This Scumbag

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Musician, engineer/producer and former employee at Beer Ritz in Leeds. Enthusiast of extreme metal and beer, which happily go extremely well together. Follow @BenCorkhill

Friday, 15 July 2011

UK Black Metal: Pushing the Boundaries

Putting the Foot (of Heritage) Down

Winterfylleth live at Metal Camp
What with Winterfylleth's recent excursion to Slovenia, I thought it was time to reflect on just how important it is that we are being represented on foreign fields by not just an underground UK band of any calibre, but a black metal band. There's no point going over the ins and outs of what happened with the recent UKBM explosion - we were all there, we all saw it happen; the question is did we, or the rest of the metal world, see it coming?

For years, the folk metal jollies were sweeping the nation (as well as most of Europe and America) which was all well and good, until there seemed to be in the air a craving for something a little more serious by nature. Picture the scene: a bikers' pub just outside Leicester. A few fairly decent folk metal bands have just performed, with a good reception, when six woad-painted warriors take the stage. At the time, they are known by name and reputation, but their praises are seldom heard being cried from the rooftops. What then ensues is a cosmic barrage of relentless black metal savagery coupled with beautifully executed ambient passages. Haunting riffs create cavernous depths from which the archaic screams of the past are heard, urged forward by the precision battery of war drums, enriched by the enchanting spells of synthesised mysticisms… You guessed it; this band is Wodensthrone, and I imagine that for many present, myself included, this is the first glimpse of what the most recent wave of UK black metal is all about.

Here in the UK, we seemed to be just that little step ahead of everyone else with all this. While our European counterparts and American cousins were mostly stuck comparing battle axe sizes, there seemed to a be a definite and noticeable subconscious shift in the way we were thinking about the scene. Folk metal and black metal had long been brothers in arms, yet slowly the dominant brother began to get more of the attention, attract more pretty girls (or, rather, bearded men) and generally find his way to the forefront of people's interests. Perhaps it was indeed our yearning for something that bit more complex, more deeply rooted and more revolutionary that black metal began to take the UK metal community by storm. Don't get me wrong, black metal has always had a huge underground following here, but this particular surge in popularity was being led by none other than our very own, home-grown breed of bands. It's hard to define the attraction; for me, I believe that what was so exciting about the emergence of this new wave was the overwhelmingly distinct sounds being created. Credit where credit's due, bands like Drudkh, Emperor, Negura Bunget, Wolves in the Throne Room (groups I consider to be firmly rooted in the more 'ethereal' side of things) certainly paved the way for what was being written on these shores, but the passion and ferocity with which our boys were delivering appeared to set us worlds apart from the largely stagnant worldwide scene.

All Inclusive Deal

Darlington's Old Corpse Road
For me, one of the most remarkable things some UK black metal bands seem to be doing these days is not giving a solitary fuck about going out of the way to look or act like a black metal band 'should'. Take Winterfylleth as prime example, with the guys simply rocking up in band t-shirt/jeans/trainers combinations - would that be allowed in the European black metal rule book? I doubt it, but they pull it off by simply playing music that is distinctly above average. There they are on stage, just four normal fellas playing incredibly well-written, passionate, intense music which carries itself. I often get the impression, without over-inflating our collective head, that perhaps we British are on a higher level of thought when it comes to black metal, that we appreciate it purely for its intellectual and emotional values; I'm not saying all Europeans are only interested in blasphemy and corpse paint, but hopefully you understand what I mean… This goes for UKBM fans too; I noticed at one point that black metal over here almost became the new 'in' thing to listen to. I remember at work once, a lad came in wearing a checkered shirt, skinny jeans et al - but underneath was a WITTR shirt. This guy would have looked pretty at home at some hipster gig (nothing wrong with that, like), and there he was brandishing his love for atmospheric black metal, shock horror! To see someone like that at a black metal gig in the UK these days is pretty commonplace; catch them at a death metal gig and you'd immediately think "scene poser wanker". Go on, admit it, you would. He didn't have a fringe though, to be fair. The point is, for a genre that has always given such a cut-off-from-the-world impression, we in the UK seem to have carved out our own little niche which is seemingly, and proudly, very much inclusive. Ironic, given the spiel that some over-conscious ignorant beings come out with whenever some of these bands are mentioned, eh? But I won't go into that old business…  

Fyrdsman 'Forgotten Beneath the Soil'

Another great aspect of UKBM, I think, is that there are just the right amount of bands doing the right amount of different things. Waving the banner with ferocity are Manchester (featuring all of one Mancunian :-P) boys Winterfylleth, sailing off to Holland and Slovenia to show them how it's done; cryptic Sunderland clan Wodensthrone are leaking early promises of their next album (let's hope it's as good as their debut 'Loss', widely regarded as the best UKBM release to date); stalwarts Iceni, Old Corpse Road and Cnoc an Tursa maintain their powerful presence on the underground gig circuit, building solid reputations. Dig a little deeper and studio-based Fyrdsman, Ealdulf and forthcoming Desolate Winds projects display incredible skills and true ears for pushing the boundaries of black metal, seldom broken by European bands (obvious cases excepted). And all these are only examples of the pagan/heritage-influenced ilk. More gothically inclined theatrics can be found in Victorian-themed Eibon la Furies and A Forest of Stars, who both display class and progression in equal measures. 

Of course, we all know there are many fantastic black metal bands doing things a little differently on the Continent, but in my opinion a large majority appear to be stuck in a cycle. To be fair, the current wave of UKBM might not even have come to exist without the influence of some of these groups, but our scene is upping the ante, it has to be said. As a nation we've always been bloody good at leading the way in metal - all in all I'd say we have a pretty good thing going, and it's only getting bigger.


  1. Great post and very well-written. I think that one thing I've noticed from speaking to bands which are part of the underground BM scene in the UK is that they're almost all unburdened with any sense of 'trying to outdo their predecessors'; they're all just happily forging their own path from a melting pot of diverse influences, and there's a great DIY spirit in the way that they interact with other bands in the scene. Plus, there's not much in the way of elitism- that I've seen!

  2. Absolutely, Chris. There is very little pretentiousness with these guys, which is extremely refreshing for a black metal scene. Cheers for the comment!