Photo By: Daniel Walmsley
Seemingly out of nowhere I heard about a band called Wolcensmen out of the United Kingdom. I remember I was requesting recommendations on Metal Archives for bands that have a mysterious, pastoral, or woodsy sound and one person recommended them. I come to find out that Wolcensmen is the dark folk project of Dan Capp from Winterfylleth. Being a big fan of Winterfylleth I just had to get my hands on this project. I first bought “Songs from the Fyrgen” and when I heard the album I was blown away about how much it fit the pastoral/woodsy vibes I was itching for in music at that time. As time pressed on Dan Capp announced a new Wolcensmen album called “Fire in the White Stone” I immediately pre ordered the album on CD and vinyl. He also included a short story that ties the whole album together. Dan kept in contact with me about the shipping updates for the items, so we started emailing back and forth. I then asked if he would be interested in doing an interview for my blog. He graciously accepted and after weeks of going back and forth I can now show all you readers our in-depth conversation. I also wanted to acknowledge my friend Annie Cúglas who contributed some questions to this interview with Dan Capp. Their questions and answers are italicized so you can differentiate between the two.
I hope you enjoy this interview about metal, heathenism, inspiration, the runes and everything else in between. “Fire in the White Stone” is out now, I highly recommend giving the album a listen it is a masterwork and worth the time to listen to by the fireplace at night. Make sure you have a glass of fine bourbon in hand and get lost in the world Wolcensmen has created…
Photo By: Daniel Walmsley
Could you tell us the origins of the Wolcensmen project? What made you come up with the name and the concept?
“The earliest spark of inspiration goes back to my teenage years, when I was first exposed to overtly atmospheric, dark music, but the more definitive moment of intent was in 2010 when I was on tour, in a pub in Dublin watching a folk band play. I wondered to myself why such a sight was less commonplace in England, so I decided I could have a go at making some folk-ish music based around the themes of English mythology and spirituality. When I returned home from tour I began composing initial ideas.
The name evolved over quite a while (whilst the demo took shape, with no sense of urgency). I always loved the word ‘welkin’ – which I’d first come across from the title of Emperor’s second album – and came up with the idea of ‘binding’ it together with the word ‘kinsmen’. So the initial project name was ‘Welkinsmen’. After a while, I began to rethink that a little; ‘Welkin’ is the Middle-English form of the Old-English ‘wolcen’; it means ‘heavens’ or ‘clouds’. And because the themes were going to be overtly pre-Christian, I felt that I should use the more archaic form of the word. It lost the ‘kinsmen’ component as a result, but gained something just as powerful: ‘Cen’ is the English rune name representing the torchlight of community and guidance, and is almost certainly connected, etymologically, to the word ‘kin’. The Wolcensmen bindrune embodies the features of the name: The Tiw rune for sky, two Cen runes for kinship and guidance, and the Mæg (men) rune. Wolcensmen, in a sense, means ‘men of the heavens’, or ‘men of the clouds’ – both of which are fitting for the themes I explore and convey.”
As I was reading other interviews I noticed you have been heavily influenced by the 90s black metal scene, how did you first get into the scene and how has 90s black metal influenced your creativity?
“I was introduced to black metal in the late ‘90s by some slightly older friends from school. I’ve been in love with the spirit of the genre ever since, sometimes inexplicably (given that I have no interest in Satanism). Where I grew up, near High Wycombe, England, there was a tangible connection to the second-wave Scandinavian scene in that it’s where Lee Barrett, founder of Candlelight Records is from. I knew of Lee early on, and by sheer chance later became good friends with him.
Black metal is absolutely responsible for the formation of Wolcensmen. It was the dark atmospheres and pagan-mystical themes of black metal which introduced me to the themes and philosophies I explore with Wolcensmen. The acoustic or synth-driven interludes (and in some instances, full albums) that black metal bands used to compose really captured my imagination. The spirit of those melodies and sounds almost re-programmed me on a spiritual level, and I experimented with acoustic compositions of my own. Fast-forward to about 2010 and I felt there was too little of this music and atmosphere being made anymore, and that perhaps I could do something about that.”
I also noticed that Wolcensmen is often lumped into the Neofolk scene; are you a fan of this style of music and do you personally think it has helped with your ideas as a musician?
“It’s a strange one this. I would say ‘no, I’m not a fan’, but it really depends on how one defines ‘neo-folk’. To me it always specifically referred to that breed of simplistic, ‘strummy’ acoustic act; Examples being Death in June and Sol Invictus. It was the more neo-classical leanings of Ulver, Empyrium and Dead Can Dance which inspired me, and so it was strange when I started to see people labelling Wolcensmen ‘neo-folk’. It doesn’t bother me, ultimately. Labels cannot change what music is, nor what its spirit is.”
Annie: How much of your influence comes from Scandinavian post-metal projects (Ulver, Hedingarna and Wardruna) versus specifically English folk music (The Watersons, Sol Invictus, Skyclad)? Do you consider Wolcensmen an English version of what’s coming from Scandinavia, or coincidentally parallel to developments there?
“That’s an interesting question. I’m not familiar with Hedingarna, but Ulver are a particularly key influence, and Wardruna also as I followed Einar Selvik’s work from Gorgoroth through Jotunspor and the origins of Wardruna. Wardruna’s influence on me is mainly vocal, in that many of my other influences tend to be mostly instrumental. I know a little bit of Sol Invictus and Skyclad, and the only English folk acts I can really claim to be familiar with are Steeleye Span and Fairport Convention. I actually don’t feel that Wolcensmen is a ‘folk’ band, even if others do. I love most folk music I hear, but the impetus to do what I do came mainly from a desire to create the sort of epic, mystical atmospheres I heard in Summoning, Forefather, Bathory and Satyricon… but with a different sonic palette.
England is where I’m from, and I’ve never been much good at feigning who I am, or what my passions are. English Mysticism is it! There are enough non-Scandinavians pretending to be Scandinavian these days.”
When I hear both “Songs from the Fyrgen” and “Fire in the White Stone” nature is a huge element to your imagery and the overall sound. What drew you to write such mystical and mysterious music? How did you build a strong spiritual connection to nature?
“It’s simple really: I feel nowhere more content and at peace than wandering among woodlands, hills and shorelines away from the urban sprawl. In my youth, my friends and I would spend our Friday nights lugging a few bottles of beer and a portable stereo up to some nearby woods, building a fire, and sitting there soaking up the atmosphere whilst listening to Dark Medieval Times, Orkblut, Nightshade Forests, Blood On Ice or Morningrise. Going back further still, my grandfather retired in the Forest of Dean and we’d visit him regularly when I was young; he’d take us for long walks through the forest, crossing rocky streams and scaling mossy boulders. I feel like I’m being very cliché, because it’s not exactly original for a black metal fan to glorify wild natural places, but it is nevertheless an important truth for me: I love unspoilt nature and feel perpetually drawn to it.”
In “Fire in the White Stone” you included the release with a short story that directly ties with the album, what made you want to run with this unique approach to the new album?
“It wasn’t a particularly conscious plan. I just wanted a strong concept for the album’s lyrics and moods, but the concept became so fleshed out and detailed that I got to a point where I realised to do it justice, I’d have to write a short-story to accompany the album. I recorded the album nearly one year before it was released, so I knew that I’d have time to pen the story before it went to press. Wolcensmen has taught me one thing about myself: I don’t like to do things by halves. I don’t take the success of Wolcensmen for granted, and I’m not here to make casual, throwaway albums which people listen to once or twice. I have an opportunity I never expected to have, and that’s to make well-produced albums that will be heard by thousands of people. A lot of music gets released every day, in every genre, and I want Wolcensmen to stand as a monument of depth and quality among it all.”
Reading notes on the album on your Bandcamp page you said you wrote the story to get a philosophical message across to your audience. What is the philosophy you were going for in the conception of “Fire in the White Stone”?
“Well, it’s not singular, and I don’t want to go into depth about all of the energies and philosophies present in ‘Fire in the White Stone’. What I will say is that the overall message is one of growth and encouragement. The protagonist in the story is sort of the ‘everyman’ – certainly the ‘every disillusioned man’ – who finds his potential by stepping out of his comfort zone. I’ve studied Alchemy a bit in recent years (the theory, not the practice) and it’s not merely the mundane act of transforming lead into gold, but of transforming anything lesser into its greater potential. This applies on a human-individual level as well as on a societal level. As pretentious as this may sound, ‘Fire in the White Stone’ is designed to be an initiatory experience, musically and thematically. Anyone who truly engages with the music, the story and artwork will find some answer to the question of how they can better their existence. The teachings aren’t mine – they’re the combined wisdom of thousands of years, conveyed through the runes, Alchemists, philosophers and storytellers. I sort of condensed what I’ve discovered into this relatively concise artistic presentation.”
It seems like the main character is very much a symbol and metaphor of yourself, but is there a story behind meeting someone that is similar to the old farmer?
“No, the farmer really represents recent generations of western men, who were tough, salt-of-the-earth, masculine men but have become domesticated as western comforts set in. Or perhaps, in a sense, he represents western masculinity which has weakened over the course of the last few generations. And by the way, when I talk about ‘masculinity’, I don’t refer to what some people choose to call ‘toxic masculinity’. A real man is just, fair, respectful and honest.”
Were you trying to use a lot of Norse symbolism in the story line? As well as the characters introduced/involved in the story?
“Yes, though I’d politely correct you in that the symbolism belongs to the wider Teutonic (and Celtic) corpus. For example, the swans are closely related to the German ‘Alcis’, and the swan associations of the King Arthur and Lohengrin legends. Some of the symbolism is more commonly associated with Scandinavian lore, such as the Norns, the dwarves who uphold the four corners of the world. Some of it is specifically English, such as the Kalc rune, but a lot of it is common to wider Indo-European and even global mythology.”
What made you come up with the idea of the Swans of Gar’s Edge? You gave them quite an interesting description what is the significance behind them?
“Around the time that I made the Wolcensmen demo in 2013 I had a particularly vivid dream featuring two giant swans. It wasn’t until years later that I understood that this dream was in some way connected to the formation of Wolcensmen and my calling to make something of this musical project. There is an autobiographical aspect to ‘Fire in the White Stone’ and the Swans of Gar’s Edge are a key component of that. At the risk of getting into areas of discussion more spiritual and esoteric than some readers might be comfortable with, the swans demanded something of me and rewarded me in turn. But it’s not a concept specific to me; All of us (who believe in forces beyond the empirical) can connect with these hidden forces to unlock our individual potential.”
When I read the story it really reminds me of the old folk tales about the fae folk, do you do a lot of research on faerie lore and how important are those tales to you?
“I’ve read a number of English and Celtic folk tales, and am particularly familiar with anything that comes to us from an overtly Heathen culture (such as the Icelandic Sagas). I understood early on that the fae folk are intrinsic to the north-west European equivalent of Shamanism and, as mentioned in the answer to your previous question, our willingness to interact with these unseen forces is an important, forgotten principle which I personally try to employ in my life wherever possible.”
As I read the story the protagonist just decided to wander into the woods and the story unfolded from there, what is your take on this kind of symbolism/metaphor?
“It’s a typical, generic basis for an iteration of the ‘Hero’s Journey’, where an unassuming, disenchanted person finds themselves on an accidental journey and discovers something about (or for) themselves or their society as a result. That’s the basic meaning of it. There is another layer which is more specific to the – for lack of a better term – subculture that I and most Wolcensmen listeners are part of. Most of us here are disillusioned with modern existence and seek to enhance the depth and beauty of our existence somehow – usually through immersion in very escapist, otherworldly music, film and literature. The protagonist in a sense represents the conformist finding his way to nonconformity, and some of the dialogue early in the story attempts to convey this.”
Is there a personal significance to the actual fire in the white stone mentioned in the tale? What were you trying to convey with that object?
“This is something I’d like the reader to ponder for themselves, having come to understand the wider context of the story. Anyone who’s read the story and still isn’t sure, I would respond to them with the question: What has fire and light always represented in countless myths through mankind’s history? Why is fire so important to Zoroastrians? What is the extent of sun worship, and why? Why will the avatar Kalki’s sword be ablaze? Why does the Yule ritual consists of bringing fire into the home?”
Photo By: Daniel Walmsley
I also noticed you worked with quite a few great artists to help you conceive “Fire in the White Stone” how did you specifically build your relationships with Aslak Tolonen of Nest and Jake Rogers of Visigoth/Gallowbraid? I cannot picture better contributing artists than those two!
“You’re right – I’ve been very fortunate to befriend Jake and Aslak. I’ve known Jake since before I made the Wolcensmen demo in 2013, through working with him on some designs. We soon found a lot of musical common-ground and when I’d recorded the demo I asked if he was interested to hear it. He loved it and told me he played the flute, and should I ever want flute on future compositions he’d be glad to help. I took him up on the offer for the first album, ‘Songs from the Fyrgen’ and when it came to writing ‘Fire in the White Stone’ I couldn’t fathom it being devoid of flute. It’s an instrument which brings an ethereal, very-human texture.
As for Aslak: His projects Nest and Syven are a big influence, but I didn’t properly make his acquaintance until last year, though I know he was a fan of the first album when it was newly released. I arranged a Wolcensmen release-show for the reissue of ‘Songs from the Fyrgen’ in 2018 and had seen Aslak announcing his readiness to play concerts on Facebook. He’d never performed in the UK before so I thought it was a great opportunity to bring him over. The show was amazing – a real night to remember. Aslak and his wife stayed with me and we got on well. I asked if he might add a little bit of kantele to my new album and he kindly obliged.”
I am also curious how you built your relationship with John A. Rivers (Dead Can Dance’s producer) what is the story behind meeting him and how did you get him to buy into your vision of “Fire in the White Stone”?
“Well, it was purely business to begin with. I’d initially arranged to record with Markus Stock of Empyrium, in Germany. Sadly, that fell through and I was left wondering who else could do a great job with the album. In a moment of madness, or genius, I thought I’d look up who produced the classic Dead Can Dance albums, and to see if they were still working. I sent John an email and to my astonishment we managed to work something out. He liked the sound of the project and was excited to work with me. The rest is recent history. Initially I didn’t share too much with him about the themes and nature of the project – I just wanted to get across to him the sonic qualities and atmospheres I wanted to achieve. He was very attentive and accommodating, and by the end of the project I really felt it had became a labour-of-love. I do believe he’s very proud of his involvement with the album, and that’s a real honour for me.”
Annie: Do you feel like there has been a shift from lo-fi black metal to more sophisticated styles of music that has roots in black/death/doom metal (neofolk, acoustic, ambient, synth work and drone)? Do you think the average metal fan has matured to be more open-minded to these styles of music instead?
“That’s an interesting topic of discussion. The growth in popularity of (for lack of a better term) ‘Viking’ music has been phenomenal in recent years, with metal musicians and fans flocking to acquire nyckelharpas and tunics. But (what is now termed) ‘dungeon synth’ has existed since the early ‘90s. Prophecy Productions has a long history of releasing dark folk and neoclassical music to a predominantly metal audience, and when I first got into black metal there was already an appreciation for industrial, classical and even dark pop and rock music. I think the only thing that has really changed is that widespread elitism has died down, so that people now perhaps take more pride in being receptive to other genres. Wardruna came along at just the right time to tap into a desire for more traditional sounds and styles, and that’s probably moreso a subconscious reaction against the digital, material age than it is evidence of changing tastes.”
Annie: In your opinion how much of Wolcensmen is celebrating a lost past versus generating a timeless present?
“Another good question, causing me to ponder hard. If we consider that technological advancement evolves at an accelerating pace (officially, they say there’s been more technological development in the last 150 years than in the preceding 1 million) then the pre-Industrial way-of-life can rightly be viewed as the more ‘timeless’ state of affairs. So in a way, I see the pre-Industrial era as being timeless, and when I reach to celebrate one, I celebrate the other. The only constants in the history of human existence are things like religion, community, struggle, inter-human relations and our relationship with the natural world. Digital screens, junkfood, bank loans and most modern comforts are but a blip in the timeline.
What I wish to celebrate with Wolcensmen, thematically, are the fundamental truths, mysteries and needs of human existence. The beautiful things which we instinctively know to be good because of our emotional reaction to them. No healthy human is genuinely moved by the release of the latest iPhone, but we are moved by the development of a child’s speech or the sight of a mountain range.”
What are some other interests you have outside of music? And what have you been listening to for music and bands lately?
“I’m keen on health and fitness, exercising regularly and eating wholesome food. I also like to read non-fiction, to expand my understanding of the world – particularly with regards to existential, spiritual and historical matters. I have a lot of responsibilities, so my leisure time is pretty slim these days. Music is the only ‘hobby’ I have any significant time for.
My favourite recent releases are: Deus Mortem – Kosmocide, Atlantean Kodex – The Course of Empire, Aelfric – Mimir’s Mead, Dautha – Brethren of the Black Soil, Crypt Sermon – The Ruins of Fading Light and Bilskirnir – In Solitary Silence. I’m also never far from sticking on an album by Bathory, Dead Can Dance, Loreena McKennitt, Dissection, Forefather or any of the classic Norwegian black metal albums.”
If you could describe Wolcensmen’s music to someone who may not be familiar with your music what would you say?
“I would tell them that it’s something that needs to be listened to in a state of peace, on headphones or a quiet setting. I would tell them to let the atmosphere lead the way. It’s acoustic, at times epic, cinematic, dark, a deliberate representation of pre-Industrial north-western Europe, designed to take the listener there whilst hopefully also standing as a collection of finely composed, diverse songs.”
And finally, do you have any closing words for our readers and do you see yourself doing some shows in the United States in the future?
“Honestly, no I don’t – not because I don’t want to but because the cost of VISAs, and bringing Wolcensmen to the stage anywhere, are fairly high. I would sincerely love to come and play some shows in America, and if a booking agent wants to help me do that, please get in touch.
To the reader – thanks for your interest and support. It sometimes feels like a miracle that something as sincere and niche as Wolcensmen has been this successful. I’ve never had to compromise or pretend, and I plan to keep it that way. I don’t know what the future holds, but I’m very grateful to have had so much support from true music fans.”
Official Page: https://wolcensmen.com