The Mercian Sphere
posted on 10/2010 By:
My colleague Doug Moore once made a point regarding Decrepit Birth as a band he theoretically “should” like, but doesn’t in reality. This isn’t exactly the situation I’ve found myself in regarding Winterfylleth’s second record, The Mercian Sphere, but its in the ballpark. Winterfylleth’s brand of epic, emotionally fortified black metal is perfectly in line with my personal tastes, and bands producing similar music have made some of my favorite albums of this decade. But for whatever reason Winterfylleth’s execution, despite being commendable in many respects, ends up leaving me slightly frustrated and wanting more in the long run.
Unlike Mr. Moore and Decrepit Birth, I actually enjoy Winterfylleth’s music quite a bit. The Mercian Sphere starts off particularly strong; the first three tracks are all stellar examples of somber but uplifting folk-tinged black metal, balancing grim malevolence with sun-drenched melody and raw emotional impact. This is a band that clearly has an affinity for uplifting melodic themes in a black metal context, and as someone with a particular soft-spot for tragic, stately black metal (Drudkh, Walknut, etc), its hard not to get pretty giddy when moments like the intro to “Awakens He, Bereft of Kinsman” and the beautiful bridge to “The Fields of Reckoning” show themselves.
Winterfylleth is also careful to avoid exploiting this kind of melodic warmth in a melodramatic sense, and while this aspect of their sound is perhaps their most impressive, its far from the only one that’s noteworthy. Songs like “The Honor of Good Men on the Path To Eternal Glory” open with dark, brooding movements before bursting into glorious conclusions, and the contrast between moods strengthens the impact of each passage. This variance is especially well-executed on the aforementioned “The Fields of Reckoning” and “To Find Solace… Where Security Stands,” which brings massive tremolo figures and desperate vocals crashing around the listener to create a truly moving piece of work.
But for all of Winterfylleth’s positive attributes (and there are many), I’m left feeling a bit unfulfilled when actually listening to The Mercian Sphere from cover to cover. While none of the songs are anywhere near bad, there’s some compositional choices that just don’t pan out too well, and some musical interjections that feel slightly “easy.” I’m mainly pointing my finger at the underwhelming clean vocal segments, which primarily consist of little more than repetitive “Whoaaaaaa” type vocalizing in an “epic” fashion. Considering how sharp and effective the standard black metal vox are on this album, the shaky cleans that attempt to elevate the material to “super-epic” territory simply feel unnecessary, especially since they are mostly devoid of lyrical contributions.
The album’s track-by-track pacing is also problematic. The Mercian Sphere is already lengthy at almost an hour and ten minutes, but the ordering of the songs lessens their impact from a greater perspective. After the stellar opening punch of the first three tracks, things hit a screeching halt with the enjoyable but bloated acoustic interlude of “Children of The Stones,” which runs for over five minutes and effectively kills the momentum that was so well formulated by the proceeding songs. Then, after another solid epic in “The Ruin,” Winterfylleth turn around and deliver two ten-minute tracks back to back, and this is around the time where my attention wanes and I start to lose touch with what the band is trying to do. These songs are both great, but why not put one of the ten-minuters at the end of the album, or place one of the interludes between them so the listener can catch their breath? This isn’t a major issue considering the high quality of most of the material, but it does mean that The Mercian Sphere stumbles on more of a song by song basis, which is disappointing.
Its pretty hard to fault Winterfylleth for their intent or their talent. There’s no doubt that their second full-length is a damn fine black metal album, and they’ve crafted some moments of titillating genius that should stir up plenty of buzz around these guys in the black metal community. But for all of its strengths, The Mercian Sphere feels a bit too calculated, and a bit too pompous for its own good. If Winterfylleth could take their exciting stylistic framework and trim some of the fat from the core of their sound, we could be in for a stunning follow-up to this record. As it stands, I find myself more excited at the potential The Mercian Sphere hints at than the album itself.
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