A young, fresh and strange dungeon synth/folk solo project, Wapentake plays just the sort of music we like to cover on Archaic Triad. Given the strange and interesting nature of the music and themes involved – complex in simplicity – we figured a mere review was not enough, and shot off a Five Questions. The result is now published for your reading pleasure. Enjoy!
Could you introduce yourself and Wapentake. What is your musical and/or sub-cultural background, how did the project begin, etc?
Wapentake is my solo project (both in the sense of being just myself, and my only musical project currently), writing, performing and recording all material myself under the alias Hreodbeorht. The music of Wapentake is primarily instrumental – although some semi-harsh vocals did feature on the Saxon Pastoral demo tape (released 2015) – with acoustic guitars forming the backbone which is then fleshed out somewhat with percussion, electric guitars, synth, samples and maybe the odd chant or whispered vocal.
Musically, my ‘career’ has been fairly varied – my tastes are eclectic (though not particularly obscure) and previous projects have reflected this, although my main passion has always been heavy metal and its various extreme forms. Most recently I played guitar and performed vocals for Cultfinder, a Nifelheim rip-off. I’ve toured in a few bands over the years and I kind of burned out with Cultfinder (feeling old at 31!) and decided I didn’t really have the desire to play live anymore. Thus I retreated indoors and went back to basics, strumming odd riffs on my old acoustic guitar – I’d actually had the idea of doing an ‘acoustic black-metal’ project for quite a while. I have quite a magpie-like brain and my enthusiasms are intense but short-lived, so the thrown-together, piecemeal nature of Wapentake’s songs (if you can call them songs) suits me. I actually think my enthusiasm got the better of my former bandmates, with me being suddenly desperate to rehearse, record or play a show and them too busy having actual lives (and other bands!), so it’s probably better for everyone if I stick to my own agenda. I’m quite a homebody by nature so it’s nice to disappear for a couple of hours into my spare room with a cup of tea and get some stuff done (not very metal behaviour, I grant you, but posing is for posers!)
When we recently reviewed Murmurations we brought up neofolk, black metal and dungeon synth. How would you describe Wapentake’s relationship to these (and perhaps other) genres?
Thanks for the review, very humbling! I must admit neofolk and dungeon synth aren’t genres I’ve particularly listened to – Cultfinder would always get compared to obscure thrash bands I’d never heard of let alone heard – but they are tags that seem to apply to what I’ve been doing lately (I’ve even been described as ‘loner folk’ which is rather apt) so I’m happy to go with that. In your review I think you very accurately describe ‘Murmurations‘ as black-metal on acoustic guitars, which is exactly what I’d always aimed for. As I say, my tastes aren’t too obscure and I would say that they primary influences on Wapentake would be Winterfylleth, for their whole aesthetic, atmosphere and approach to Anglo-Saxon imagery as their theme; Primordial, for their fantastic sense of rhythm and the way their songs build and soar; Wodensthrone, for encompassing all of the above in one band and White Medal, for their pure dedication to Heathen Yorkshire, from the use of dialect to their claustrophobic yet epic (such a terrible word!) atmosphere – so much reverb! Other influences have no doubt crept in (and others will appear on the horizon in time) – Bathory, of course, Darkthrone (both early 90s and late 00s phases), the instrumentals and acoustic interludes of Metallica and Sabbath, the odd bit of Thin Lizzy/Maiden twin-leads, a bit of post-rock, Falloch, but also artists like Joy Division, Sigur Ros, Bjork and Radiohead. I’ve also been influenced by soundtracks – in particular the recent trend towards ambient electronics rather than traditional classical styles, or a combination of the two. Readers should definitely check out the excellent OST to the BBC’s recent War & Peace adaptation, as well as Wolf Hall.
Would you say you have a consistent theme, or perhaps even a message, in your music?
I wouldn’t say there was necessarily a consistent theme or message in my music, other than a constant drive to evoke nature and history. I cringe at that – it is becoming rather a cliche, particularly with the quieter end of the black-metal spectrum, to want to portray ‘pre-Christian’, ‘heritage’ or pagan themes. Admittedly when I started out, I was thinking purely in Saxon songtitles, and lyrics about historical events and legends, but I can feel myself moving away from that slightly pantomimed strand of metal to a more abstract version of it. I’m a keen walker, but no mountaineer – you won’t suddenly see me writing songs about the Lake District or the snowy wastes of the Arctic Circle. I think there’s a more prosaic, domestic tone to Wapentake, which comes naturally from recording in a spare bedroom with a cobbled-together collection of early 00s equipment (I record everything to Minidisc – which somehow feels more archaic than tape!). I add the nature samples (mostly lifted from the web, but I’m experimenting with my own field recordings) to bring the listener back outside, not into the wilds of Scotland or Wales, but the woods and heathland of the Surrey Hills and the New Forest, the downs of Hampshire, the ancient Pilgrims Way – even the birds in my back garden! – as these are my landscapes that I know and grew up in. I’m a keen gardener and I find it just as interesting to see the seasons change in a few square feet of dirt and shrubs as I would hiking through an ancient forest. My aim is really just to try and conjure an atmosphere of natural Britain as it would have been before history, even – especially the weather! – I’m inspired by the sound of rain and the smell of the soil.
How has Murmurations been received? Is rock-stardom just around the corner?
Interest in the album has been fairly steady – I’ve traded tapes with a few people and I’m hoping it will continue to spread. I’m eternally grateful to Matthew at Lighten Up Sounds for releasing the album on tape, as I hadn’t hoped for a physical release when I first put it out on Bandcamp. A limited CD release is due to follow later this year via the excellent Eldritch Lunar Miasma label, who are longtime collaborators from my time in Cultfinder. As for rock stardom, it seems highly unlikely – what I’m doing is quite niche even in black-metal terms. Although globally there are hundreds of artists walking a similar vein, it can be hard to get more introspective, quiet music recognised by the more mainstream metal media as worthwhile. All metallers, however extreme the cut of their jib, will turn to softer music from time to time – as human beings we experience a range of emotions, for which harsh blasting noise cannot always cater – and it would be nice if this could be given an appropriate space in a limited, crowded marketplace. Maybe I should do t-shirts: ‘Too metal for folk, too folk for metal!’
How will you proceed from here? There have been rumors of a split with a black metal band which greatly influenced your founding of Wapentake in the first place…
As for the future, I’m in no doubt that I will have peaks and troughs of creativity – usually everything comes together suddenly in a burst of activity. I was sitting on bits of the album for over a year before I suddenly threw the rest together. Alas, I don’t feel quite at liberty to divulge too much regarding the split at present, only that my 10-minute contribution is coming together quickly and that it will feature a collaboration track with the other artist. I’m very excited about this release – my track has much more of a song-like structure to it and will involve an expanded instrumentation to keep listeners’ attention – I feel like the tracks on Murmurations just about get away with being focused on a single melody or riff because they are fairly brief. Future recordings will definitely feature more in the way of variation. I hope to record a second album at some point in 2018, but as ever, those plans may change. Wapentake is inherently an organic project, so I have to wait for inspiration to strike rather than force things too quickly.