Label: self released/bandcamp Band: Arx Atrata Origin: United Kingdom
It’s strange how sometimes you instantly hear that a band is from the UK. I’m finding that this is in the black metal realm a very distinguished sound. Clean, nature oriented (or that’s my personal reception of it) and with little regard for the grim traditions. The same goes for Arx Atrata, who released a rather gorgeous record with ‘Spiritus in Terra’.
Arx Atrata is a one man band, from a guy named Ben Sizer. If the artwork and font used on the record didn’t give it away yet, maybe the song title ‘Sherwood’ tipped you of. The sound is very clean, stripped of a lot of distortion to create a more harmonious, pleasant feel to the music. Not too pleasant though.
Meandering between the warm atmosphere of ColdWorld and the organic, Brittish sound of a Fen or Winterfylleth, Arx Atrata is evoking feelings of a mystical past. Inspiration clearly is from nature, if only from the coverimages. The origin of Notthingham of the band doesn’t shine through, but with a song like ‘Sherwood’ its surrounding woodland sure does.
The single string sounds of the guitar are very distinguishable in the sound of the band, but so are the keys. When either are used, they are the most prominent part of the sound. The tormented screams of Sizer fit right in with the sound, that is higly melodic with a touch of melancholy. The guitars sound feverish, nervous and never at ease, but then there’sthe keys like drops of water in a moonlit pond.
Take away the distortion, the grimness and satan stuff and you end up with pretty much this record. It feels like a reverie of that mysterious past, of history that is lost and felt keenly. It’s about that green realm in which we love to dwell. The harmonious balance, the blistering drums like hail in autumn and that dense oppressive feeling of autumn coming on. Contemplative and rich, it’s the record you should hear right now.
On Eindhoven Metal Meeting 2015 I was trodding along in my Winterfylleth shirt and ran into Simon Lucas and Chris Naughton from Winterfylleth. During an interesting conversation we discussed various topics, which rapidly go from history to politics and metal theory.
I was already sold on the music of this band, but the sharp wit and keen minds of the duo made me even more interested in what lies behind the music and the band. As I’m still a major fanboy, I often forget to get to the point on these moments, but luckily I was able to throw in my question if I could do an article on them. They luckily said yes.
While I was working on this, the band announced the coming of a new album, titled ‘The Dark Hereafter’, which will be out soon on Spinefarm and Candlelight. Unfortunately I’ve not been able to go too deeply into that, but I’m well excited for that record. Having faced their share of controversy in the past and being the band that they are, not every topic was up for discussion.
I hope you enjoy reading about one of my favorite black metal bands around. Chris Naughton, singer and founder of the band answered my questions.
How have things been for Winterfylleth lately?
Great thanks. We’ve been a little quiet this year as we’ve been writing for the new and upcoming releases. Also a few of us became new fathers so we’ve not had the time to commit to being on the road as a result. But we are all now looking forward to the new release and to a fresh run of shows and press – with everything that brings.
You and Simon Lucas (drummer) played together in various other groups like Men Scryfa & Atavist so it seems like you guys go way back. Can you tell a bit about those projects and what they were about? Did they help you find what you wanted to do with Winterfylleth?
For me those projects are largely unrelated to what we’ve done, and become, in Winterfylleth. Simon and I used to do Atavist (and I still do, having resurrected the old line up of the band this year) but that band was much more about exploring Nihilism and Inner Darkness rather than any of the themes we have in Winterfylleth. We did a few albums with Atavist on Profound Lore & Invada over the years and stopped doing anything with the band (until this year) around 2008 (after our tour with Nadja & Satori) to focus on Winterfylleth. Men Scryfa was slightly more related to Winterfylleth, although only because they lyrics to it were about the ‘Men Scryfa’ standing stones and the folk lore and significance to our history. This was a one off song written for a label called small doses records and was a tribute to the work of Julian Cope and his ‘Modern Antiquarian’ book. We never did anything else with this band.
Your music is clearly heavily influenced by historical themes, the same seems to go for your other bands. How did you get into this? I understood there’s a professional background to this work.
Winterfylleth is the only band where we have a really strong link to history and historical themes. We’ve talked about this many times before, but Simon and I met over a mutual appreciation for elements of history and that is what sparked our interest in doing a project together. Initially Simon joined Atavist on the drums, but as we were winding down our attention on that band & starting to form what would become Winterfylleth we also began to solidify the themes around history and heritage that had brought us together in the first place. There is no professional background to this and we are both just interested in these topics and continue to be; linking them to our political awareness to formulate the themes of the band.
It’s been 2 years since the wonderful album ‘Divination of Antiquity’. Are you working on anything new currently?
Yes, we have a few things in the pipeline actually. The main thing is that we have a new record called “The Dark Hereafter” coming out on September 30th in UK/Euro. Around this we are also working on an Acoustic album (which will follow The Dark Hereafter) and then another Black Metal album to follow the acoustic album. As I mentioned before I am also working on a new Atavist album and have also completed work on 2 news songs for 2 new releases for my other band Nine Covens.
Listening to your music, I find it’s very much giving the feeling of paintings from the Romantics of great landscapes, the majesty of nature and such. Is that in a way what you’re going for?
Absolutely. The idea is, and has always been, to connect people with their history, with landscapes and with nature. There is a song on the new release called “Green Cathedral” that really sums this up for me. It’s about how we should focus more on localism and not globalism in our daily pursuits, steering power and influence away from a few people in big companies and moving it back towards people. Returning to nature, at least to some extent, is inevitable for us at some stage. Particularly as the world is so chaotic and resources are so finite. We will have to do something at some point to curb our excesses.
There’s something really upbeat to your sound, there’s an element of empowering in it. I feel, when listening to it, that I want to straighten my back a bit more and get my chin up. I especially like listening to it outside and experience it. Is that something you feel is in there?
Yes I think so. Lyrical themes and imagery can only get you ‘so far’ as a band. I feel like the music itself also has to live up to the beauty and sorrow of the tales we are telling, otherwise the message doesn’t get across. So we use upbeat melodies to highlight and accent the elements of the ups and downs of the stories we are telling as a band. I think that we firstly connect with music as listeners, rather than lyrics etc, so if you get that bit wrong, then the whole point it lost.
You guys took part in the compilation ‘One and All, Together, for Home’ with a lot of similarly minded bands (to an extent at least). Do you feel a connection between bands that are doing something similarly to yourselves?
Of course, particularly bands like Drudkh & Primordial from that line up. They are bands who seem to share similar sentiments about their history and folklore, as well as caring deeply about it. So I think we’ve stuck together to some extent and I think it’s right that bands support one another as some of our content is important around current affairs and is another way of getting the truth out to people.
What is your recording and writing process like? Do you have defined roles and where do you get your subject matter from?
We all write together in my home studio and demo everything before we try it live. Usually Nick or I come up with the initial song ideas and then we build on them together. Although now we have Dan and Mark D in the band, we will start to see some of their influences coming through, I’m sure. Once we have done all of the pre-production, I write the lyrics and we take the songs to the studio and let Chris Fielding help us bring them to life. Lyrically, the themes are about ancient history and how that relates to the struggles of the modern world. So sometimes we talk about wider global themes and sometimes we relate them to pressing issues. All through the lens of ancient poetry and prose, adapted for modern means.
When we met at Eindhoven Metal Meeting, we discussed some of the accusations you’ve faced as a band, being labelled nationalist and even NSBM. Can you tell a bit about what that all was about?
I think – to our earlier discussion – that there are still veins of people who think we are evil because they have seen some reactive nonsense on the internet about us from 2007. Things happened that are well documented and we took steps to distance ourselves from them, so while there is a bit of a back story, it’s behind us and was 8 years ago. The kind of people who dredge this up are usually just virtue signalling ‘right on’ types of people who have never bothered to dig deeper and find out the real truth about us; and who seem to like having a cause to post on social media against. People that read our lyrics or engage with what we have to say in interviews are typically much better informed about what we truly stand for, and are the kinds of people who would defend our points, and our name, to others who know very little about us. I try not to get involved in things like this online anymore but I am happy to speak to anyone and answer their questions (in interviews or to our band page) both positive and negative because I think it is important to confront accusations like these head on and to address our critics honestly.
You explained to me that the t-shirt with the Warrior herd print had a specific meaning behind it. Can you relate that story and is it representative for your views?
The Warrior Herd shirt visualizes how there is always an evil behind the banners of war. The image depicts an evil being behind the flag of men charging into battle. It basically shows how we send our troops off to war under the pretence that they are defending our country, or our way of life from tyranny, yet usually we are actually invading another country for their resources or for some kind of financial or political gain. We revere our soldiers (and rightly so) as they give their lives for what they believe. It just happens that usually they are sent to do that under false pretences and there is usually a hidden agenda at play. I think that is an important lesson for how the world works and is something we are keen to make people think about when considering the topical issues of the day.
Winterfylleth notably doesn’t use much of the black metal aesthetics that are traditionally associated with the genre. What prompted that decision and how do you feel about bands still adhering to the ‘traditional’ look of black metal?
We are a BM band from England who formed 15-20 years or so after that kind of aesthetic was used and it just doesn’t represent who or what we are. Also, it has been done to death by too many bands now as well. To me, the corpse paint/traditional aesthetic of BM is the property of the bands from that era and was a reaction to their musical/political/social landscape at the time, and represents a feeling they had. To me we shouldn’t be trying to emulate that, as we are from a different era, a different country and have different issues that we are confronting in our music. The genre started around nihilism and satanism and reaction to religion etc. To me now, we are discussing issues of nature, of environmental distress, of socio-political importance, of history repeating itself and of power structures. It doesn’t work for me to utilise their aesthetic to do that, we have to find our own. So that is why we choose to be as we are. Our outward personal image is less important to us than overarching image of the albums and the message of what we are saying. Thus we avoid the traditional aesthetics.
Recently I watched the documentary ‘British Black Metal: The Extreme Underground’. A really enjoyable view on the British scene. What bands do you think are currently carrying the torch for British black metal?
With no ego, I think we in Winterfylleth have always tried to lead the charge in terms of contemporary British BM and have strived to bolster and promote the British scene for as long as we’ve had a platform to do so. We’ve helped get lots of key bands signed, we’ve A&R’d lots of bands for labels and taken as many of them on tour as we could to widen their influence and exposure. That said I don’t think UKBM would be anywhere without the combined efforts of a key group of bands… Wodensthrone (RIP), Fen & A Forest of Stars – who were other bands that really helped to re-ignite the British presence on the global BM map around the same time we were forming.
I think what we and those other bands have done is to create a platform on the global stage for British BM again and have allowed other bands the space (and possibly the inspiration) to bring their own spin on it to the world. As a result, lots of bands have come to the fore over the last few years that are really starting to strengthen the UK’s position in BM. Bands like, Cnoc An Tursa, Saor, Eastern Front, Falloch, Old Corpse Road, Wolves of Avalon, Ethereal, Necronautical, The Infernal Sea, Mountains Crave, Kull, Arx Atrata and lots of others.
In the documentary you also mention travelling the country for inspiration. Which are the best spots to listen to every Winterfylleth album?
You should travel to the places where the cover images were taken (Castleton in the Peak District, Snowdonia National Park and the Lake District), go for a walk and take in the beauty and majesty of those areas while you do. They inspired us to write the music, so hopefully they’ll creatively inspire you as well.
What does the future hold for Winterfylleth?
A new release called “The Dark Hereafter” is due on Sept 30th 2016, and we will follow it up with some shows and touring next year. We are also working on 2 future releases as mentioned above, so we are busy with what comes next before the new release is available.
Final question, if you had to describe Winterfylleth as a dish, what would it be and why?
I think we’d be a satellite dish, as we help connect people to each other around important issues. 😉