In recent years, black metal has seen a popular renewal in the UK, and one of the many bands pushing its harsh sound is Manchester’s Winterfylleth – mixing a progressive black metal sound with heavy folk vibes, thus creating a unique and refined brand of BM. Before the band hit the stage at Hammerfest V, I managed to talk to Chris Naughton about influences, corpsepaint and remembering your roots…
First of all, would you like to introduce yourself and say what you do in Winterfylleth?
Sure, it’s Chris Naughton and I play guitar and do lead vocals in Winterfylleth.
So, have you played Hammerfest before?
No, never played Hammerfest before, played other festivals but never had the chance to come to this festival… so looking forward to having the opportunity to play next to Burger King, that’s a life-time ambition achieved right there, I think [laughs]. We played this ATP festival a couple of years ago, similar kind of set up to this, kind of holiday park. It sounds a sorta bit bent at first, doesn’t it? But it’s quite a nice thing when you get here, like there’s food for everybody – catering facilities and great big venues – and everybody gets to stay in a nice shack every night, so it’s good [laughs].
I know you’re touring with Enslaved, and you’ve only just arrived here, but I was wondering if there was anybody you’re looking forward to seeing tonight?
Erm… not really. I mean, we’ve missed all the bands we wanted to see today and we’re also touring with Ancient Ascendant; they’re great, we saw them last night. I was looking forward to seeing Enslaved again but we got here late and it’s been a bit of a mess about. Nobody else really, all the stuff I wanna see is on tomorrow. The bands – for me, today – is not what I want to watch, so…
Who would you like to see tomorrow, if you had the opportunity?
I’d like to see Candlemass, Napalm [Death], Saint Vitus, Angel Witch, all that sorta stuff – it’s much more what we’re up for. But it’s good to be here and it’s good to play alongside Enslaved again and just some of the smaller bands – we’re quite good friends with this band called Triaxis from South Wales, I wanted to catch them but we arrived hours after they finished, so… it’s been a messy day, so y’know… I just wanna get drunk [laughs].
They [Triaxis] had a good reaction though!
Yeah, they’re a good band! They recorded with this guy called Chris Fielding, who we record with, and he’s produced an album for them, and they’re starting to get an influence that’s absolutely positive for them, y’know, quite DIY roots, building a name of their own and they’ve not had the support of a label up to this point, so they’re getting their name out there and playing lots of shows, doing really well for themselves. It’s great to see people still do that and get to this level.
Especially in this digital age.
Yeah, completely. I think there’s too many folks downloading and all that sort of stuff… it does my head in man, but like, it is what it is and you have to adapt to it. A lot of people buy t-shirts these days rather than buying CDs, so that’s how bands make their money.
Vinyl’s making a comeback too.
I think so, yeah.
I noticed on your official website that you describe yourselves as “English Heritage Black Metal”, I was just wondering what that might specifically entail, musically or lyrically.
Well, I think it started as a kind of like a buzzy term really to sort of say we aren’t Norwegian black metal, that we aren’t Scandinavian or we aren’t USBM [United States Black Metal] or whatever. I think we’ve always wanted to… yeah, we all love black metal, but we’ve always wanted to do something that was our own. I’m not suggesting we’re reinventing the wheel because we’re not, it’s a black metal band, we’ve done songs in the spirit of that sort of stuff. I just think we try to put a uniquely, hopefully, English twist and talk about, well, stories of England and the British Isles and stuff that matters to us. Actually, y’know, the front cover of our new album is probably taken nearer to here than anywhere else, up in Snowdonia… so, it’s not specifically just about England but the British Isles and our collective history as a sort of… lump of land [laughs].
Yeah, there’s a lot of Celtic…
Of course, yeah. I think we haven’t delved into all that sort of stuff maybe as much, but y’know, we’re only three albums into our tenure as a band.
The fourth album is still yet to come.
Yeah, the third album has only just been out, whatever it is now… four or five months? We’re still kind of getting it out there and touring that; that’s why we’re touring with Enslaved and its come at the right time for us. So yeah, fantastic for us to be able to come out here and play some new songs for people and hopefully a few older ones and see a few heads banging.
Play the classics.
Well, do we have classics songs yet? I don’t think so.
Maybe, give it another year.
Well, related to that question: is there anyone else you consider to be in the same vein as what you’re trying to do? I know you’re good friends with Wodensthrone…
That’s right, yeah. Erm… there’s bands in a similar vein. I think the British, English, UK and Ireland scene at the moment is really kind of fruitful, there’s lots and lots of great bands coming out on the scene. I think everyone’s kind of coming from a similar perspective but everyone’s got their own take on it. We’re friends with quite a few of the great bands coming out of England, so y’know, Wodensthrone obviously, as you mentioned, they’re a little more Pagan, kinda bit more specific with their themes as opposed to like A Forest Of Stars, who are a bit more about the Victoriana and the occult, trance-mediums and bit more kind of obscure. Then you’ve got bands like Fen, a bit more Earth and nature, and then bands like Cnoc An Tursa from Scotland who are more about Scottish history, poetry, heritage, all that kind of stuff. So there’s this vein of bands coming out of England which are really great and got a similar vibe. I suppose maybe what we do differently – although I can’t speak for those other bands – but what we’ve tried to do with our stuff is mention the history and heritage that we think are interesting but also to link them to, I dunno, having a social undercurrent, I suppose, and stuff that actually resonates with people and means something other than singing about beer and losing your girlfriend and “eee-yeeer”… That’s fine, but it’s not what we want to do, we want to do something a bit more sincere and a bit more meaningful, so I think a lot of the English bands – Irish bands as well, like Alter Plagues and all that sort of stuff – there’s a real kind of sincerity and uniqueness about what they’re all doing, and it all stems from their relationship with where they’re from, their culture, their stories as opposed to trying to be a Norwegian band from England, you know what I mean, trying to sing songs about satan. It’s taking things on one step, maybe, and making it into something that’s relevant to us and not a parody of what lots of other bands have done before – content-wise at least. I’m sure there’s musical crossovers, but you know…
That kind of leads to another thing I was wondering about with Norwegian black metal: they’re heavy on the make-up, spikes and the leather, I was wondering because you don’t look like you play black metal, you’re quite casual in comparison to the Norwegian black metallers. What are your thoughts on the whole make-up and that stuff?
Well, I mean… from my perspective, I think that those guys created that look and that emotion and those sort of visuals as a reaction to their scene, to their social or musical or political or whatever kind of struggles they were going through at the time, and rebelling against death metal and all that sorta stuff… looking at the dead, and they were creating something new from it. I think it’s been done to death a lot, and I think for us to try and create something and pen it as English black metal, it makes no sense to me to parody early-90s black metal when we are [a] 2013 English black metal and we’re writing songs about our own experience, our own social/political problems, our own…
Environment, heritage, yeah… our own stories. It didn’t make sense to us to panda-up. I think that was their reaction to their situation; I think ours was to be a bit more… I dunno. It’s less visual image in that sense to me, I think the music is supposed to speak for itself: we dress quite plain onstage, jeans and black shirts, ‘cause it’s not about ‘Oh, they look evil and they’re wearing spikes’, because our music isn’t necessarily about being evil, it’s about challenging peoples thought processes and making people think differently about social situations or social pressures. So for us to dress up like Norwegians from the 90s it doesn’t make sense to me, that’s why we stay clear of it. I don’t necessarily hate other bands doing it but y’know… we aren’t singing about satan, we’re not evil. We’re people who care about who we are, where we’re from and our environment and macro-political stuff that’s affecting everybody and I think there’s lots of apathy within people; and think that if you don’t have somebody who’s prepared or willing to sort of say stuff to challenge peoples’ opinions that perhaps we have and hopefully continue to do through the stuff that we write, then why are you doing it? There’s lots and lots of metal bands that do it for the wrong reasons and just want to be in a band as opposed to having something to say and I think it’s really important to have something to say.
I guess the image distracts from the message a little bit.
I suppose, but you know, it’s not something that’s ever been super important to me. I think when you look at other bands like Enslaved, [they] don’t really have an ‘image’, they’re just guys in plain shirts and jeans who play amazing emotional music and has a real atmosphere to it that a lot of bands can’t create; and I hope we try and do something in our own way that’s similar to that. So, if you want to look at people wearing corpse paint, then don’t come watch a Winterfylleth show. If you want to hear music that’s atmospheric and hopefully affects you, then absolutely come and see Winterfylleth. That’s what we’re trying to do, so that’s why we don’t wear corpsepaint.
Another thing I was wondering about: You can hear a lot of influences outside of black metal, like in Mam Tor there’s quite a thrashy intro, I thought anyway, and you have an acoustic sets in your music, and sometimes doomy as well. What are your biggest influences outside of black metal?
Well, I can only really speak for me, obviously the other guys have got quite a wide spectrum of musical interests, but at the heart of it all we’re all just fans of extreme metal. Death, black and doom… I’m a big fan of ambient and drone and stuff like that, easy sort of stuff. One of my close friends runs Coldspring Records, sort of noisy-ambient-doom, weird black ambient – there is loads of stuff with bands like Inade, Sleep Research Facility, Merzbow, Zorn, Z’ev and stuff like that. I think, for me, that’s where a lot of my influences come from. Doomy-wise, we were in a doom band before we started Winterfylleth, in Atavist – we did five or six releases with that, I suppose some of that crept in a bit in the early days when we were finding our way with what Winterfylleth. We all love stuff from the whole spectrum of doom, from guys like Saint Vitus right through to the extremes of Evoken or Indesinence or like Esoteric, and stuff inbetween. I suppose in that sense we’ve got a broad range of metal that we draw on, I mean, it tends to be in the more extreme realms of things, more kind of… I dunno, underground maybe? But we’ve still got love for the things like Deep Purple, Whitesnake and Judas Priest…
You can’t forget the classics.
Yeah, I think if you do then you forget what these guys are doing. Like you hear these kids talking, going, “Oh, if only Black Sabbath recorded with modern production”, and you’re like… I know what you’re trying to say, you wanted to sound really punchy and massive, but you have to understand that these guys were paving the way…
It was modern back then!
Yeah, exactly! And try judging [after] having heard the latest Metallica album. These guys are the forefathers of it and you have to appreciate where it comes from and how you’ve got to where you are now from there.
They are the band that created “Kill ‘Em All”, so…
I heard that you hold down regular jobs as well as being in the band, I was just wondering if it’s safe to say what you do, or is it all secret?
It’s not secret, but it’s not important either, what we do… I dunno, I heard a great interview that Alan Averill from Primordial gave once, just sort of saying, do I really need to know that Ted from Darkthrone is a postman? No. All you need to know is that when the four of us come together outside our regular lives – we’re Winterfylleth and we bring the music that you hopefully love on the records and that’s why you stand in front of us, y’know. I don’t think many bands can make it in the modern world without having worked, so… yeah, we do work.
Yeah, Darkthrone hold down regular jobs.
Yeah, exactly, I think a lot of bands do. I think you have to. It is what it is, but I think we spend so much time thinking about this band that it’s almost the thing we love to do outside the need to eat and have a roof over your head and all that sort of stuff.
You recorded the last album in Wales; was that a joint decision by you all and how was that experience with recording?
Well, we recorded our last three releases in Wales actually, in a place called Foel Studios. It’s great, it’s done by Dave Anderson who used to be in Hawkwind and The Groundhogs and also Amon Duul II, there’s a real heritage in Dave, he bought the studio in the 70s, it’s in a place called Llanfair Caereinion – if you put a pin prick in the middle of Wales, in the middle of all the fields, it’s basically there. It’s like a 30-minute drive from the nearest shop, it’s great. He’s converted this old, massive barn outside it and two big properties that he owns, the studio’s all in there… lots of bands have recorded there, Napalm [Death], all that sort of stuff. The engineer Chris, really, was why we went there. We were quite friendly with this band Ingested from Manchester, quite slammy-death stuff, a couple of them used to be in Annotations Of An Autopsy – not music we’re necessarily or particularly love, but you know, they’re a great set of lads and they had a really good experience recording with Chris, so we fancied having a go with Chris. We started working with him and became really close friends, don’t think we trust anyone else to get the essence of what our albums sound like. It’s difficult, when you find someone you love working with it’s very difficult to try somebody else because…
… to go away from that.
Yeah, I suppose it’s the element of maybe getting a slightly different sound for the next record or doing something else and moving forward, but Chris captures this sort of organic, flowing – I use the word loosely – spiritual element we have to the albums.
It does show on the albums.
We’re really happy with that, that’s why we keep going there, because he’s the engineer there. He’s moved studios now, started his own studio, so it might be that we’ll follow him to his new place in the future.
So we can expect the new Winterfylleth there then?
Yeah, well we’ve already written about half of it, and we’ve recorded an EP that’s coming out inbetween on Seasons Of Mist, a split with… well, it’s like a folk compilation so we’ve done three folk songs. Its traditional English folk songs, done our own style, and one of the guys from the Ukrainian band Drudkh – he’s organised it. It’s gonna feature bands like Kampfar, I think Sólstafir are doing it, I’m not 100% though. A big compilation of like six or seven bands doing their own versions of folk songs from their own countries, and coming out at some point this year whenever everyone gets together with it and then we’ll start writing what will become the fourth album.
Yeah, well, that was my next question to be honest.
Yes, there will be a fourth album.
There will be a fourth album then, that’s good! Well, that’s pretty much it really, it was nice talking to you.
Thank you, you too.
Winterfylleth‘s latest album, “The Threnody of Triumph”, is out now on Candlelight Records.
Interview by RichReviewz.