At an early age, I fell in love with the myths of England. It was a combination of spending two years there (and in the relative North of the country, near Wales, a place steeped in beauty and folklore), reading Tolkien and the beauty of myth, which is especially effective with teenagers. Moving away from there only made that connection stronger. That’s no surprise, considering that English myth is steeped in the ideas of “the other shore”, home sickness, and something lost. All that being considered, it’s a wonder I’m not a bigger Winterfylleth fan, an atmospheric black metal band that has made English legend its bread and butter. Now, they’ve released an album that immediately grabbed my attention; The Hallowing of Heirdom is a stripping away of their sound, leaving behind an acoustic core of longing, a sense of another world, and a deep connection with the legends I love.
I’m also a huge fan of neo-folk which affords me a bit more security when reviewing this album, even though I’m not the greatest Winterfylleth expert. That might be an advantage here, as The Hallowing of Heirdom is something very different than the rest of their discography. We’re talking about more than just an acoustic album that kind of sounds like the rest of their work but with the distortion turned off. Heirdom manages to go past that and craft something truly of itself. The secret to that is in the string parts. From the first track, “The Shepherd”, they are prominently leading the album forward. Listen as they fill in the spaces behind the strummed guitar, buoying up the vocals and the guitar lines themselves.
The thing which makes them truly unique though, beyond timbre and tone, is that they’re exceptionally well written. Too often are string parts in black metal, even when these bands dabble in neo-folk, left as an afterthought, a kind of embellishment. Instead, the strings are fully fleshed out, wonderfully composed, and beautifully realized throughout the album. And they don’t stand alone in that; on the contrary, a large part of their power comes from their joining with the guitar. Perhaps in keeping with the English tradition of the lyre and lute, ,the guitars have a prominent role to play as well. After all, let us not forget that England, alongside Spain, was the most important country for the lute, producing such genius as John Dowland (who produced many a masterwork but perhaps chief among them, “Flow My Tears”).
In similar ways, the guitars on Heirdom “bounce” off of the strings and, together, provide the backdrop for the vocals. These are the last piece of this powerful triumvirate, channeling the deep tones of clean singing that would not have been out of place on an interlude or a calm passage on a more black metal focused album. Here, they are at the forefront and, in true keeping with the neo-folk tradition, make up for what they lack in experimental flavor or over the top performance (since these have a rare role to play in folk music) with beautiful lyrics and a voice filled with emotion and passion for the material sung. These elements come together, crowned by the vocals, to create a moving and deeply committed album. If you love neo-folk sung from conviction and love for the art, look no further. Perhaps in the future the band can rework some of these parts into their music, more prominently so, and win my heart? Time will tell. For now, Albion stands eternal.
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The Hallowing of Heirdom was released on April 6th. You can head on over to the Bandcamp link above to grab it. Happy dreaming.