Wolcensmen‘s Songs from the Fyrgen is a superb album and another perfect opportunity for metal scene adherents to assert their open-mindedness to other genres of music. Not that the dark folk herein would prove much of a stretch; strains of the same atavistic longing for times long past can be found in every other black metal album with the ‘atmospheric’ label attached. Songs from the Fyrgen sounds authentically and appropriately ancient, but frequent nods to folk-oriented Ulver and Burzum‘s lo-fi ambient make the latent association with metal readily apparent.
Any hunches would be right, of course; Dan Capp will already be known to some for his recent tenure in the UK’s flagship pagan black metal act Winterfylleth—others still may know his graphic design work for Burzum’s post-slammer catalogue. I think it’s nonetheless important to state that the story of Wolcensmen began long before Capp linked up with Winterfylleth. This is important to clarify in the risk that Songs from the Fyrgen is approached as an offshoot or side-project by his existing fanbase. Many folk-exclusive projects with metal associations certainly are, to be sure, but in this and many other respects, Wolcensmen is proven an ennobled exception to the rule.
So it goes, Capp was in a pub in Dublin watching an Irish folk band playing when he realized that the same couldn’t be said for active English folk traditions. Wolcensmen was created in fair part to address this perceived absence. Folk traditions are becoming more important to uphold than ever, and I’m not at all surprised that some of this action is stemming from the present black metal community. The best-known band currently bringing Northern folk back to its pre-Christian essence authentically are Wardruna; what Wardruna have done in reviving Scandinavian folk tradition, I feel Dan Capp has achieved for the English now with Wolcensmen. It is one thing to write music simply around an imagined, romanticized past; in fact, many do this already, from rich instrumentation to archaic vocal inflections. However, there is a clear sense Wolcensmen takes this principle a step further by romanticizing the past with the past’s own tools—or, at the very least, a well-researched approximation of it.
Beyond the significant context of the album, Songs from the Fyrgen is ripe with frigid winter imagery that in no way belies the warmth of the instrumentation. While the songwriting itself draws from predictable formulae, that’s part of the appeal; you can listen to Wolcensmen and feel an instant sort of comfort listening to the music, like a mug of broth after a cold trod in the snow. I was reading a Wolcensmen interview with Echoes and Dust where the interviewer made comparisons with the feeling Tolkien evoked in his pastoral descriptions of the Shire as a sort of pre-Industrial Britain. The association has stuck with me in my subsequent listens to Songs from the Fyrgen, and I can’t help but feel the same about the atmosphere. I rarely find myself thinking about individual ideas here so much as the tapestry it creates as a whole. The arrangements are incredibly lavish and deceptively complex. Although the sound is quite mellow, there’s the proof of many hours’ labour. Ambient Burzum-type synths, flute solos, and welcome cello buzz are drawn in, complementing Capp’s voice and guitars. The vocals may be the best part of all; the use of archaic English inflections and dialect lends the music a legitimate feeling of authenticity.
I was laughing earlier this week over the power metal beanie babies in Wintersun‘s latest campaign in crowdfunding, where they’re supposedly holding their music hostage until they’re given the €750,000 for sufficient studio resources. That ordeal is funnier when an artist like Dan Capp is able to give his lavish, complexly arranged Wolcensmen a richer production from home, and presumably without using the finance tactics of a Charles Dickens character. Songs from the Fyrgen may have been the work of predominantly one man, but he’s got a rich cultural history working behind him. Oftentimes, it only takes one strong example to get a trend rolling; hopefully others will follow Wolcensmen’s example, and in doing so, create a fresh platform for the cultural bounties of ancient England.
02) The Fyre-Bough
04) Hoofes Upon the Shymmeringe Path
05) ‘Neath a Wreath of Firs
06) The Mon o’ Micht
08) The Bekens Are Aliht