Founded in England in 1997 by brothers Athelstan and Wulfstan, Forefather has released six albums, winning acclaim from critics and fans for its distinctive brand of Metal. In contrast to Norwegian Pagan Metal bands, which often draw on Norse imagery and history, throughout Forefather’s musical career — including on its latest album, Last of the Line — the band has drawn extensively on England’s ancient Anglo-Saxon heritage. People of Shambhala recently spoke with vocalist and guitarist Wulfstan about Forefather; the Metal genre; Anglo-Saxon England and the Norman invaders; and globalism and modern Britain.
PoS: Forefather has been moving towards a more expansive and melodic sound over the years, but your sonic roots were clearly in Black Metal textures and composition. Were you influenced by seminal pagan Black Metal bands like Graveland or Nokturnal Mortuum?
Wulfstan: We were influenced by the Norwegian phenomenon, particularly the likes of Burzum, Immortal and Satyricon. We still follow Burzum but not the others… Actually, our roots are in bands like Iron Maiden and Metallica, but in the year or so preceding the birth of Forefather we had been exposed to these new influences, and they were at the forefront of our minds when we were writing the songs for our first album Deep Into Time. Since then the Black Metal influence has stayed with us but receded a bit.
PoS: Despite many predictions of its demise over the decades, Metal has shown a remarkable staying power as a dissident cultural force and even a worldwide culture. Do you see the Metal scene as containing the seeds of a post-modernist tribal community?
“There is a lot of ignorance about Metal. Most of it is probably genuine because people don’t know any different. Some of it is probably propagated on purpose. The elites don’t want the masses listening to music that makes them think outside the box.”W: This is not something I have ever thought very deeply about. It seems a bit far-fetched. I can, however, see seeds of rebellion against certain existing and future agendas. Metal fans are often more open-minded and awake to the ways of the world than the average person, and they are less compliant and less conformist. In reality though, the Metal population is far too small to have any noticeable affect on its own.
PoS: And what does metal offer those today who are prepared to look beneath the surface gloss of modernity?
W: Some Metal (or so-called Metal) won’t offer them anything much different because it’s rooted in the modern, urban world. The Metal that isn’t, however, can offer someone a gateway into a world of interesting subjects and ideas, and can help open them up to new ways of thinking. If someone comes to Metal purposely to escape modernity though, they are likely already an open-minded, inquisitive person. The truth is that most people get into Metal purely because they were fortunate enough to be exposed to it at a young age, and they fell in love with the music. Philosophy doesn’t come into it.
PoS: Has it ever struck you as paradoxical that while self-anointed hip and fashionable segments of pop culture and rock music punditry dismiss metalheads as intellectual Neanderthals, one finds in contrast a great deal of metaphysical curiosity and a passion for history amongst the underground and grassroots parts of the scene? Why is there such a disconnect between the perception and the reality of metal?
W: Yes, it is clearly a ridiculous situation. There is a lot of ignorance about Metal. Most of it is probably genuine because people don’t know any different. Some of it is probably propagated on purpose. The elites don’t want the masses listening to music that makes them think outside the box. Metal isn’t the only victim of this. It has to be said though, that part of the appeal of Metal to its fans is the fact that it’s not followed or understood by the mainstream. Although the ignorance can be frustrating, the feeling of being at war with that ignorance is also part of Metal’s appeal.
PoS: And, why do you think metal and metaphysics have been attracted to each other?
W: I suppose because truly artistic people are intelligent, imaginative and thinking. They are bound to consider such things.
PoS: Within “True Metal” one has always found not only an oft-expressed yearning for bygone days, but also a potent substratum of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner, etc., as well as folk song traditions. Although there are bands, styles and influences from all over the world, what is your view of a possible special relationship between Metal and Western culture?
W: As you say, Metal has worldwide appeal but I think it’s clear that its roots and culture are particularly European. You could say that the best of Metal (High Metal perhaps) is the result of the natural progression of European music through the ages. Some believe that if the likes of Beethoven and Wagner were alive now, they would be playing Metal. I would like to think so.
PoS: In your own lives, which started first: your interest in Anglo-Saxon pagan tradition or in heathen-oriented metal music? Or did they grow up together?
W: I think we have always been interested in history, but we became interested in specifically Anglo-Saxon history through music. We were listening to the likes of Bathory taking inspiration from the Viking tradition, and we looked to England’s history of the time, which of course is somewhat intertwined. The whole period appealed to us. Beyond the patriotic standpoint of it being the birth of England and the English people, it’s also quite a mysterious time, so there is room for imagination. It has never been about purely the pagan tradition for us though. We are interested in the history as a whole.
“There is no reason at all why tribal principles can’t be re-applied to the modern day. The tribal mindset is the natural state, hence why it still persists now despite the powerful movement against it.”PoS: You use runes — ancient Germanic and Old English symbols — as well as some Old English terms in your work. Why? What do these represent, for wont of better terms, spiritually and aesthetically?
W: The runes and the Old English language are prominent and interesting aspects of Anglo-Saxon history and culture, so it’s natural that we would include them in our art. It’s not spiritual, unless you want to call interacting with the words and symbols of one’s forefathers spiritual. I personally find the language most interesting, poetically of course but also mechanically in terms of etymology. Of course, there is the option to have all our lyrics in Old English, but besides that being much harder work, we wouldn’t be able to express ourselves so well, and we would be alienating almost everyone from our lyrics for no good reason.
PoS: Is ritual a part of your lifestyle and beliefs, and does a feeling for ritual manifest in your music and performances ?
W: I don’t think so, but maybe other people can sense it. Ritual is part of most people’s lives in terms of repeating patterns and habits. We are no different. But it’s not part of our beliefs and we don’t feel that it’s part of our music.
PoS: On the Steadfast album, one song title references “Theodish Belief”. While the lyrics are not specifically about the rigorous belief system followed by a subset of those who practice traditional Germanic heathenry, the title certainly raises a banner for archaic Saxon social traditions. Do you believe in sacral kingship? Is it really possible or even desirable to reconstruct such a social order in the post-scientific age? Or do you see this as metaphoric of an internal spiritual independence and self-mastery?
W: In terms of what I understand to be the correct definition of sacral kingship (i.e. a more magical, mystical idea), perhaps not, but if you mean the king as being the embodiment or symbol of the accumulated wisdom and memory of the ancestors, and therefore worthy of reverence, then yes. The song “Theodisc Belief” is, as you suggest, more about the idea of kinship than an examination of tribal heathen practice. It was written in response to the lack of ethnic solidarity (the open and unapologetic kind) among the modern English. I admire the simple, no-nonsense approach to life of the ancient tribal society. All energy was spent for the well-being of the tribe, and its people were in no doubt of who they were and what they were a part of. This is in compete contrast to our individualist modern society that is increasingly separated from reality (creating endless unsolvable problems as a result), and demands loyalty not to kith and kin but to utopian, one-world ideas and institutions that are actually working to undermine tribal/national cohesion. There is no reason at all why tribal principles can’t be re-applied to the modern day. The tribal mindset is the natural state, hence why it still persists now despite the powerful movement against it.
PoS: Your songs tell tales of resistance to both the Christianization and Normanisation of England. In the last decade we’ve seen the British state discriminating against the English: In 2001, for example, then Home Secretary Jack Straw described the English as “potentially very aggressive, very violent,” and suggested that a growing English identity needed to be stopped. Do you see this attitude as a kind of new Normanism, in which the ordinary English are being downtrodden by an upper-class ruling mob? Please explain.
W: There are many similarities between the Normans and the current British establishment. The Normans wanted to suppress English ethnic consciousness because it threatened their new, fragile rule, and the current British establishment have similar motives. English nationalism would be a great threat to their power and the advancement of globalist principles that are against ethnic English interests. Just as the Normans sought to remove Englishmen from positions of power, you will very rarely hear any pro-English sentiments expressed in the British mainstream. When Jack Straw speaks about the aggressive and violent English, it brings to mind the “civilised” Norman speaking down to the “barbaric” Saxon. I wish the English would be a bit more aggressive in defence of our interests, but for the moment it seems we are happy to be walked over.
PoS: Without wanting to prompt an overtly political discussion, how do you think European heathen cultural identity is best preserved in today’s world of progressive informational homogeneity and sustained global socioeconomic crisis?
W: Before any of that can even be considered we have to remove the rogue regimes that occupy us. In reality it’s just one regime with different national branches. The idea that we have government by the people and for the people is nonsense. My own view is that it’s a waste of time playing their game (i.e. voting). I think non-compliance is the best route, but it’s incredibly difficult to get people to dissent and rebel en masse.
PoS: Do you see yourselves as musicians as being part of a contemporary cultural and spiritual resistance, and if so, how? Is it a matter of reviving a knowledge of ancient England, its ancient community, battles and so on? A matter of aesthetics? Of reviving forgotten values? Or all of these?
W: We see ourselves as being a small part of a growing movement of ethnic English (and wider European) resistance, but this is not our raison d’être. We do what we do purely because of our passion for the music, which was with us as children well before any kind of philosophical or political ideas developed within us. I don’t see Forefather as particularly political or dogmatic, but we are happy if as a result of our interest in Anglo-Saxon history, as expressed in our lyrics, others take a similar interest in their nation’s roots, be they English or any other nationality.
PoS: What are the values and attitude you would want your listeners to draw from your work?
W: I would hope things like self-worth, steadfastness, creativity. We see ourselves as a positive band so we would like to evoke such sentiments.
You can find out more about Forefather at their website, Forefather.net. And you can also hear some of the band’s tracks on Myspace, and purchase merchandise — including the latest CD — at SevenKingdoms.com.