Black metal in of itself is always somewhat of a corundum as a genre. On one hand, there are strict purists, adhering to tradition and believing anything outside of that is simply an attempt to cash in on the aesthetic. However, on the other hand, there is the entirety of the movement of “post black metal”, pushing the boundaries of what the music can be and taking it in exciting new directions. Neither of the styles are particularly better than the other nor is either ever truly dominant in the context of the scene. Instead, the two vie for control of black metal’s sudden increase in popularity, a constant push and pull. And, existing somewhere in between that push and pull, has always been Winterfylleth, a band whose sound is rooted in the symphonic black metal of acts like Emperor but has a distinct post-black metal flavoring. It has been a sound that has carried them effectively thus far but with The Dark Hereafter seems to be in a place of uncomfortable flux.
This is most apparent when looking at the actual composition of the record itself. For example, the first three tracks heavily favor simple, straight forward black metal with little deviation from that formula. The usual soaring melodies of Winterfylleth that make them so initially attractive aren’t at all present, but instead replaced with more subtle, common black metal melodies. Even the use of the synthesizer, something previously utilized to a very full degree in their sound, is seemingly missing from these first three tracks, leaving only uninterrupted, standard black metal. None of these comments are necessarily a dig at the band, as the tracks in of themselves are still solid black metal fare and are sure to please any BM fan, but when a band is known for a more dynamic approach it is a bit of a turn off to see them sell themselves short.
What perhaps does the most damage, however, is how drastically powerful and wide ranging the closing two tracks on The Dark Hereafter prove to be in comparison to the rather dry opening half. “Green Cathedral”, for example, opens with a lone guitar riff, granting the song a grand, epic feel as a subtle use of synthesizer provides a gentle ambient layer in the background. Eventually an acoustic sounding guitar is added to the mix, creating a widely varied and deeply layered intro to a piece that continues to expand until it is a gorgeously multi-faceted piece that draws its namesake to mind immediately. The song is engaging the entire time, growing in a way that feels nothing but organic, and is ultimately so comfortably in yet so outside of the cookie-cutter-black-metal-mold that the three tracks preceding it feel nothing but dry in comparison.
This trend also continues on track number 5, “Led Astray In The Forest Dark”, as it also takes “traditional” black metal and warps it to its own agenda. Clean vocals dominate the track over fairly standard black metal riffing and double kick drum, but those elements are drowned out as the song carefully progresses into more adventurous, more grandiose territory with the addition of vocal layering, giving the track an almost opera-like feel. It is an interesting way to manipulate strictly traditionalist black metal while still carefully acknowledging it, avoiding the wrath of the “trve kvlt” die hard while carefully incorporating enough “hipster” stylings to attract the gentrified-black metal fan.
However, as a trend of more interesting song writing continues on this track, so does the issue of consistency for the record as a whole. The Dark Hereafter, while by no means a necessarily bad record, suffers from this inconsistency greatly as a much drier, less adventurous front half sets up a painfully slow prelude for the roaring, dynamic second half. After a few re-listens, it almost feels like a chore to sit through the first three tracks (which, in total average about half the records run time at 20 minutes) just to get to the juicy, tender meat of the back half. Winterfylleth have always been masters of appealing to both black metal fans traditional and less so, but that has ultimately always come from their masterful blending of the two. By seemingly separating the two styles into two separate halves of the record, they have lost some of that appeal and caused the moment to build in awkward fashion, barely gaining it through the first three tracks, then slamming into it full throttle in the back half. None of the music is necessarily bad, but it is a shame how the overall product suffers due to an inconsistent pacing.