Eisenwald Recording Artist- Fellwarden Interview
1.Love the Heath folk meets Viking Black elements going on with Wreathed in Mourncloud. How did this sound come to be?
The sound just seemed to evolve from a relatively nebulous idea to create epic, layered black metal. I guess if one adopts this approach, the folk/viking black metal sound very much sits within this sonic space – those genres are all about evoking a sense of atmosphere and drawing a listener into an evocative world. That’s exactly what I set out to achieve with Fellwarden originally, although my approach to folk is a little more restrained and reflective than some of the more boisterous, pagan vibes that some acts pursue.
Of course, my own approach to atmosphere is to layer up ambience and use spacious guitar sounds – I have heard some listeners observe that there are nods to shoegaze elements in Fellwarden which, whilst not being deliberate, must be a natural consequence of a sound that have been developing for many years now. Ultimately, as a singular creative expression of myself, there will inevitably be some creative parallels with other works that I have released.
2. I do hear alot of Fen in the project what do you feel really differs the two?
This kind of leads on from what I was discussing in the previous question. There will inevitably be some elements of alignment – both acts play extreme metal rooted in atmosphere so it’s unavoidable in some respects – however, the focus with Fellwarden is in taking a further step forward in terms of textures, layering and an almost ‘soundtrack’ approach to songwriting. Fen has been moving down increasingly more progressive, darker paths of late – in addition, our focus on being able to deliver the material effectively in the live environment plays a part in shaping the songs.
As a studio-only project, the music for Fellwarden can travel different paths. I have no qualms with piling on layer after layer of guitar lines, synths and acoustic overdubs. Not only this, the quest for the epic and the affecting is always the principle goal – there is no shying away from the triumphant or the exultant with Fellwarden which is something that really doesn’t have much place within the bleaker soundscapes explored in Fen. In Fellwarden, the songwriting is about slower evolution, riffs and themes repeating in cycles, growing, expanding and unfurling in an almost elemental fashion. There is – I believe – a deceptive simplicity at the heart of much of the compositions.
This really is the ultimate differentiator – Fellwarden is about narrative, epic storytelling rooted in landscape and the tales of long-forgotten ghosts. Fen is a more personal, introspective reflection into the bleakness that lurks at the kernel of human existence – reflection channelled through the metaphors of desolate vistas.
3. The emotional and atmospheres are what draw me most to Fellwarden. How do arrangements happen are there muscial ideas then vocals or is the a theme and music written around that?
It’s a bit of both, really. Ultimately, my core focus is always on writing music – without riffs, melodies and songs, a project or band really is on foundations of sand after all. One has to have an established and inspirational concept on which to ‘hang’ said songs upon however and quite often, musical ideas and lyrical content almost seem to evolve side-by-side in an upwards spiral.
And it is true to say that sometimes, a title or an idea can set flame to the kindling of musical inspiration – the album title is an example of this. As soon as it came to me, I felt the whole atmosphere of the album coalesce, crystalising and coming into sharp focus.
So it really is a symbiotic process in many ways but if I were to break it down to fundamental principles, as a musician, the music has to come first. It doesn’t matter how evocative the themes you explore, regardless of the depth of poetry delivered by your lyrics, if your riffs and melodies are trudging, uninspired or downright poor at the end of the day, the vessel for your expression stands on foundations of sand.
4. What is the theme behind Wreathed in Mourncloud? Is there a story or just a collection of hymns?
There are central themes running throughout the whole album – themes of yearning, of human discovery both in a physical and spiritual sense and of the power of landscape to help shape human thought. Each piece therein
5. Was very interested why 3 + yrs betwen releases?
It doesn’t seem all that long to me I must admit! In this day and age, I don’t think three years is all THAT long to wait between full-length releases but there you go. That said, I guess it doesn’t seem all that long to me primarily because the vast majority of this record was written and recorded quite a long time ago. The imminent release of the debut ‘Oathbearer’ in 2017 really generated some creative momentum and if I’m honest, the material was written and much of the recording underway before Oathbearer was even released!
The bulk of the writing and recording was completed very quickly. I suppose it just took us a long time to ‘get it over the line’, so to speak. We were quite busy with what was happening in Fen at the time and obviously, as one gets older and work/life responsibilities begin to bite, personal time gets put under more pressure. Also, given we were self-recording, there’s less of a atmosphere of being ‘up against the clock’ if you will.
We were trying some new things with the recording process also – Havenless had effectively set up a completely new recording studio to record the drum parts which did significantly add to the time it took to complete the tracking sessions. It was all worth it in the end though as I think the end result is a testament to the hard work time spent on it. What I can confidently say though is it will NOT be three years before the next record is released! Most of the material has been written and is in the final phases of being arranged – and I’m hoping to have it recorded by the end of next summer at the latest.
6. This is the 2nd record with Eisenwald . What made this partnership work and will it continue?
Eisenwald just really understand what it intrinsic in delivering atmospheric music to the highest quality. It is a label with a genuine sense of artistry running through it – one in which the vision and (dare I say it) spirituality of the acts they work with are of real importance. I’d long been a supporter of their work and indeed, had been in communication for several years prior to working with them in Fellwarden. Indeed, Eisenwald pressed and released the first vinyl DLP of the Fen debut album so I already knew the extent of their commitment to quality.
There really is no compromise on quality with them – high quality garments for t-shirts, proper heavyweight vinyl, sturdy sleeves/inlays – they stake their reputation and integrity on such things. But ultimately, it’s the alignment with their vision and aesthetic which is key. Eisenwald artists past and present represent a who’s who of acts truly committed to authentic artistic expression – Agalloch, Uada, Armagedda, Osi and the Jupiter, Mosaic… there’s a palpable thread of conviction running through them all.
So yes, myself and Eisenwald really are intertwined on this journey and it’s a partnership I hope will continue to run.
7. Will we see a proper video coming from current release or is this something that doesnt interest Fellwarden?
Man… I mean, videos are cool, don’t get me wrong. When done well, with taste, a decent budget, a sense of innovation and an appropriate vision, it can be one of the best ways of truly hammering home an act’s artistic principles. There are some videos that have been produced by some acts which are breathtaking – fusing intrinsically with the music and creating something that almost transcends both the audio and visual medium. And I guess you don’t need a massive budget if there are creative, inspired, innovative minds at work.
But – I think it can be a minefield. Its one of the easiest mediums in which just a few small issues with editing, budget or narrative can undermine the entire affair. Band members acting… a cliched narrative… unplugged instruments in the forest… the list is long and established. So too can the playing it by numbers ‘dudes in warehouse with guitars rocking out and looking tough’ approach let things down. What’s the point in that? Why not just use pro live footage?
For Fellwarden, the challenge is a little different. As the project is basically me and a drummer and we don’t play live, a video would need to take a different form. We wouldn’t be using it as a ‘look at us’ calling card, a quick clip to outline that we look cool and can pull the right moves. It would need to be something more evocative, more abstract perhaps – landscapes and motifs unfurling as the song builds. This again however is a bit of a well-trodden path – do we really need more slow-mo time-lapse shots of mountain ranges in the setting sun?
So it’s a tough one – it’s not something I’m desperate to produce but if the right idea crosses my desk or we strike upon something in which producing a meaningful piece of art within the limitations of budget and technical expertise looks eminently achievable then I wouldn’t rule it out. But I’m not actively looking for it.
8. Social media esp things like twitter, facebook and youtube how has this change the way extreme underground music is seen and promotioned to the world now?
I think so – it’s certainly made it more accessible to anyone willing to take even a cursory peek into what the extreme metal scene is about. Back in the old days, living in the middle of nowhere, it took sending cash in the post to addresses in the back of magazines, trawling dusty CD racks or seeing what arrived in the library to discover new acts. Even if you were in town where gigs were taking place, it was still a close-knit, word-of-mouth scenario – tapes changing hand, CDrs being purchased for a handful of pound coins.
Social media outlets – Facebook, Instagram and YouTube – have certainly revolutionised how bands communicate with their listeners and can promote their music to the wider world. In many ways, it has made it easier than ever for bands – you can establish a rabid fanbase without having played a single gig these days and the ability to provide fans/listeners with insider access to the creative process can engender a connection that was impossible ‘back in the day’. Connecting with promoters, fans, labels, ‘zines… all these things can be navigated from your mobile phone now at the touch of a button. How did we function back in the day?
It’s come at a price though, no question. For a start, a lot of the mystery has gone, especially in black metal. In the days of yore, cloaked, shadowy figures with obscure names would be glimpsed in crusty photos clutching arcane weaponry. Now on Facebook we see HD footage of Stefan playing his ESP through his Kemper and… well, it just doesn’t evoke the same feeling does it? But I guess maybe that’s me being an old git dwelling in the nostalgic thrills of the past. And there are still some acts committed to maintaining mystery so it IS possible – I guess it’s just the appeal to the ‘share it all’ narcissist that these mediums can encourage…
‘Easy come, easy go’ is another phrase that springs to mind and it does feel as though trend-cycles and attention spans are shorter than ever these days. With a near-endless conveyor belt of music being made with new ‘flavour of the month’ acts hitting the radar every day, the ‘average’ consumer is bombarded and bewildered. Quite simply, the ease of connection means that competition for the attention of the listener has never been more fierce.
Back in the day, you’d buy a CD without hearing it first and spin it repeatedly, digging into every nuance to extract every secret it had to offer. It was process that could take weeks. Now, a few thirty-second snippets on YouTube or Bandcamp is all that most listeners are willing to give before moving on. Has that lead to a dumbing-down of the music in some quarters, rendering it a desperate chase for instant, surface-level impact? I’m not sure – this has been going on for some time now and there still seems to be an embarrassment of riches in terms of quality extreme metal being produced in the underground. With that in mind, it could just be that this accessibility has simply served to enrich and grow the many facets of the genre. That’s me being the optimist at any rate!
9. The guitar tone with those clean and grim vocals make my heart ache. I was wondering are those more cold harmonies and clean/acoustic movements hard to mix in a way they dont become too fragile and bombastic at the wrong times?
Thanks for that, I’m glad it hit home and the work paid off in this instance! It’s a tough balancing act – don’t forget, this is all self-recorded and I don’t really have access to particularly high-end gear. So maintaining separation/definition whilst still retaining a sense of overwhelming density is the holy grail to achieve. It demands a lot at the mixing phase – at times there are 8 or 9 guitar tracks, 6 or 7 vocal lines and several keyboard/synth passages to balance.
With that in mind, it’s not just ensuring that fragility and bombast are achieved at the right moments but also ensuring things don’t become cluttered, muddy or flat. It’s hard work – particularly as I have deliberately gone to town on layering on this record – however, in my defence, I know the sound I want to achieve and have been working like this one way or another for many years. I know the vision, I know what the endgame needs to be and this really helps me forge the sound appropriately. I’m not interested in it being ‘technically correct’, brickwalled, polished, slick e.t.c. - I just want it to sound correct.
10. If im way off base let me know but I feel a strong heathen/ pagan element here how does the beliefs of the past play a role into the over all sound and aesthetics on the band?
There’s an element of that – I need to confirm now that I am by no means a ‘practicing’ pagan (if that means anything really), my beliefs and outlook are rooted in a more spiritual/philosophical space than crafting rituals to ancient Gods or some-such. Nevertheless, the past is a fundamental aspect of what makes us human, shaping our cultures, surroundings and the very essence of our beings. With this in mind, an understanding of how we came to be where we are today, the gradual shaping of human culture, outlooks and society is of course of significant interest to me in terms of the lyrical/conceptual inspiration for Fellwarden.
I guess at the end of the day, it is all about humanity – as much as landscape and the wilderness are and of themselves a huge source of inspiration, it is how this affects the human experience and the millenia-old relationship between mankind and environment that really demands deeper exploration. In this, addressing how ancient beliefs have been inexorable intertwined with natural phenomena, pantheistic worship and myriad spiritual manifestations in legend is of course a source of real intrigue. It isn’t something that we currently address in a specific or ‘overt’ fashion at present but it most certainly forms a thematic backdrop which supports much of the aesthetics and atmospheres we explore.
11. Are there any off limit sounds or tones for a band like Fellwarden?
Whilst setting out to restrict your tonal palette can seem like a risky move, for me, I actually think that knowing what’s ‘off limits’ as you put it is an important part of helping consolidate the identity of the art that you create. In many aspects of life or art, what you DON’T say or do can sometimes be as important as what you DO say or do!
Fellwarden’s sound is very much an amalgamation of atmospheric black metal, folk, doom metal, traditional epic/heavy metal, shoegaze and soundtracks. My goal really is to synthesise this palette of sounds into a cohesive, engaging whole – there may be moments that fall outside this, the occasional riff or passage that takes on a slightly different tonality but such moments will be few and far between ‘impact’ statements should they ever even occur!
So yes, I can’t see Fellwarden ever embracing the ultra-dissonant songwriting approach of Deathspell Omega, Svartidaudi et al and I don’t see much brutal death metal/cavernous death metal-type soundscapes really hitting the radar any time soon. Neither would going down a more ‘happy’-sounding quasi-power metal path really be an appropriate evolution of what we are doing. If we’re talking strictly in terms of the actual sound, I don’t see us deploying the currently on-trend grinding Swedish-DM ‘HM2’ guitar sound or suddenly deploying hyper-triggered, ultra-compressed drums, neither is the by-now ubiquitous Kemper/AxeFX super-slick guitar crunch tone ever going to be something that takes centre stage for Fellwarden.
12. The UK of course has a strong Black metal and Heathen Folk Metal heritage. What makes you feel so akin to this ?
There’s been a real sense of energised confidence that has been flowing from the UK extreme metal scene over the last decade or so and it is definitely something that has helped fuel my drive for this project. I think it is many artists finally acknowledging that the UK has a remarkably rich, fertile wellspring of inspiration to draw upon for this kind of music – for many, many years artists here felt as if they sat in the shadows of the strident, impressive mountainscapes of Scandinavia and other parts of continental Europe. There was always a sense that the UK was a bit of a bland, damp, urbanised place that resolutely did NOT stack up as a source of inspiration for atmospheric, passionate extreme metal.
That has changed now – many artists have embraced the folklore, culture and myriad landscapes that the UK has to offer. There is a rich, diverse history of pagan traditions, folklore and storytelling that threads through the strata of UK cultural history. In terms of scenic backdrops, the UK boasts numerous places of quiet splendour – the moors of the southwest, the peak district and the lake district, the crags of western Wales, the bleak immensity of the Scottish highlands – all of which have their own distinctive atmosphere and can provide boundless inspiration for the intrepid creative mind. This is something that Fellwarden taps into significantly.
13. If the music what to stop today after two records what do you want Fellwarden to be remembered for?
Authenticity. For taking an idea, running with it and delivering it with the most conviction it is possible to muster. Ultimately, this is a tough question to answer – in a scene boasting so many artists and in a genre which contains some works which are truly epoch-defining, it is very difficult to truly stand out or to pinpoint something which may, when the dust settles, be truly considered as a lasting testament to a musical movement. Nevertheless, if in years to come, what we have written means something to someone, has some sort of emotional resonance or relevance in someone’s life – even if it just for one individual - then this for me I could consider a lasting, meaningful legacy.
14. I know you both have other projects is there a musical style you still want to try you have not yet?
Well, I have been toying with the idea of experimenting with some death metal ideas for a little while now. I actually got into extreme metal via death metal initially back in the mid-90s so there is a part of me that feels I should explore this aspect of the extreme metal sound in a little more detail. The death metal genre has experienced a huge amount of new energy and creative impetus over the past decade or so with a wide variety of sounds being taken to the next level by truly inspired artists. Newer acts like Dead Congregation, Ulcerate, Blood Incantation, Grave Miasma and Bolzer have really set down some new markers as to where the genre can lead – and some of the classic acts like Immolation and Incantation have never seemed stronger!
So I am considering experimenting with some ideas in this direction as it isn’t something I have really given any dedicated thought to (beyond some occasional chugging on the guitar when warming up!). At this stage, it would have to be something done properly, not just a quickly tossed-off ‘dabble’ in another genre – so as with anything in adult life, finding the time/energy/genuine motivation is of course the biggest challenge before a single riff is even crafted. It’s certainly something I feel I should explore in some way however before I eventually shuffle off this mortal coil!
15. Thank you for the time any closing thoughts here?
I think we have covered a fair few topics here! Thanks so much for the interview and I do hope your readers feel compelled to check out our music to be transported to a realm of damp, misty peaks and half-forgotten paths wherein the spirits are always waiting… and waiting…