INTERVIEW: Chris Naughton – Winterfylleth

The UK Black Metal scene is in a good place at the moment. Across the country numerous bands are building a solid reputation and leading the charge, Manchester’s WINTERFYLLETH are one such band. The Mancunian black metal outfit have exploded in popularity and are one of the finest British Black Metal bands to date. Now, in 2016, WINTERFYLLETH are approaching their first decade as a band and September sees the release of their latest opus, The Dark Hereafter. We caught up with guitarist and vocalist Chris Naughton to lift the lid on their upcoming album, The Dark Hereafter, alongside reflecting on the growth of the UK Black Metal scene and the first ten years of WINTERFYLLETH.

It’s been two years since your last record, The Divination of Antiquity, how has WINTERFYLLETH progressed in that time?

Chris: We’ve definitely found “our sound” these days and have a clearer vision about what the bands stands for and where we want to take it. In the early days, we had lots of ideas that needed refining and realising better, and as we progressed from our first album I can really see how we have gotten better at almost all elements of what it takes to be in a band. I think nowadays our albums are better produced, better written, clearer in their messaging and more impactful as a result. I think we’ve definitely gotten better at playing as a band and we’ve obviously gotten better in the live environment as a result of playing on bigger stages, with more established bands. One of the big changes is that we have also gotten bigger in terms of our own reach and fan base. As a result of that it means we can play better places around the UK/Europe and take bands we want to support out on tour with us to help them get more exposure. So we can now give a little back, rather than trying to get wider exposure ourselves by supporting other, bigger bands.

You are set to release your new album The Dark Hereafter on September 30th. This album moves WINTERFYLLETH into uncharted territories in terms of the track being more expansive. Can you explain how this decision came to light?

Chris: On this release we aimed for a slightly different feeling in the songs and allowed some of them to be much longer than usual, as well as more expansive than on previous albums. This meant we could explore different styles of song-writing, whilst allowing the songs to grow, build and be more layered throughout. On the flip side of that, the title track is probably the shortest & one of the fastest songs we’ve ever recorded, so that makes it an interesting contrast of material throughout. In terms of our wider folk influences I’m not sure if it was a conscious effort to be less folky on this one, but as we will be doing a solely acoustic album for our next release (in a year or so), our fans will be getting an overly folky release from us next time. So that considered, we are trying a few new things at the moment, so we wanted to do longer, layered tracks this time to leave space for a bit of a curveball next time.

Can you explain the writing and recording process for The Dark Hereafter?

Chris: I don’t think there is anything particularly obscure about our creative process. A lot of our songs are riff led, so an effective, powerful riff is always the cornerstone of a song. When someone comes up with that, it becomes the basis to jump off from and helps to seed the idea with everyone as to where the song might go. A lot of our songs rely heavily on the unique type of guitar playing and tunings we’ve come up with over the years, as well as riffs, to make them atmospheric and “our own”. We rarely use barre chords in the songs, using more open chords, droning notes and two or three guitar layers to create the atmosphere of the music. Also, we tend to merge elements of lead and rhythm parts into one guitar part, leaving room for layering the songs with further leads, harmonies and atmospheric parts to fill the space. In terms of drums, we tend to use blast beats and double kicks quite a lot to emphasise elements of songs, and Simon is keen not to “overplay” them so as not to detract from the atmosphere. We are keen for the songs to maintain this “atmosphere” I keep talking about, possibly at the expense of more technical playing at times. But for us overplaying always seems to detract from the mood, and the songs need to be about “the whole” and not just an individual’s flowery, skillful playing. Lots of bands don’t seem to have learnt this lesson and use a lot of this kind of playing for ego and showmanship at the expense of their songs.

I think the production process plays a big part in what the music becomes once we’ve demoed it all; particularly the studio productions we do with Chris Fielding. Apart from our first album, we’ve always worked with Chris Fielding on the production of our music. He’s helped us a lot in shaping what the albums come across like and ultimately how the band sounds. We have a fairly set way we do the album production in that we will, as I said before, always do 100% of the pre-production at my home studio before setting foot into the studio. Some bands go into the studio with half-finished ideas and really pressurise the experience by having to finish songs while they are there. We always go in with everything exactly as it will be performed on the finished article.

We always do the drums first, find the right sound for them and then Simon plays along to the guide guitars from demo tracks. We then do at least four versions of the rhythm guitars on different amps and guitars to get a blended “Wall of Sound” feel to them. We then do all of the acoustic guitars, leads (in duplicates), any keys and then after all of that we add bass guitar. The layering and density of all of those things is important for WINTERFYLLETH as it helps to create the soundscape and atmosphere within the songs, and covers (along with our playing style and tuning) the uniqueness of our sound.

Only when all of that is done do we move onto placing the vocals onto the songs (which we never do in advance) and then we sing all of the rich, multi-layered choral vocals (which can have upwards of 15 layers). After that Chris will set up a basic mix for the songs and do all of his editing and production elements before we methodically go through each track, mixing the nuances in the songs as the come up until we are happy with the overall feel. At that point we then take it to Tim Turan at Turan Audio for mastering. He then helps us to shape it and finish it for final production. It’s a dark art is mastering and it’s an interesting process to be a part of, so I always attend those sessions to contribute as to how we want the record to come across, so that Tim can reflect that in his mastering.

In terms of the themes and concepts present on the record, it seems to explore how we are seeing the negative, long term effects of bad policy making. What sources of inspiration fuelled these themes?

Chris: The band has always had a theme of nature running through every album, so this one is no different really, other than it comes at it from a slightly different perspective. One of the main songs on this release, Green Cathedral is about how we should look towards Localism as opposed to Globalism in our daily practices, to help curtail the impending environmental struggles of the future. Lots of global business interests are so unaccountable and wasteful that we as people need to take some kind of power back from them and make more sensible choices in our lives. If we don’t buy from them or utilise their services, they can’t deforest the world or cause so much waste and harm as a result.

Equally, we now find ourselves at a dark crossroads in global society, where a few business interests seem to control way too much. We are also starting to see their thin veil of power come away at the seams, due in part to an ever more connected world of enlightened people. We are all now witness to how this is leading some into extreme actions and can see how the effects of corrupt global policy making affect the fate of the world. Seeing all of this going on, we felt compelled to make a record that addresses these issues on some of the songs and talks about how we can live differently, how we can learn from the past and how we can move forwards productively.

Do you feel that by having this theme, that the record really reflects what is happening in the world today?

Chris: The core concepts and messages of the band run throughout all of the albums, and they all cover issues I’ve discussed above in some way or another. The variance between them is that the perspective they are approached from is different on each album; looking at issues through a particular lens on society. For example, the newest release The Dark Hereafter looks at the aftermath of war, how people/countries behave in and after conflict, and how we should look to move towards localism over globalism; so as to remove power and influence away from the major corporations and governments who lead the agenda and policy making that leads to war. I would hope that this is pretty relevant to contemporary political and social issues.

What are your hopes and aspirations for The Dark Hereafter?

Chris: That it has an impact on at least one person and makes them consider the issues we are confronting in the songs.

Throughout your career with WINTERFYLLETH, the band hasn’t followed the same lyrical path as other black metal bands. WINTERFYLLETH tends to focus on nature and the world’s events rather than Satan from start to finish. Was this always the lyrical aim of WINTERFYLLETH?

Chris: Simply put it has been primarily geared around the need for social change and trying to help people understand history, so we don’t repeat it. More broadly, beneath the surface of that it has also been about an appreciation for the natural world and the need to celebrate/conserve it, English/British folklore and heritage and a desire to better connect people with who they are, where they come from and the stories and wisdom of their ancestry. Wrapped around those broad concepts there has always been lots of “read between the lines” political sentiment sat behind the lyrical concepts of the songs and most of that has been focused around: – the realities of social power structures/political oligarchies/hegemony etc, the need for social reform as a result of those things, the root cause for, and evils of war and its aftermath, environmental concerns and spirituality to some extent (although not in a religious way). So, to me they are powerful, important messages that we try to put great music behind, so that people connect with them and think about them.

Since the band started nearly ten years ago, you have seen the band rise and become a leader in the UK Black Metal scene. A scene which has enjoyed a steady rise in the last several years. Do you think the UK Black Metal scene is in a healthy place in 2016?

Chris: I do, very much so. There are lots of great bands coming through in recent years and I’m really pleased about that. About 10 years ago when WINTERFYLLETH had just started, there was barely any Black Metal from the UK. Since then there was a key few bands who have really raised the profile of the UK scene and have definitely paved the way for the next generation of bands to come through. Bands like ourselves, WODENSTHRONE, FOREFATHER, FEN and A FOREST OF STARS were the bands that, for me, reignited an interest in UKBM in general. As the bands grew, started playing farther and wider and spread their various influences I think it has definitely given a platform and space for bands from the UK to come through and be taken seriously. Now there are lots of truly great bands emerging and I think it’s very positive for the UK metal scene as a whole. As well as the aforementioned bands, If you don’t know any of them you should also check out: ARX ATRATA, SAOR, CNOC AN TURSA, HAAR, NECRONAUTICAL, FYRDSMAN, KULL, EASTERN FRONT, NINE COVENS, THE INFERNAL SEA, HRYRE, MOUNTAINS CRAVE, NINKHARSAG, WODE to name but a few of the key ones.

Black Metal’s history is still notoriously remembered with the Norwegian scene in the 1990s. Since then, the extremity within the scene has calmed down considerably. Do you feel that Black Metal today has lost some of its edge?

Chris: Well, I think it’s inevitable that it would lose its edge to some extent. We are now almost 30 years on since some of the formative Black Metal albums were released, and we have seen the genre become more popular than I think its forebears would have wanted. We have seen how their imagery and ideas have been utilised far and wide, by thousands of bands and even in popular culture to some extent. The press and academia likes to try and sanitise it and rationalise it for their own ends, so I think that all serves to remove some of the mysticism and danger to it, which I think for many fans was what drew them to it.

For ourselves, we are a band that started 15-20 years after the original bands in the genre, and are one who don’t necessarily want to ride their coat-tails. We have to write songs and confront issues in a way that are relevant to us in the now. So inevitably, along with everything else I mentioned above, the genre has to change for us anyway. Hopefully we do that in a unique and authentic way, or else we haven’t done our job. There is no point trying to re-create the music and ideas of those bands and I think that we have to push things in a direction that feels relevant for now.

You are approaching ten years with WINTERFYLLETH. Do you have anything special planned for such a landmark?

Chris: When we started the band it was a studio project and I’m not sure we even thought we’d make more than one album, where now it has grown to be one of the biggest things in our lives and the focal point for most of our creative energy. Ten years is an important land mark for the band and we have discussed doing something to celebrate that. I’m not sure what that is yet however… music, special editions or a tour maybe, but we need to work it out. I saw a recent interview with ENSLAVED saying they kept forgetting to celebrate these landmark years until 25 years (thus their upcoming tour), so I think it’s important we make something out of it.

Following the release of The Dark Hereafter, do you have much touring plans for the rest of 2016?

Chris: The new release The Dark Hereafter is due on Sept 30th, and we will follow it up with some shows and touring next year. We are playing some local UK shows in October 2016, and we will also play De Mortum Et Diabolum Festival in Germany in December. Then we will try to plan a tour in early 2017 as well.

The Dark Hereafter is set for release on September 30th via Candlelight Records.

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