Since 2014 the profound UK duo has been pursuing their Atmospheric Black Metal vision, which is completely filled with majestic vastness in all its natural beauty.
With the new and second album „Wreathed In Mourncloud“ Fellwarden can position themselves among the more established acts of the genre.
As singer and guitarist Frank 'The Watcher' Allain reports, the songs in the current release stand for him as a monument to the epic and moving.
For what kind of musical ideals stands „Wreathed In Mourncloud“?
„‘Wreathed In Mourncloud’ stands a monument to the epic and the stirring. It’s a celebration of that first sense of drama, mystery and excitement that first captivated me when I discovered Black Metal a quarter of a century ago. The thrill of discovering this overwhelming musical style rooted so firmly in atmosphere and a sense of genuine authenticity. In these days of the internet and everything being available at the click of a mouse-butting, it’s hard to fully articulate how different it was back then – reading through magazines, scouring CD racks in your local shop, the occasional flyer you might find – all these outlets were a lifeline into discovering these realms of music that almost had ‘mythical’ status. This was particularly important to those of us who lived in the middle of nowhere and had no access to underground gigs and precious few friends who shared our passions. So there is an element of nostalgia musically on ‘Wreathed In Mourncloud’ but I also want to use that as a platform to drive forward new ideas of epic expression – the atmosphere may be rooted in the principles of traditional second-wave Black Metal but I want to push the material into new areas of atmosphere and ambience, to really take things as far as possible into soaring, searing realms. The album needs to embody that life-affirming sensation of striding through the fells of England as the winds howl and the rains lash; of standing shoulder-to-shoulder with one’s comrades in the face of overwhelming odds; of standing firm against life’s challenges and rising up to defy; this ultimately is the principle of the record.“
What is the most important fact for you on these 2nd album?
„To create something truly moving – to put together an album that synthesizes so much of what I enjoy about extreme Metal and music in general into a coherent, affecting whole. The ability to connect and to draw like-minded listeners into your world and have the atmosphere you are looking to generate really resonate with them – that is the key for me. In some ways, deep down, I’ve wanted to make an album like this since I was fifteen years old. Billowing, immersive atmosphere, searing riffs, haunting melodies and proper, hand-painted artwork. This is what drew me into the genre and at my core, still really thrills me. To be able to channel that atmosphere into something new and personal is really important for me. And that is a key point also – these are very personal songs in a lot of ways, pieces that really tell a lot about my feelings and worldview as a person. They reflect very different considerations than those I explore in Fen but they are no less an important aspect of my character.“
It feels partly truly touching for me to listen to these deeply summoning songs, a class of it’s own so to say - what kind of emotions dominates the new material?
„I would say resolve and determination, first and foremost. The strength of will to stand tall and face up against life’s challenges – wherever we are, whatever our situation, we are doubtless besieged by strife in some way. Surrounded by the deceitful, the manipulative and the relentless structures designed to beat us down and forego our humanity – this album in part is a call to stand against this. To reclaim oneself and hold firm to principles and honor despite the temptation to surrender to the status-quo. Honor, valor and integrity therefore – but also sorrow, reflection and acknowledgment. The strength to accept one’s own mistakes, to look back and learn lessons from the past and to have the character to realign one’s path.“
Are you yourselves as soulful and longing persons as the music you make?
„I’m not sure it’s for me to really answer that to be honest! I mean, I think I’m a fairly laid-back and upbeat person most of the time but you’d have to ask those that know me and spend time with me for an honest or realistic picture of the type of character I am. My partner often accuses me of being a bit gloomy or a bit of a doom-monger so maybe there is a reflective side to my personality that has a tendency to dwell in the negative or pessimistic side of things if I’m not careful. There is a history of depression in my family which perhaps explains why I can sometimes end up getting mired in over-thinking about things or dwelling on the negative aspects of situations but by and large, I try to channel that into a positive outcome. To harness the energy that comes with feelings of hopelessness, frustration and despair and use it as fuel for expression. To that end, I tend to be something of a romantic in the classic sense of the word – one who yearns for the spiritual nourishment of landscape, who has little time for the fetishizing of material goods, who strives to achieve a more harmonious existence and to unlock higher planes of consciousness/awareness. And it’s so, so difficult – this world is designed to distract us, to shred our abilities to focus, to bog us down with meaninglessness, the trivial and drab obligation. This ultimately is what I am yearning/longing for – the opportunity to unburden my mind of the sludge that holds it back from true solace or potential. It’s a constant struggle, however I am doing my best!“
What topics do your new song texts deal with?
„Lyrically, ‘Wreathed In Mourncloud’ takes all of the ideas and notions I’ve discussed so far in this interview and channels them through tales of ancient tribes and resilient landscape. The proud peaks of the fells of northern England have stood tall against untold millennia of change and elemental punishment and in many ways, represent the steadfast nature of those who stand firm behind their beliefs, who defy the base distractions of our increasingly fragmented societies and who ultimately hold to timeless, honorable principles. I speak of the earliest tribes who forged the first settlements and took those first few tentative steps on the road to civilization – the impulses behind this and the legacies that were to follow. ‘Pathmaker’ speaks of similar topics – the forging of legacy, the making of paths that others will follow throughout the ages. Again, this is truism that holds irrespective of time or place – the true trailblazers are few in number and bold step forward where others hold back, driven only by their own courage and conviction. In many ways, it’s a notion of self-sacrifice explored here – a concept touched upon also in ‘An Elder Reckoning’ which addresses how the few can stand up and be counted when called upon by the many to make a sacrifice for the greater good. This is a theme that resonates time and again throughout the tales of human history – from the gates of Thermopylae to the poor souls who gave their lives to stabilize the Chernobyl reactor, it’s a powerful notion indeed. So as rooted as many of the song lyrics are in specific landscape concepts (‘Scafell’s Blight’ for example directly refers to England’s highest peak and the dramatic landscape that surrounds it) yet they are laced with messages that should resonate with readers/listeners attuned to the atmosphere therein. Ultimately, the lyrics speak of what it is to be human.“
Who wrote the lion’s share of the songs and how long was the work in total for all the material?
„All of the music and lyrical content was written by myself with most of the key elements being written in the early part of 2017. Progress commenced swiftly following completion of the first album ‘Oathbearer’ – seeing the first album come to a conclusion and realizing how this had become a defined, important expression really lit a fire under me. I finally realized how I wanted Fellwarden to truly sound and what feelings I wanted to evoke with it and this injected a real energy into the writing stage. Ideas flowed quickly, inspiration driving inspiration like an upwards spiral. There were also some key themes on this record that I had been sitting on for a few years – one or two passages written some time ago that I had never really been able to find a ‘home’ for. When crafting the songs for this album, it dawned on me that I finally had a vessel for which these pieces would work perfectly – so some of the sections on the album date back to even earlier than this. In addition, because of the studio-bound nature of the project, some of the writing could actually take place as I recorded – indeed, this is where a lot of the layering of the songs was built up. It really gave me the perfect platform to develop the songs as they were brought to life, adding additional vocal, keyboard and guitar lines as I went along. Given this, it actually took a relatively long time to record the album – the constant temptation to add, tweak and change things was always there! So inasmuch as the principal writing took place quite quickly, the actual recording/fashioning/crafting process probably stretched out over an 18 month or so period.“
What have been the hardest or most difficult passages of the songwriting-process?
„At the risk of sounding a little blasé, writing for this album was generally very smooth. I felt really inspired when working on the material and it flowed extremely naturally. The pieces almost seemed to write themselves, ideas pouring out in an almost fully-formed fashion and needing very little tweaking/polishing to be rendered into full songs or passages. There are always those frustrating moments when a promising piece struggles to come together as easily as it should but really, ‘Wreathed In Mourncloud’ came together very naturally. I think it was actually the lyrical side of the album that I found more challenging. I really wanted to give Fellwarden a different voice from Fen and whilst still keeping the language rooted in metaphor and simile, write texts that communicated on a different level. I wanted to ensure that the wordplay was suitably evocative, illuminated the messages within and yet still managed to work as inspiring stories within their own right. Ultimately, it was important to me that the words worked on the surface also, that presented inspirational accounts of rugged landscapes whatever their deeper implications might be. So on reflection, getting this balance right and ensuring the lyrics worked was the biggest challenge within the songwriting process.“
Allowed to ask you about any special musical influences which led to the new material?
„You can ask that for sure, although I don’t think I’ll be able to give you any particularly revealing or earth-shattering insights! I think I’d always been considering the concept of creating an epic, sweeping Black Metal sound filled with a sense of drama and bombast and so really drew upon all of these influences to inject into Fellwarden. Key influences are the more soaring acts within the Black Metal scene – Moonsorrow for example, ‘Viking’-era Bathory, early Borknagar, Negură Bunget, Nightside-era Emperor, Dawn, this sort of thing – and then influences from the ‘Epic Metal’ scene such as early Manowar, Blind Guardian, Warlord, Attacker, Cirith Ungol, Atlantean Kodex and so on. Fusing all of this together and then looking at the soundtrack-writing approach of composers like Hans Zimmer or classical composers such as Holst, Vaughan Williams and Stravinsky and attempting to weave elements of this into the fabric of the material I guess is the last piece of the puzzle. I don’t really intend to stray into the overtly ‘symphonic’ or ‘neo-classical’ sphere of the genre but I do believe retaining some influence from that direction has leant a touch of richness and bombast to the new record.“
In which position between all the countless, similar Metal acts do you see Fellwarden?
„Difficult question. I guess there are plenty of acts forging stirring, landscape-inspired extreme Metal in the scene these days – indeed, we have Winterfylleth and Saor here in the UK leading the charge on this front – so I guess there is some spiritual alignment there. I also feel a sense of kinship with some of the more ‘classic’/earlier acts in the scene who derive their influences from a more atmospheric/fantasy setting – early Abigor/Summoning for example are a classic example – as well the aforementioned Moonsorrow/Borknagar axis. Ultimately, I’m not massively precious – so many bands are desperate to trumpet their own originality or declare themselves as something completely apart from everyone else and impossible to define. I always call bullshit on that – when someone is asked how they would describe or pigeonhole their own music and replies ‘I really couldn’t describe it – it’s totally unique’ – nine times out of ten, this is nonsense. It’s usually something easily categorized and pretty generic. For me, I have no shame in stating categorically that Fellwarden play epic, atmospheric Black Metal. If that sounds like it’s up your street, then it will be! What I am keen to steer away from is the more cartoon-ish ‘Battle Metal’-type stuff such as Finntroll and Turisas. Don’t get me wrong, these guys are great at what they do and they can whip up a real storm live but it’s more party-type Metal with fantasy/epic ‘decoration’ if you like – atmospherically & conceptually, they are a long way from what we are doing in Fellwarden.“
How much are you interested in the current music world, the Rock and Metal music scene?
„I’m always following what’s happening in the music scene – it’s easier said than done give how many things are vying for our attention these day in this digital age but I think it’s important to be aware of what’s happening in the world. The extreme Metal scene is a constant source of invention and reinvention – it attracts so many individualistic souls who are utterly driven to express, to create and to fashion material with meaning. There is always something interesting happening if one has the time, will and focus to dig in and explore. I actually wish I had more time to spend searching through new releases, checking out up-and-coming bands and just taking a punt on something completely out of the blue. Music is such a solace and a tonic – particularly in these current troubling, unsettling times – that it deserves as much attention to be lavished upon it as we can spare.“
© Markus Eck, 06.06.2020
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