One of England’s most unique and consistent bands, Forefather, recently released their sixth album, ‘Last of the Line’.
Following on from 2008’s astonishingly accomplished ‘Steadfast’, this new release promises more of the same powerful, invigorating, fist-pumping Anglo-Saxon metal the brothers Athelstan and Wulfstan have been delivering since 1999’s debut ‘Deep Into Time’.
Often a difficult band to categorise as they drift in and out of sight in the shadows of the ever changing metal underground, Forefather have been labeled with the black, folk, pagan, viking, power and heavy metal styles in the past.
What you can be sure of however, is 100% honesty and English pride in the music, whatever the combination of styles employed, as Forefather only do things their way and on their terms.
Andrew Kennedy put his questions to the band.
Forefather don’t play live, release albums on their own label, and record in a home studio.
Do you think this ‘inwardness’ has stunted the bands growth and contributed to a fairly low profile in the underground metal scene?
Do you have ambitions for Forefather to be more widely heard (you were signed to Dutch label Karmageddon for a while), or after 15 years together is this of no concern?
“I’m sure we could be more successful and well-known if we wanted to be, and sell more albums if we worked with one of the bigger metal labels. We could perhaps also make more money. But if experience is anything to go by, you can’t guarantee getting paid what you’re owed.
We have come to the position that we would rather have less success and know that we are getting all the rewards of our music that we deserve than sell more units and let someone else reap all the rewards off our backs.
Of course, we are happy to reach new fans and sell more CDs/MP3s, but we don’t sit together scheming about how we can achieve this. We are quite relaxed about it.”
I notice the older albums are not that easy to get a hold of but are available for download on metalhit.com. Where do you stand on the technological ‘advancements’ that have altered the metal scene in recent years and is format (vinyl/tape/cd) important to you?
Any plans on giving your older works a re-release?
“Personally, I’m not into the downloading thing. Neither of us are. I have never purchased any digital music. But it makes sense to have all the albums available for download. Especially when most of our back catalogue is not widely available on CD right now.
We would like to get some official CD re-releases sorted out at some point, perhaps in the new year. Of course, all the pre-Steadfast CDs released under our old Angelisc moniker are long sold-out. Some of the ones released as part of our collaboration with Karmageddon are still around in places, but we don’t get any royalties from them.
It would be better for fans who want to support the band to have new official CDs to buy.”
You are just two members, brothers, and have been from the beginning. You also don’t go in for guest musicians/collaborations. This must help keep Forefather’s music very pure and the result is totally consistent and precise sounding albums.
However I’m sure you’ve been asked many times over the years about the lack of a real, live drummer. Is your working relationship too special and stable to risk bringing in outsiders who might unwittingly tamper with the balance or sound of Forefather?
“It’s just the way things ended up. In the early days we met up with and jammed/rehearsed with a drummer for quite a few years. This was roughly 1997-2000. It was good fun but it didn’t quite work out in the end. I suppose after that we just didn’t want to go through the hassle of looking for someone else again, and we continued down the “unlive” drums route because it was easier.
It wasn’t necessarily because we felt a new person would tamper with our sound. Nowadays we have little excuse other than being set in our ways and not wanting to upset our comfort zone.
Of course, some people will never be happy with our lack of live drums, even though we think we do a good job. We can live with that. Some of so-called live drumming in metal is barely human anymore anyway.”
Again, I’m sure you’ve been asked hundreds of times in interviews about playing live and you’ve previously said you could do without the hassle of touring.
But have you ever been approached or been tempted to do a one-off or the odd special appearance at, for example, one of the numerous European metal fests that are on almost all year round these days?
After 6 full lengths there is bound to be a huge appetite across the UK and Europe to see some of those epic songs performed in the live arena.
“We get approached now and then about doing a show, but I think most people are aware it’s not our thing, so they don’t bother asking. I wouldn’t rule out a one-off show here or there at some time in the future, but it’s highly unlikely.
We have always said that we have no plans to play live, so we don’t feel we owe it to anyone to perform. I don’t mean to sound disrespectful. We’re flattered that a lot of people think it would be exciting to see/hear our songs on the stage. We even think about it ourselves sometimes!”
Forefathers sound is a skilful mix of second wave black metal and traditional or classic sounding heavy metal. Despite the roots or basis of the band appearing to come from BM the most striking aspect of the sound for me is the unusually ‘bright’ or ‘positive’ sounding riffs.
Most BM listeners would tend to favour ‘dark’, ‘eerie’, and ‘evil’ atmospheres yet Forefather in full flow invokes feelings of might, pride and positivity while still retaining an obvious BM aspect which hasn’t been watered down over the years.
Do you think consciously about this while writing or is it a case of ‘whatever happens, happens’?
“Actually Forefather’s roots are more based in Iron Maiden and Metallica. That’s probably where our instinct for, as you say, the brighter, more positive sound comes from, and the melody. Our discovery of Black Metal, in the year or two before Forefather was conceived, embellished those earlier, deeper influences.
I think there is actually quite a lot of darker and more melancholic moments in Forefather. We are capable of that. But writing eerie or evil-sounding music has never come naturally to us. Most of the time we don’t think consciously when we compose.
It’s usually just a case of messing about on the guitar somewhat randomly and discovering something that sounds interesting, and working forward from there. You get a feeling for what should follow. We know what sounds “Forefathery” though, and what doesn’t. It isn’t a case of anything goes.”
After the music, the other aspect that makes Forefather the band it is, is the emphasis on your Anglo-Saxon heritage and English pride. But the Anglo-Saxon era is just one of many in a country which has seen numerous changes over the centuries.
How do you reconcile your sense of English nationalism with the cultural and racial hotchpotch England has been for hundreds of years? Is your nationalism concerned with people/society, culture or nature?
“Around the time Forefather was born, we were listening to some Scandinavian bands who were inspired by their Viking heritage, and we found the whole dark-age period of history particularly interesting. We didn’t want to write about Vikings though. That didn’t make sense to us.
As Englishmen, we wanted to examine England’s history from this period. The Anglo-Saxon era may just be one recognised chapter in England’s history, but it’s arguably the most important. It’s the time when the idea of England and the English people was born, and the English language took root.
Other elites may have come and gone afterwards, but the people underneath remained largely the same. Of course, since the industrial revolution this started to change somewhat, and particularly in recent decades, but there is still a recognisable ethnic English people, no matter how much some try to deny it.”
A debate on nationalism is never far away in Ireland. Our sense of identity is a common theme in Irish life and has influenced almost 900 years of the countries history continuing to the present day. However, just across the sea in England, nationalism isn’t really spoken about.
There is almost a sense of embarrassment at the countries history of imperial conquest and anyone displaying an overt sense of English pride is liable to be labelled a far-right fanatic. What do you think of this situation?
“I, predictably, find it rather annoying. Some of it might be down to genuine but irrational feelings of imperial guilt, but I think it’s mostly just for ideological reasons. We have predominantly internationalist elites. They want to break down borders, and nations are obstacles in the way.
The English are one of the major nations in Europe in terms of population, and therefore the idea of a united English people with a strong national identity is terrifying to them. This is why in the UK Scottish nationalism, for example, is often viewed as charming and natural but English nationalism as dangerous and sinister.
I suspect it’s because smaller nations like Scotland aren’t seen as much of a threat in the grand scheme of things. In reality though, the smaller nations are under attack just the same.”
There are some stunning natural landscapes in England. From the otherworldly mysteriousness of Dartmoor in the far south to the captivating beauty of the dales in the north.
This is an overlooked side to the country and contrasts sharply with the bleak decrepitude of many urban centres where the vast majority of people live.
How do you feel about the current state of English society and is Forefather’s focus on Anglo-Saxon heritage a symptom of a yearning for a past golden age and a rejection of the tenets of this one?
“Yes, although perhaps not as blessed as other lands, England has its share of natural beauty. Some of it has inspired Forefather songs, mainly on Athel’s side. Cities have the potential to be beautiful too, and many of the historical parts of cities still are, but a lot of the modern urban areas are indeed, as you suggest, rather bleak and depressing.
It’s no surprise then that society has the potential to degenerate in such places. The state of English society is a big question. It seems, to a pessimist (realist?) like myself, that most things are heading in a negative direction, and it seems to be by design.
If not by design then by the gross incompetence of those in power. You can make up your own mind about which is more likely. Of course, there has always been an element in Forefather of yearning for a purer, more natural past and rejecting the dogma of the modern day, but that didn’t drive the fascination with Anglo-Saxon history.
If anything it was the other way round.”
– Interview by Andrew Kennedy ::: 04/03/12