To say Fellwarden’s first release, Oathbearer, rarely strays from my playlist even after three years should tell you the esteem I hold this musical vision in. A project of The Watcher from lauded innovators Fen, with help from his Fen compatriot Havenless, it has proved to be a near perfect musical representation of a wander through the landscape and history of the moorlands.

So, trepidation approaching the follow up? No, not really. More joy than anything. It never occurred to me it would be a let-down, not even once.

It begins with gentle strumming, a simple yet immediately evocative melody rising through mist, a breaking of grey light and then the path opens up before you. Clean vocals, a gentle and smooth riff that holds both that sunlight and mist in its hand and also a sound that fills you with the confidence to follow. You can feel the subtleties at play here, the arrangement of the vocals, shifting into harsh sounds almost unseen, the rising lilt of an almost Rush like melody, the percussion sweet. Placid, assured and hopeful it opens me up so easily.

After ‘Pathmaker’ we come to ‘Scarfell’s Blight’, a suitably harsher sound for such an indomitable peak; the black metal riffing comes hard but melodic as the vocals rasp and snarl in the depths, like voices wrapped in winds whipping around the crag. Yet again a simply beautiful, heartache of a melody rises up through the howls and you are out there, with them. ‘A Premonition’ is a shorter keyboard piece, a ridge between peaks, an insulated piece but with that darkness hiding within, whispering a warning perhaps….

The title track begins as ethereal as its title; just the wonderful touch to the arrangement of strumming and picked notes before the weather closes in and a howl of riffs as bleak as anything blowing off the North Yorkshire Moors suddenly surrounds us. Slight shades of Winterfylleth, early Fen, but with that Fellwarden voice. Something about the Watcher’s remarkably still progressing touch for these melodies and arrangements just enthrals me. This is epic music, but also music that opens up such a sense of wonder at the land around us that throughout its length it never fails to lift my spirits, somehow, despite the often melancholic edge to the music.

This is exemplified by the stunning epic ‘An Elder Reckoning’. A slow, doomy start, a sense of searching for something within by delving deeper into the landscape, maybe. The pace picks up but the earnest, stoic search threads its way through the song. Album closer ‘Upon Stone’ (though there is a CD bonus song ‘Pathfinder’) follows it deeper into the dark, for me. Something more grim in its folds, a harder sound more in evidence. A stormy closer, a perfect end.

An hour or so of music here. Epic, yes but the sense of loss and searching here, the whispers of ghosts with tales long since lost amidst the mossy rock and the brittle heather is so strong, so beautiful and at times so harrowing that you simply want to experience the journey where it goes. Each time you step onto this path, you will find more in the crannies and the little hollows along the way. This is music that truly speaks to me, that can take me on journeys to places that at this moment live only in my memory but that are, unfathomably ancient, still out there waiting for me to be able to return. From composition, through arrangement to the masterful performances from The Watcher and Havenless this is black metal for wandering poets and for drizzle dampened walkers, for introspective historians and anyone willing to open themselves up to the land.

Thank you. Thank you indeed. I have nowhere else to go but…

(10/10 Gizmo)