Chris Naughton: “Obviously when I came up with the title ‘The Reckoning Day’, it was supposed to be some kind of reckoning of the mind, like a change of perspectives to make people move forwards. Of course no one of us was expecting that, about the time when we were going to release this album, there was going to be a huge biological reckoning that’s happening in the world. Yet it definitely seems as if it will have a profound impact on the future of the world.”
Nadat het Engelse Winterfylleth ons twee jaar geleden verraste met het akoestische folk album ‘The Hallowing Of Heirdom’ is het nu tijd om terug te keren naar de intensieve black metal waarmee we de band leerden kennen. Dat gebeurt op imposante wijze op hun zevende voortreffelijke schijf ‘The Reckoning Dawn’. Zanger/gitarist Chris Naughton is een bijzonder aangename gesprekspartner, waarmee we een hartelijk gesprek hadden over het nieuwe album, het akoestische zijsprongetje en de coronacrisis die ook genadeloos het Verenigd Koninkrijk teistert.
Vera Matthijssens Ι 16 mei 2020
Before we focus on the new album ‘The Reckoning Dawn’, how do you look back at the acoustic gigs you played to support the ‘The Hallowing Of Heirdom’ album, your previous release?
I think they were amazing. It was something very different for us. I think we always thought that it was something we needed to do, surely after that acoustic album. I know it is not usual for black metal bands to be acoustic and atmospheric to be credible. We knew that if we were going to do some gigs for the acoustic album, they had to be special and take place in the kind of venues that deserve that kind of music. When you are used to play in a metal band, playing in the same kind of clubs, same festivals and same sorts of stages, I don’t think these acoustic songs lend themselves to be played in that kind of venues. I think you need much more atmosphere to do those shows, so we were able to go to amazing places and – I don’t know if you have seen any pictures afterwards – but these were converted churches or art spaces or old halls. These were amazing places. One place particularly, in Manchester, at the School of Music, that was one of the most magical places we have ever played. A completely stone room, with 100 chairs in there, all kinds of coat of arms on the walls and swords, amazing lighting, so it was really great. I guess when I look back on that album, I understand that, maybe, not all of our fans were into it, but I think: we have done five metal albums and just for ourselves, we wanted to do something a little bit different, that’s the reason we did it. Also we got a lot of material, it made sense for us in the band. It was a nice little addition , but obviously we find ourselves again here now, two years later, with a metal album.
Of course, the venue in Sint-Niklaas where you played was a special one too…
Definitely. That’s a cool venue actually. I really liked it. Obviously, if we had played a metal show there would have been 500 people, or 300 people at least, now there was only a hundred people there. They put the tables out, really nice, made it feel like a jazz club. They made it feel like a special event with candles on the tables and the night lighting. I think I appreciate that. Obviously – as I said before – it is not for everybody, but the people that really understand Winterfylleth as a band, really interested in creating atmosphere and emotion, I think they understood that the event had not heavy guitars and drums. The atmosphere was still the same, the attitude to give emotions to the people.
I think it is precious that you have both sides of your creativity…
I think so too, and don’t get me wrong, I think some bands go way too far. If you think about Ulver for instance, a band that had a huge influence on us, If you hear Ulver in the beginning and Ulver in 2020, you would not even recognize that band. So you can go too far and in that case perhaps you should better change the name of the project. I think about Anathema for instance. Obviously they started as a death/doom metal band, now they are kind of floating Indie music… They were one of my favourite bands back in the days, but it is really weird to see them on stage these days. So it is one of those things I guess. I don’t think we will ever take it that far, but I do think there should be an area of creativity that you can explore, not always the same.
I think the new album ‘The Reckoning Dawn’ can be seen as a reaction on the acoustic era, since it is really harsh. Yet it has those fluent leads, still melancholic sometimes. How did the writing process go?
I think it went really well. It is interesting, trying to write a metal album again. Once you have done an album like the previous album, because I think there is so much you can learn from doing an album like ‘The Hallowing Of Heirdom’, before you do another metal album. For example, as we started writing ‘The Reckoning Dawn’, there were so many things we had learned from the previous album. Not only about playing our instruments, but we added violin and cello parts, we added synth parts and vocal arrangements that we would never normally do, because when you play an acoustic instrument, there’s not as much noise from the guitars and the drums and you kind of have to find other ways to create atmosphere. So I think, coming to the writing of this album, it was important to us to be aware of what we had learned before. Obviously it sounds like a Winterfylleth album, but equally I think there is kind of ten à fifteen percent taking it further, so you can hear that we have learned from other experiences. It made us more think about how the songs to be composed, and the kinds of instruments we could put in there. If you have heard the album, then you know that there are violin and cello parts, there is keyboards for the first time and some of the songs are in different tempo than usual. At the same time there’s still enough familiar to make it a Winterfylleth album. It has a bit of little things which, for me, make it very special and I think maybe, as a whole album, it might be our best album. Don’t get me wrong, I love all of our albums, but I think there are no specific album tracks on this CD, with songs we tried to make as strong as we could, even though we had to put some songs out as singles if this still exists in this day and age. All the songs are of the same standard. No fillers. It was the first time that Dan was writing with us. Obviously it is still me and Nick here, from the beginning. It was interesting to have Dan’s writing perspectives as well, because he is a member now for five or six years, but still he did not get a chance to contribute promptly. Obviously he just joined after we released ‘The Dark Hereafter’ and he could not bring in some stuff, since the album was finished as he joined. Then we did ‘Hallowing’ and he had a lot to do with that. When we started to write ‘The Reckoning Dawn’, it was interesting to have his ideas as well. Obviously he likes black metal as we do, but Dan likes different kinds of bands than me and Nick like and that adds a slightly different feel without sounding way too different for the band.
What was his song or contribution for instance?
There are no songs that just one person wrote. All songs were created by the whole band. Sometimes one person may come up with the main idea for a song, but everybody wrote parts for every song. For me that’s what makes it really strong, those different influences. This was a really good collaboration between the three of us. We are all represented in it and it is still Winterfylleth. I am really happy with the result.
I am glad to hear you as a black metal band again, but still with a kind of melancholy in it and with soaring leads sometimes…
I am glad you call out the leads, because that was something we’d never really done, lead guitar… We do have lead guitar, but I would not say solos. It is more different higher guitar rhythms or patterns, supposed to be a solo. When you think of the title track of the album, which we released first, that’s got really… almost as an Iron Maiden solo in the middle. I think it is a really different and interesting thing for Winterfylleth. It has a nice atmosphere and I hope that people realize that’s quite abnormal for us. There are other tracks with that feature. The other track we released, called ‘Misdeeds Of Faith’ also has an interesting solo. One of the main tracks that standout for me is the third track called ‘Absolved In Fire’. For me it’s got a challenging acoustic and violin parts, almost like Enslaved style, with the solos and kind of offbeat parts you never hear in Winterfylleth.
Of course I am aware that lyrics are inspired – as always – by the rich English heritage, history and rural landscapes, but can you go a bit deeper into some of the lyrics?
‘A Hostile Fate (The Wayfarer Pt. 4)’ is actually the fourth in a series of songs based on the old poem, ‘The Wanderer’ (from the Anglo-Saxon codices). It talks about an ongoing saga of loneliness and isolation felt by the protagonist who has lost his family/friends/kin in war, and how he suffers whilst coming to terms with his harsh reality. Whilst it was in no way intentional, it is perhaps a strange and timely metaphor for the current landscape of self-isolation and lockdowns we are experiencing in Europe.
‘Absolved In Fire’ is broadly based on calling out those individuals and organizations whose toxic ideas and policies are forced into the world through insidious means (be that corruption, lobbying, paid media or misinformation) and is about making people aware of them. I guess the idea being so that they can become wise to them, reject them, or see through them for what they really are, tools against humanity. The lyric uses the metaphor of purifying fire to represent ‘ideas and their propagators’ being set ablaze to rid the world of them, so that humanity is not further enslaved by their instigation. I guess it’s a loose reference to concepts like social engineering and its weapons i.e. getting people to freely use social platforms etc (or other data platforms) under the pretence of fun and connectivity, where in reality their amassed data and outputs are being used against us. We’ve seen evidence of that across elections, politics, voting habits, misinformation targeting etc. It’s also a reference to the wider concept of “if something is free, you are the product” and how people just aren’t aware of that. All of this, again, wrapped in elements of ancient text, from a long verse called ‘The Phoenix’.
‘A Greatness Undone’ is about the reckless pursuit of power and greed, and how that is not a new concept. The idea being that even though the earth created a rich bounty that is, by rights, the common heritage of all the worlds people, there will always be someone trying to control it, or sell out their fellow man to get a greater share of it. In this instance it refers to an ancient king or leader who gladly sold out his people (in the full knowledge of what he was doing) in a selfish, long term pursuit to gain from it. Essentially referencing the elements, or nature, as the resource which is being taken away from the people so the king can profit from it, and how he essentially doesn’t care about the human cost, by “damning a mother to darkness, by recklessly selling the sun”. A sharp reality when you consider the lengths some will go to in order to control/corrupt/dominate/profit from their fellow man.
As an aside, most of the lyrics are rooted in some kind of historical event, ancient poetry or prose and more often or not try to link the history of old to the struggles of the modern era.
Why the album title ‘The Reckoning Day’?
If you see the artwork, then you see it is the light-break at the beginning of the day, at dawn. The original working title for the album was ‘The Reckoning Of Time’, but we decided last minute to call it ‘The Reckoning Dawn’, because it started to make more sense, because these days we are all locked inside our houses. The idea for ‘The Reckoning Dawn’ was about the social and political unrest in the world and there is a lot of tension that exists in a lot of sub- groups in the world. I don’t think you can watch or follow the current news or the kind of narrative thoughts without noticing that there is always a new group on the horizon who wants to talk about their place in society that they want to change and put the focus of all these discussions towards their problems or their issues. There is a lot of tension, people fighting their battles. If you really analyze that, you’ll understand it. There is definitely something happening above that, people pulling the strings, putting out false information about things. They want to put people against each other. I think that the idea of ‘The Reckoning Dawn’ was almost like people come to realize that something has to change, a new light shining on the world. It is a kind of metaphor for people realizing that things need to be changed and there has to be a resolution for these kind of things. Obviously when I came up with it, it was supposed to be some kind of reckoning of the mind, like a change of perspectives to make people move forwards. Of course no one of us was expecting that, about the time when we were going to release this album, there was going to be a huge biological reckoning that’s happening in the world and we’d be all locked in our houses without jobs, living on government handouts because of a global virus that’s kind of attacking the world. It wasn’t the kind of reckoning we expected, but it definitely seems as if it will have a profound impact on the future of the world. The big point about it – which is maybe the similar point of the album – is that something has to change after this realization that we all have. A kind of judgement day, we have to live differently now. The world isn’t going to be the same as it was three or four months ago. Really interesting, but strange times to be alive.
So far, how much did the corona virus ruin your plans for Winterfylleth?
(laughs) It is absolutely fucked up plans, believe me. For us we are still doing press, for the album still is supposed to come out at the eighth of May. It is going to be the weirdest album launch we have ever done. Let’s hope it is going to be really successful, because everybody’s home and they can listen to it. Obviously we’re not going to sell the copies in the shops, it is not able to go to the record shops, people cannot go out to pick it up, so it is strange. We had probably 15 or 16 shows cancelled by this time. We had a whole album release tour cancelled with our friends in Mork. We had Ragnarök festival cancelled, Wacken Winter festival was cancelled, a festival in Karlsruhe cancelled. We were supposed to play at Bloodstock again, at Brutal Assault, we just don’t know what’s going to happen. I have another band Atavist. We are releasing an album as well on Candlelight, in June. I got two albums I worked for years on, exactly coming out during these lockdown days. So it really is an uncertain time for me as a musician. I think the only good thing is that music is my passion and not the thing that has to pay my bills. We all still work. At least I am thankful for that. Some of my friends here are really upset at the moment.
This lockdown has far-reaching consequences for gigs and festivals…
To me it feels like 2020 has been cancelled. Next year is going to be this year for us. We will have to go back to all those festivals we were supposed to play, our album release shows will have to wait until May 2021.
There is also a kind of little devil in me that says: doesn’t the government use this as excuse for making a kind of police state?
Oh yeah. That’s a whole different conversation, but absolutely. I believe that as well. Obviously there is this whole idea that this may be a conspiracy to start with, but let’s put that to one side for a second. Even if it isn’t and this happens to be a genuine thing that’s happening in the world, you can definitely see that all the governments are jumping on it as a way to introduce strict laws and surveillance, tracking and vaccination and all those kind of things. Undoubtedly it is going to affect our personal freedoms across the world, whatever happens. I think everyone can already see now that you will have to have this vaccination to be allowed to travel, you have to have a certificate to play at some festivals in Europe. I don’t think anyone wants to be told by their government that they have to have something, even if they believe in vaccination or whatever. They want to be told they have to do it, but it feels like they are going to force you, otherwise you cannot travel or not get a passport or whatever. You are not alone in thinking that this has been used in pushing a more strict totalitarian police state. I agree with you. I also think they might use it in trying to remove the idea of physical money. If you are a person who doesn’t just believe the story from the government or the newspapers, I think you can see what is really going on here which is an even more frightening, I guess dystopian reality for us. Those of us who believe in truth movements and try to be aware of the script of nature of politics, the same in every country, is frightening for myself. I got a one year old son who’s really new in this world and yeah, the end of his first year he is stuck in a house. I am just glad that he doesn’t quite understand what’s going on here.
That’s true, nothing is certain. That’s one thing the government has created for sure: fear!
That’s right, absolutely. I think that’s why artists like ourselves need to be someone to say that. Even if they did not protest, there used to be some artists – or all artists in fact – they have something to say or at least make people aware of what they believed was going on. I think we have always written about those things in the lyrics, even if it is not directly, it might be hinted or indirectly. We always talked about the kind of structures of power in society and things like that. While we have an idea of it, nobody is completely free, because then there should be no money to go anywhere (chuckles). Don’t get me wrong, I work from home, but it is just the idea of being forbidden to go out that bothers me. But yeah, this kind of subject is the basis for a two hour discussion that we‘ll probably have then.
Can you tell the story behind the fourth part of ‘The Wayfarer’?
The reason why we decided to do part 4, was because I absolutely wrote the main riff for that song when we were writing for ‘The Mercian Sphere’ in 2010, but I thought it sounded very similar to ‘The Wayfarer part 1’ and so we never used it at that time. Now it is ten years since we did the album and we had time to work on it as well. I like the idea of it being a bit of a homage to ourselves. It might be interesting to listen to part 1 of that song, to the first riff and also to the clean vocals at the end. What we did on ‘The Wayfarer’ part 4 was to reprise that vocal section of the end over a different melody. We sing the same part over a slightly different guitar part, so the idea was that ‘The Wayfarer’s song was from one of the old Anglo Saxon poetry books. It is actually called ‘The Wanderer’, but we called it ‘The Wayfarer’ about this guy who lost all of his friends and his family as a result of war and he is kind of left on his own in the world. He roams the earth, trying to figure out who he is and what he is going to do now. All the songs are basically about how to get used to your fate and how you are going to deal with it. Because we used that melody, these vocal parts again, I wanted it to be a continuation of that story. What happens next to the wayfarer? There are actually five parts and we recorded an acoustic song, which is called part 5, but we actually did not finish it for the album. It is probably going to be on the next one. Anyway, that’s the only song on the album which is not about politics or society. I think it is a nice way to carry that wayfarer character through the albums as ancient folklore thing.
Is there a chance to create any video clips or is that very difficult now?
We got a video coming out in a couple of weeks for the first track on the album ‘Misdeeds Of Faith’. We wanted to make a music video on location, but that’s not possible, but a lyric video is created and that’s going to be a good one. And there is another thing, something we usually don’t do, because I don’t like the idea of humanizing Winterfylleth too much, but with all this lockdown it might be interesting to make a play through video in which we show all the guitar parts. One pretty long video is coming out where we talk about technique and the equipment we use and things like that. So there are a few video clips coming out, as well as a lyric video over the next weeks. I hope that’s something new for people, because I never did those play through videos before. It feels kind of strange to talk about yourself in a video (chuckles).
Did Simon, the drummer, provide you with the photograph on the cover artwork or somebody else?
Somebody else this time. We are good in taking the photos ourselves, but Simon was rather busy. He’s got two daughters, he moved and he is busy in his job. It was hard to decide what we wanted for the cover this time. In the end we decided to go for this lady Catherine who was a lady that took pictures from the Lake District National Park nearby we live. The idea was that we had a kind of reference to ‘dawn’, thus an early morning picture. It is pretty hard to do that ourselves: drive two hours to the National Park and catch that early morning light. She had done that and so it was perfect to use that for us.
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