by R.S. Frost

WINTERFYLLETH are bona fide veterans of the UK black metal scene. Since 2007 the band have consistently and without exception released an album every two years. They have toured the international circuit for almost every release and show no signs of slowing this progression.

I caught up with vocalist/guitarist Chris Naughton to discuss his considerable discography of work, musings on black metal in the UK, his creative focus on interwoven melodies, British history, folklore and his deep and profound connection to nature and the power it holds.

Image credit - Sabrina Ramdoyal Photograhy

- As many tend to do, I played in various types of bands at school, but it wasn’t until I took up the electric guitar at the latter end of high school that I truly came into my own musically and wanted to start creating “original” music in a band environment. I also remember around that time was when I was getting into my mid to late teens and had a bit more money to spend on things like buying records. I was always looking to find heavier, weirder, and more obscure music to consume and I think that journey of discovery drove me to want to make extreme music as an adult. Since that point, I have always had this inner need to make something new, or to have a project on the go (musically speaking).

Encyclopaedia Metallum has stated that the band take their name from the Old English word for the month of October, Winterfylleþ.

- This is actually not true. Winterfylleth is the festival of the arrival of winter and is signified by the ‘Winter Full Moon’ (i.e., the first full moon of winter), which is the literal old to new English translation of the band name. It just so happens to be in October, but it’s not the Old English word for it.

It seems as though Chris is not overly fond of having downtime, as he has been involved in a daunting number of projects over the past two decades.

- I imagine that most people would know me from being in the band Winterfylleth predominantly, which is my main band, but over the years I’ve been involved in lots of other bands, directly and also as a guest.

The main bands I have performed in and written music for are Winterfylleth (black metal), whose newest album ‘The Hallowing of Heirdom’ was released in April 2018, ATAVIST (death/doom metal), which has a new album ‘III: Absolution’ coming in 2019, NINE COVENS (black metal), whose most recent release was ‘Thy Unknowing Servants’ 7-inch in late 2017, and HAMMER OF THE GODS (doom/sludge metal), which is an older project that we never did a huge amount with. There are a few EPs out there if you care to look.

I have also been involved in many other projects, on guest vocals or guitar, including DRUDKH (black metal) – guest vocals on three releases, WOLCENSMEN (neo-folk) – Dan from Winterfylleth’s other main project that I perform live with and have sang on the latest few releases of, CNOC AN TURSA (black metal), SAILLE (black metal), BAST (doom metal), THE COMMITTEE (black metal), SVOID (post punk/black metal), THE KING IS BLIND (death metal) and CLOACA (doom metal).

Image credit - Sabrina Ramdoyal Photograhy

Most people that I speak to who have dedicated a considerable chunk of their adult lives to metal seem to do so due to a reciprocal and beneficial relationship with one particular part of the industry, whether it be recording, writing, touring etc. Does this ring true for yourself?

- Personally, I most enjoy the writing, crafting and recording of new albums above all else. The “industry”, as a whole, can be quite the minefield of politics, egos and effort outside of that, and it can become quite consuming if you let it. So, we try to navigate that side of things, the best way we can, where we need to.

Ultimately, a band like us (Winterfylleth I mean – as that’s my main project) wants to be judged on the value of what we are contributing to art and to culture, musically and aesthetically, so that’s where I find the most enjoyment. We predominantly make records for ourselves and strive to write material that we like, that means something to us, that pushes us to be better, and that is, in many ways, the sum total of all of us. If you aren’t doing that kind of thing and you are trying to jump on a trend or are making a record for the sake of it, and with nothing to say, then I cannot relate to you. It’s as simple as that.

Outside of that, I also love playing the shows (both big and small) and bringing our music to people all over the world that enjoy listening to it. I will never cease to be humbled by the passion and commitment that many fans have for what we are doing in Winterfylleth, and I am very grateful for it. That kind of support makes the toils and efforts of doing a new record worthwhile as well; particularly when people reach out to the band to share their experiences of our music and how it’s factored into their lives in some positive way.

Have you come across any situations or experiences that have enforced your creative drive and the effort that goes into doing this for such a considerable amount of time?

- There have been lots of those over the years. But some of the most memorable moments for me have been:

Playing Bloodstock in 2010 for the first time, as a new band who had never played such a big platform before. It was a truly humbling experience and was one that really helped project the band to the next level.

Playing Hellfest, Wacken, Graspop, Party San, Brutal Assault and many other awesome European metal festivals over the years. It’s only when you get the chance to play some of the truly “big stages” in metal that you get a feel for what a force of nature extreme music is, globally. When we play to thousands of people at those big festivals, it can be a truly life-affirming thing to do and is something I’ve always found very memorable. Particularly when those big crowds know your songs and sing them back to you. It’s a huge feeling when that happens.

Being on the cover of Terrorizer Magazine in 2014 around the launch of our ‘The Divination of Antiquity’ album was another key moment for me. When you’ve grown up reading a magazine like that every month and worshipping many bands you have discovered within its pages, it’s quite something when you are the “band of the moment” on its cover. Terrorizer was an institution as far as I was concerned when I was growing up. It’s such a shame that printed media has become somewhat obsolete these days for many people. I think we are truly lesser as a scene because of this, and I lament its demise. Genuinely.

Playing the main stage at Bloodstock 2017 was a more recent, life-affirming, memorable moment for me. It having been the platform to launch Winterfylleth from being a small band on the way up in 2010, it was amazing to return on a much bigger stage years later and feel like we had grown along with the festival that helped us to grow in the first place. We will always have huge respect for the Gregorys who organise that festival and for what they have done for underground music in the UK and globally by creating that festival.

Image credit - Sabrina Ramdoyal Photograhy

Every Winterfylleth album deals with British history and legend in some regard, the most obvious examples of this being the song title ‘Brithnoth: The Battles of Maldon (991 AD)’ from ‘The Ghost of Heritage’, and the album title ‘The Mercian Sphere’ which references Mercia; one of the kingdoms of the Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy.

Reading through your lyrics, it becomes apparent that you are quite a well-read individual who holds great interest in his ancestral chronicles. How did this academic pursuit come about and what led you to theme a black metal band around it?

- Every day is a school day I guess. We try to put the due diligence into researching the lyrical topics for all of our albums, as we want to be clear on the detail and the meanings we are discussing. If you don’t do that, the point of passing those stories, themes and concepts on to others becomes lost. That diligence and research tend to lead you down certain paths you maybe hadn’t considered before, and it can become a bit of a vortex at times. But usually, as a result of reading around the areas of folklore, customs, stories and themes we are interested in preparing for the album, we come across new elements (like pastoral poetry - for example - on ‘The Hallowing…’) and so we dive into more detail and decide to include them in the lyrics. In that instance, it’s an interesting area of poetry and the two pastoral poems we chose to use on the ‘Hallowing’ album have this wonderful link to one another, so it made sense to shine a light on them in some songs on the album. The songs they are used in are called The Shepherd and The Nymph.

As for theming a band around it, I’ve discussed this topic many times before so I won’t go deeply into it. In essence, we wanted to make music around themes and source material that was relevant to us (a band from the UK), rather than trying to parrot back some spurious version of Norse mythology, Satanism or Anti-Christianity because “that’s what you do in BM”. We started making music many years after those original bands, so it seemed to make more sense to take some influence from them but to make it real for us and to cover things we were interested in, like history, folklore, nature, story telling etc.

I’m interested in what your musical output means to you personally and if there have been any artists that have had a profound impact on you as a musician and as an individual.

- Without giving you the stock answer on this one, music has always been an escape, and a creative channel for me as an individual. I guess it acts as a needed outlet to contrast the real-world pursuits that we must all concern ourselves with on a daily basis. Winterfylleth has come to represent, for me, a means through which I vent my creativity and give a voice and a platform to concepts and topics I/we believe are worth discussing or acknowledging on more than just an inconsequential level.

To that end I’ve always enjoyed passionate, atmospheric music that has something to say above the base level “Hail Satan, yay beer!” types of things that mar a lot of metal for me. I have found a lot of influence from bands like DRUDKH, ULVER, ENSLAVED, DISSECTION and the like. I always liked how those bands seemed to have this link to nature and focused on the atmosphere of the songs, as well as the concepts, where others were being quite lo-fi and primitive at the same time. I always wanted to echo that atmosphere through songs that made sense for us, and that were based on where we are from. So, I see that bearing out in our albums over the years.

Equally, I like a lot of atmospheric music from other genres. Bands like BOHREN UND DER CLUB OF GORE, CARBON BASED LIFEFORMS, a lot of the music on labels like KOMPAKT RECORDS, or ULTIMAE RECORDS, ambient music and others. The types of artists who play with atmosphere and emotion in other ways. It’s a rich pool of people doing this kind of thing, and it all helps to focus the mind on how to achieve atmosphere in new and creative ways.

Bringing the focus back to black metal in particular, do you have any observations regarding the UK scene over the past two decades?

- There have been a lot of changes in the scene since we’ve been making music. Which is maybe 15 plus years by this point. When we first started Winterfylleth in 2006/07 there just wasn’t a UK black metal scene at all. Not until bands like WODENSTHRONE, A FOREST OF STARS, FEN, SKALDIC CURSE, NIROTH, ICENI and others started to make music in the mid-2000s did there even start to be a recognisable UKBM scene. Now, years later there is a huge scene of bands who have followed in our wake, and I think that can only be a good thing. It now feels like the UK actually has a place in the echelons of black metal lore, rather than just being the country that spawned CRADLE OF FILTH, HECATE ENTHRONED and BAL-SAGOTH in the ‘90s.

There has also been a lot of negative changes across the scene as well, which I’m sure are commonplace globally now, not just in the UK. We’ve seen this strange rise of the far left and ‘protest’ groups like Antifa within this sphere of music as well as their self-appointed need to try and occupy all areas of discourse (and the arts) with their views. We’ve also seen the rise of their insatiable desire to demonise anyone who doesn’t fit their mould. I think it’s a rather dangerous thing when one group of people try to be the custodians of what is right and wrong in any aspect of life, particularly when it comes from one political perspective, and at the extreme end of it.

I think we tend to work best when we are more open-minded to other ideas across all aspects of life, and I think that the staunch proponents from the aforementioned protest groups would do well to see beyond their own dogma at points. As they will end up mimicking the people they aim to de-platform if they go any further.

In 2018 Winterfylleth released a very different album, ‘The Hallowing of Heirdom’, which was a fully acoustic folk album containing layers of interwoven guitars, strings and stacked vocal harmonies. Whilst some of these elements have been present in every album previously, they have always been bookended by blast beats, tremolo-picked riff work and Chris’ familiar caustic vocals.

I can’t help but retrospectively ponder the cover of Ulver’s Capitel I: I Troldskog Faren Vild (or Led Astray In The Forest Dark in the English tongue), which closed 2016’s ‘The Dark Hereafter’, and whether this was a “taste of things to come” sort of statement.

- In one sense, I guess we decided to do the Ulver cover as a point of interest on the album, but in another sense as a homage to a band that meant a lot to us as a group. There are always bands that each individual member takes more influence from than others (or indeed likes more than others), but there are certain bands, like Ulver, where we are all truly aligned. So, we decided to put ourselves to the test and see if we could pull off a classy cover of a song that was important to the formation of our own band.

As ever with these things, we didn’t want it just to be a straight copy of the track (as you can just go listen to Ulver’s original version for that), so we thought we would sing it in English as a point of uniqueness from the original. Ulver had recently released their ‘Trolsk Sort Metall’ box set with extended liner notes containing updated English translations of the early Danish lyrics they used. So it was a logical thing for us, an English band, to do, we thought.

It was interesting trying to fit English phrasing and words around the vocal patterns of the source material, but I think we managed it and many fans of the band have told us they think it’s one of the best Ulver covers they’d heard, which is great to hear. Even Ulver themselves liked it and shared it, so that was a great honour for us as well.

With more than ten album releases and a scattering of demos, EPs, singles and guest appearances, what is it that keeps you motivated and enables the continuation of your creative output?

- I suppose, quite simply, the same things that got me into it in the first place. To be able to make records that mean something to me, that have something to say, that challenge me to be a better player and writer, that have worth to others, and that contribute to art and culture in some small way. Otherwise, I would hate to be a regular person who just drifts through life without having any impact on the world, at least in some way. Other people express that impact in other ways than music (obviously), but music is my way of doing that. So, my inner voice demands I keep doing it; and I shall.

This article is an excerpt of the full interview conducted, which further explores the importance of music throughout Chris’ formative years, controversy and the power it holds, and musings on the insatiable need to keep creating, regardless of the climate one may find themselves in.