STARING INTO THE ABYSS: An interview with Necronautical frontman Russell 'Naut' Dobson
With its heavily publicised hallmarks of gratuitous bloodshed, church-burning blasphemy and public self-mutilation, black metal is perhaps the last sub-genre you’d associate with creative ingenuity and original vision. Yet, with their compositionally intricate strains of ink-black, ornately twisted symphony and bristling, intensely visceral aggression, darkly introspective collective Necronautical prove there’s more to the genre than the unenlightened masses would have us believe. Philosophical frontman Naut checked in with Dark Matter to discuss the groundbreaking making of newly-unleashed epic, ‘Apotheosis’.
It’s tricky to pin down and define precisely what fuels and sustains a band’s creative output. Adolescent frustration with the comfortable tedium of suburban privilege? Inciting feelings of horror and hysteria through intensely visceral displays of mindless violence? The simple, yet undeniable pleasure of extending a giant, metaphorical middle finger to the world? But within this limitless multitude of assorted motives and agendas, Mancunian black metal unit, Necronautical’s own particular raison d'être is surprisingly easy to get a handle on.
“Forming a band was never really a conscious decision for us,” recalls frontman Russell ‘Naut’ Dobson of the band’s refreshingly unpretentious early beginnings. “I guess we just discovered that we enjoyed being creative together. It just happened to be a good way to express ourselves together and I think that spirit is still very much with us.”
Yet however seemingly humble and unassuming these early beginnings, there’s no understating the limitless passion and perfectionism that fuels this presently flourishing creative unit, with the band releasing their debut album mere months following their formation back in 2014. Underpinning a darkly electrifying fusion of ripping, brimstone-scorched aggression, luxuriant, Cradle-esque symphonies and psychologically probing insights into the darkest corners of the human psyche, ‘Black Sea Misanthropy’ was quick to capture the attention of iconic underground label Cacophonous, who later released follow-up album ‘The Endurance at Night’ some two years later. With this impressive sophomore release sparking rave reviews and various live appearances numbering a prestigious slot supporting black metal legends Dark Funeral later that same year, it wasn’t long before the industrious collective eagerly set about gathering ideas for their next illustrious studio offering. Having spent the past three years painstakingly expanding and refining their sound into the stuff of ferocious, stirringly ritualistic excellence, it was with boundless energy and fluidly instinctive chemistry that the four-piece embarked on the making of hugely anticipated follow-up ‘Apotheosis’.
The frontman expands, “It’s funny how things develop. We just start working on songs straight away without any specific concept in mind at all. The first thing we had for this album was some riffs, and the subject matter we’ve kind of flirted with as long as we’ve been a band. Once we’ve got a few ideas together, I tend to try and write what I’m feeling rather than consciously thinking, ‘Oh, these are some black metal riffs’, and stuff like that. We’re not thinking about any particular genre, just melodies and how they make you feel. So. myself and the other guys in the band, we’re all early thirties and, although it’s not like suddenly at that age you find yourself in a crisis, but your priorities inevitably start to change. You start to think about things a little differently. You realise you’re not going to be here forever, you realise there are things you’ll never do and so you start to prioritise the important things in life. At the time of writing, I was going through a fairly difficult time in my life and I personally was taking a lot of comfort from Nietzsche’s philosophies; the way that he writes about man’s place in existence was kind of putting me at peace with my experience of living in the world, so I just vaguely came up with the concept of the record from there.”
With philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s darkly introspective musings on the feeble, cosmic insignificance of mankind within a vast and infinite universe providing a richly inspirational gateway into the creative process, songwriter Naut very quickly found himself venturing into exceptionally bleak and thought-provoking compositional territories.
Tempering these raw, emotionally charged creative instincts with an uncommonly exacting and meticulous writing style, the resulting material unsurprisingly abounds with all the darkness and complexity of design for which the UK black metallers are becoming increasingly admired. And within this wondrously diverse sonic spectrum of white-hot, incandescent fury, bristling hostility and eerily haunting classical trappings, there is, for Naut, one particular track that perfectly underpins the ink-black essence of this uniquely crafted long-player.
“‘Nihil Sub Sole Novum’ is actually an old Latin expression meaning ‘Nothing New Under the Sun’,” the frontman explains of this integral, all-encompassing first single. “I believe it was first found in the Bible, and it alludes to the rather tired and repetitive nature of existence. The lyrics on this particular track are musings on the cyclical nature of life – ‘the rivers run and are returned, but the sea is never full’. We felt that it was a strong song and starting point for the album because it encapsulates all the feelings in this album within just one song. Anyway, soon after writing that I realised I’d kind of got a vibe there and it’d be cool to take that vibe and also make a banger out of it as well, and that’s how it all got started on ‘Nihil…’ Kind of like a sad banger, so to speak,” he chuckles.
With these blackly grandiose cosmic vibrations finding their ultimate manifestation in the heated, intensely ritualistic arena of live performance, every imaginable detail of Necronautical’s towering stage presence is carefully engineered to inspire awe and darkly magnetic intrigue in limitless abundance. And despite sharing the classic, corpse paint-smeared trappings of many a typical, satanically-inclined black metal band, these deathly aesthetics signify something altogether more thought-provoking and original.
Naut elaborates, “Black metal music, as everybody knows, has a lot of anti-religious meanings generally, but we didn’t want to necessarily take that particular angle. It’s not about us saying ‘Fuck god’ or whatever. We all have spiritual and philosophical interests, but at the same time we’re fundamentally scientists or atheists, and the whole concept of what we’re doing now is exactly what you said; subverting these religious ideas and trying to take away this notion of mankind being important, because in scientific terms, that’s really not the case. So it’s kind of like a nihilistic viewpoint, but when you start examine this idea much closer, it’s almost like a personal philosophy. It’s not necessarily a depressing thing, you know, the idea that all things in life are inconsequential. I think there’s some positivity in that, because I think, a lot of the time in life, we spend a lot of energy concerned about things that really probably aren’t that important, and I think if you can get your head around that and accept your own mortality, that can probably be quite a positive thing in most people’s lives.”
“But as far as our live show and how we translate that in terms of imagery, we decided to have iconography or symbolism used in much the same way as a religion would, but in this incredibly bleak and nihilistic way. So we have these uniforms and emblems that we’re using and obviously we’re hiding our faces in order to take away our own sense of individuality and present something which is quite uniform and empty, so it’s very bold dark colours and candelabras and incense to kind of bring a more spiritual aspect to the whole experience. But yeah, we look at it as a subversion of how religions use these things to inspire feelings of awe. Speaking of which, I actually knew the architect of Liverpool cathedral, he was one of my friends, and he used to talk about the design of the building; how the acoustics of the roof were designed to carry the voices of choirs or organs as though they were coming from Heaven itself rather than within the building and the whole intention was just to inspire awe, to make you feel quite small and humble in the presence of god. And you see black metal bands who have these massive stage shows and I think these are used to similar effect, but in an opposite kind of way. Kind of like, if we display all these anti-norm displays on stage, maybe that has the opposite effect of empowering the individual, rather than to make them feel humble in the presence of something big. I suppose our idea is to try and say that maybe things aren’t that big and important and, just maybe, you don’t have quite that many duties as a human being, so that iconoclasm can be quite empowering, I think.”
But, however deeply intriguing these intensely thought-provoking existential musings, Naut is equally quick to point out that Necronautical’s complex, multi-faceted craft is one that can be appreciated on a multitude of different levels. With the vital principles of artistic self-expression forming the fundamental, inspirational core of the band’s currently thriving creative output, Naut assures, “We’re so full of waffle sometimes, but it’s not our intention to try to outsmart our listeners or anything. Fundamentally, we’re just trying to create songs, to take our ideas and present them in the most effective manner possible. I don’t think you necessarily need to understand exactly the content of a song in order to feel something from it. An obvious example of that would be the band Rammstein. They sing in German, and I’m not a fluent speaker of German by any stretch, but take a song like ‘Ohne Dich’ or Seemann’, which is really full of emotion, and you really don’t need to understand what Till [Lindemann] is singing about in order to tap into his emotion. It’s paramount just to get emotion into the music. And the only way to achieve that is if we as artists feel a connection with our music. If we didn’t feel connected, I don’t think it’s possible for people to feel a connection with it either. It’s so important for us to be making sincere music that we truly believe in and we know we worked to the best of our ability on – that’s paramount to us above all else.”
'Apotheosis' is out now via Candlelight Records