Black metal’s hype cycle burns through controversy like a Hummer through gasoline, so it’s not surprising that the blokes in Winterfylleth (Old English for October) are as famous for their alleged xenophobia and racism as they are for their music. It’s not difficult to read songs like “The Ghost of Heritage” and “Defending the Realm” as white supremacist polemics, especially given their Burzum-like sense of atmosphere and scope. But it’s just as easy to read those and dozens more Winterfylleth tracks as typical black metal swords-and-armor dorkery dressed in nationalism’s clothes, which seems closer to the truth.
Mostly absent from these debates is the fact that the Manchester quartet has quietly put together an impeccable four-album discography, perhaps the best of any active black metal band. The Divination of Antiquity is a grandiose statement on par with their previous high-water mark, 2012′s equally sweeping The Threnody of Triumph. Eight of its nine tracks crack six minutes, and each balances majestic riffing and screamed-from-the-mountaintop vocals with moments of quiet contemplation. (The lone short song, “The World Ahead,” is a wordless acoustic number Peter Jackson should find a use for in his next Hobbit movie.)
Winterfylleth’s greatest achievement has been to distill their national pride into a strain of black metal that sounds uniquely English. To that end, Antiquity combines the band’s folk and metal influences more elegantly and seamlessly than ever before. “Whisper of the Elements” and “Forsaken in Stone” feel ancient, as though their soaring chords and chants were conjured by the builders of Stonehenge rather than four guys in black hoodies. Despite occasionally miring them in controversy, that uncanny connection to a Romantic past is what’s made Winterfylleth’s music stand above the work of peers like Wodensthrone and Fen. The Divination of Antiquity should put to rest all arguments that its makers belong anywhere but the apex of their scene.