Arð – Untouched by Fire

Friends – Northumbria speaks again.


Writer William Faulkner said: ‘’The past is never dead, it’s not even past.’’ Thinking about the past as an ever-evolving creature – where we hopefully learn from every now and then – it is extra praiseworthy that Arð takes the time to tell us about the history of Northumbria in order to keep it alive.
Northumbrian history doom project Arð will release their second album, ‘’Untouched by Fire’’, on April 26th via Prophecy Productions. Arð is the solo project from Mark Deeks, who – for those living under a rock – you may know from black metal band Winterfylleth. Besides being a musician, he is also active as a piano coach, musical director, author, speaker, and advocate of mental health.

Arð means ‘native land’ in the dialect of the Anglian Kingdom of Northumbria. Sir Deeks describes the style of Arð as Monastic Doom Metal. When you close your eyes whilst listening to ‘’Untouched by Fire’’ you can easily imagine the monks chanting their songs to the heavens. Mark Deeks often refers to his songs as hymns. These hymns carry a distinctly religious atmosphere and are more fitting for a slow evening staring into the fire with a glass of whisky rather than easy listening background music while doing chores.

Regarding religion, Mark Deeks states that: ‘’I’d consider myself an atheist. And ‘Take Up My Bones’ wasn’t a religious album if you looked closely enough. The history of Northumbria is inextricably linked with the battle between faith and non-faith, Christian and pagan.

It’s impossible to tell tales of this region without reference to religion, but as a writer I think it is important to push, prod and challenge at the established narrative, which in this part of the world has been written into history from a Christian perspective and accepted as fact. Doing so is part of the fabric of Arð.‘’

Because I feel one cannot write about Arð without talking about the background, we need to jump on our horses and ride some history:
Whereas the first album ‘’Taking up my bones’’ is about St Cuthbert of Northumbria (634-687), ‘’Untouched by Fire’’ revolves around the tale of the Anglo-Saxon warrior-king and saint Oswald (605-642), who created the Kingdom of Northumbria. Linking these albums together, the lyric from ”Raise then the incorrupt body” from ‘’Taking up my Bones’’ states ”Alongside head of king belongs body incorrupt”. It is said that one of the relics carried in Cuthbert’s coffin was the head of Oswald. After the death of king Oswald during battle, his body parts were dismembered. Soon these became valued relics and healing miracles were associated with them.

King Oswald was known for his great compassion; a specific story is mentioned where Oswald was dining in his castle when a servant came in and told Oswald that a crowd of the poor were in the streets begging alms. Oswald at once ordered that his food be given to the poor and even had the silver dish broken up and distributed.






The image, located in Newcastle Cathedral, shows Cuthbert holding the head of Oswald.


For the fantasy nerds among us: it is even said that Tolkien derived inspiration from King Oswald while writing the character Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings. Parallels such as spending time in exile and returning years later with a raised army of Anglian exiles and retaking his kingdom are notable.

Alright, let’s focus and talk music.
On ‘’Untouched by Fire’’, which was recorded with the aid of Markus Stock (among others: Empyrium, The Vision Bleak, Sun of the Sleepless) an extra touch of Northumbrian culture is presented by Beverley Palin during ‘’Beset by Weapons’’ in the form of Northumbrian pipes (these are member of the bagpipe family). On cello we hear Robina Huy, who also helps to create the typical Arð sound in ‘’Take Up My Bones’’. Dan Capp, who we also hear at the first album, is responsible for the lead guitar lines and additional choral vocals.

The album starts off with a lengthy hymn of 9 minutes called ‘Cursed to Nothing But Patience’. However, this is doom we are talking about, and as said: more suitable for a night of staring into the flames. The mood is set immediately with an epic opening with guitarwork followed by chanting.

I love the softness halfway through the song with only a piano, which becomes more and more haunting, and how this is followed by epic chanting and guitarwork. Very doom, very Arð.
During ‘Name Bestowed’ we are immediately welcomed with chanting and a church organ, followed by cello, and calming piano play. After this buildup, the first half of the hymn, the second part works with appropriate guitarwork and chanting.
Trying to think about what bands I could compare the sound of Arð to, I come up empty. Yes, this is doom. However, these solemn, melancholic hymns really have their own, authentic sound.

When you keep in mind that ‘Hefenfelth’ (Heavenfield) was probably the location to which Oswald returned, in order to claim the Kingdom of Northumbria (634 AC), you appreciate the buildup from the start of this hymn even more. It all starts with the typical Arð piano work, followed by a supportive cello, continued with building guitarwork in a repeating loop.
The title ‘He Saw Nine Winters’ is probably derived from the time between winning the battle by Oswald at Hefenfelth till his death in 642. Thinking about this, one can understand the modest, hesitant tone of the chanting. Again, the buildup in this hymn is phenomenal.

In ‘Beset by Weapons’ we are mostly beset by Northumbrian pipes during a slower opening. The pipes fit so well in the theme, and I actually wished the pipes were played during more hymns. After a long buildup of the pipes and chanting, you start to realize that the fight has been fought and that the tale soon will end. This sensation continues during the opening of the last hymn of the album, ‘Casket of Dust’.

When I attended Fortress Festival (Scarborough) last summer, I had heard of the name Arð, but never actively looked up the music. Shame on me because the music grabbed me like only some bands can. Back then I didn’t know anything about the subject, but I was taken by the sadness, which fitted seamlessly with a personal situation in my life at that point. From that point on I listened to Arð a lot, and bought tickets to their show in Baroeg, Rotterdam last November, without thinking.
When I heard that a new album will be released soon, I felt that it was only fitting to review it. I feel more than privileged that I got the chance to dig into ‘’Untouched by Fire’’ and write about it. That being said: if you loved ‘’Taking up my Bones’’, you will love ‘’Untouched by Fire’’ even more. It is everything that you expect from Arð and more. I’m very fond of the alternations between calm piano play and epic chanting and guitarwork. On a critical note, you could say that this album may sound predicable, but when it is predictable in a good way, no complains from this side.

Personally, I hope Northumbria will speak again on a third album.

Rating: 9 / 10

Release Date: 26th April 2024

Label: Prophecy Productions

Writer: Tal


  1. Cursed To Nothing But Patience
  2. Name Bestowed
  3. Hefenfelth
  4. He Saw Nine Winters
  5. Beset by Weapons
  6. Casket of Dust