should read “who or what am I?”. The idea being that you are supposed to guess that the riddle is about a sword. So the lyric makes note of said sword being “by a kings side”, being used by a queen to dub knights into the army, it being the proverbial foil to the writer’s pen, and in the wrong hands can kill, i.e. it metaphorically holds the ‘latch to a grave’. Given it was one of the darker, more brooding tracks on the album, it felt the lyric was befitting of the mood of the music.
RX: The Siege Of Mercia was actually recorded during the band’s 10th year. Why Bloodstock, and how did the fact that you’ve played there so often since the early days factor into the setlist? It really does seem like a “thank you” letter to the organizers and fans that attend.
NW: Bloodstock has always been a very close friend of WINTERFYLLETH, and we felt it was the natural place for us to capture a live performance. It was the first festival to take a chance on us, and we played a sort of unannounced headline slot on the tent stage when we first appeared there – and the reaction blew us away! We couldn’t believe the amount of folk who showed out for us – so I think we’ve all got very special memories of that – and of playing to such an amount of people for the first time in our career.
As for the setlist – I don’t think our previous appearances factored into that so much. We had a limited time slot, so it was simply a matter of selecting the tracks we felt would have the biggest impact in a short space of time and reaching for our most “anthemic” numbers I suppose. Of course playing the main stage of a large festival you will be playing to both die-hard fans and people who have never heard you before, so naturally you want to select your most immediate and impactful material.
RX: How important was it that the band was captured as “live” as possible, with no overdubs or backing tracks? With atmospheric metal of the sort WINTERFYLLETH’s known for, it’s got to be tempting to make the live versions mirror the studio as closely as possible on stage. At the same time, there’s always been a visceral quality to the music that a glossing over would render as weak at best, impotent at worst.
NW: Whether a big festival or a small club show, we never play with backing tracks. It works for some bands but not us. Live is live and should remain so in our view. We have 3 voices we can utilize onstage – the delivery of the songs may differ from show to show slightly but that’s the beauty of live music surely? I think you use the right term with the word “visceral” – that’s exactly how we want the music to come across live and we feel it would take something away from it if we were reliant on a set tempo and backing track to guide the way.
RX: Visually, describe what you wanted with this DVD, both in the show and packaging, and how did the finished product measure up?
NW: Honestly – we just wanted the show to come across in as clear a way as possible and one that sounded good! As a fan – I’ve often bought live DVDs of other bands, and get frustrated with the amount of post-production visual effects that get plastered onto the performance in order to create a “mood” or whatever. It ends up looking more like a music video than a live gig. I feel the point of such things should be to give as honest a representation of the show as possible with no gimmicks or trickery. Obviously having multi camera pro-shot footage is a plus, and a great sound mix – no one wants to see another You Tube iPhone clip!
I feel we’re already very happy with the finished product. Aesthetically, the art fits in with the discography, which we always feel is important and also ties in with the show itself as it is the backdrop we are playing in front of.
RX: When it comes down to it, do you prefer the larger visibility and exposure festivals provide, or the intimacy, the more…controllable, I suppose…atmosphere of a headlining show with maybe a few like-minded bands alongside?
NW: [It’s a] Cop out answer, but both. It entirely depends on the event itself, the audience and the venue. If the sound onstage is good, the audience are enthusiastic and feeding back to you what you are giving out onstage, it doesn’t matter if that is 100 people above a pub or thousands in a field.
RX: Plans for the coming year? How does WINTERFYLLETH fare on the Summer festival circuit?
NW: Well the top priority is getting the new album recorded and promoting that properly in the New Year. We would hope to be out on the summer festival circuit to support this in 2020, along with doing a string of our own shows. So a busy year ahead hopefully!
RX: You’re clearly already working on new music. How is that shaping up, and do you feel that, while the first decade was magical in and of itself, hitting that 10 year benchmark gives you a chance to explore other realms within what you already know to be the WINTERFYLLETH framework?
NW: The new material has been coming together slowly but surely over the past year or so. This is the first full-length metal album we have composed together with Dan Capp as our lead guitarist, so the writing dynamic has felt a lot fresher, and it has truly felt like a collaborative effort all round.
It’s shaping up to a big album and hopefully the fans will take to it. It’s definitely got a few more twists and turns than our previous metal albums and I think the experience of The Hallowing Of Heirdom has taught us a lot in terms of dynamics and structure. However, this is definitely a darker sounding, more aggressive WINTERFYLLETH album and we’re very excited to getting it realised.
Whether hitting the ten-year mark has a significant impact on it – I don’t know. You obviously grow as songwriters the older and more experienced you get, so I suppose it impacts in that way. The more you put out, the more acutely aware you get of not painting yourself into a corner and regurgitating the same ideas – so hopefully we have achieved that with this new material. It’s still absolutely 100% WINTERFYLLETH, and we’ve not got prog metal or anything – but I think we have now progressed as musicians to the point where we can expand on that original formula, whilst still retaining the essence of it. I just hope it hits the spot for the fans who have stuck with us.