With its pitch-black legacy of grisly murder and dismemberment, of moonlit rites and crumbling tombstones, of frigid fjords and desolate dark forests, extreme metal has long been intimately acquainted with the darkest and most unspeakably horrific facets of the human condition. But while the mining of such deliciously macabre thematic territories is nothing particularly new or unprecedented within this most intensely sinister of subgenres, there is, nonetheless, something eerily timely about the advent of Naglfar’s latest apocalyptic masterpiece. Specifically, that a work as flawlessly attuned to the death-knell beat of this uncommonly harrowing new century should have reached completion just days before the world fell prey to the lethal ravages of COVID-19. Following ‘Cerecloth’s’ anticipated unveiling earlier this month, visionary frontman Kristoffer Olivius sets about unravelling this ghoulishly intricate epic of a full-length.
“I've spoken to many people who've said ‘Don't you think it would be better to wait and delay the release?’ But if anyone should be delivering the soundtrack to these life-changing events that are going on around us, it has to be my band,” asserts Naglfar frontman Kristoffer Olivius on the exceptionally curious circumstances surrounding the long-awaited release of darkly prophetic new slab ‘Cerecloth’. With the rudimentary barebones of this masterfully crafted seventh album having been established some eight years prior, it would be a full six years before the Swedish black metal collective would eventually commit these rough sketches to record. Sourcing limitlessly rich and bountiful inspiration from its harrowing central narratives of blackly flourishing pestilence, horror and despair, it wasn’t long before these many dusky, intricately twisted yarns would coalesce into the stuff of nerve-shattering, apocalyptic nightmares. Of course, little did Olivius and co. know that they’d already unwittingly begun penning the soundtrack to one of the latest and greatest catastrophes ever to befall human civilisation. And just as the band were readying themselves to make the grandiose unveiling of ghoulishly chilling first single ‘Cerecloth’, a slew of countries across the continent officially confirmed long-circulating rumours of a global pandemic as COVID-19 set about ruthlessly decimating the population. Indeed, Kristoffer is the first to agree that there’s something more than a little uncanny about the coinciding of these two separate yet curiously synchronised occurrences.
“I truly believe everything happens for a reason,” the frontman observes thoughtfully. “At that point eight years ago, we already knew that the next album coming up is going to be called 'Cerecloth'. This was a visual concept that we have been discussing for quite sometime now and it's like a vision of seeing the world being slowly, slowly wrapped into this death garment. So of course it's a metaphor for something else, of civilisation and human evolution coming to some kind of a halt or some sort of an end. And this was of course, as usual, written in a very prophetic way because of how it came to be like with this quarantine and everything happening when we released the first single. It's always awesome when things come together like this, like a little bit prophetic almost.”
As thoroughly bristling with blackly lacerating aggression as it is extravagantly drenched in deathly, intricately spiralling atmospherics, every deliciously frostbitten inch of masterfully crafted first single ‘Cerecloth’ appears to have been almost purposely engineered in readiness for the uncommonly bleak new era in which we find ourselves. Unveiled to the world in the shape of a darkly cinematic music video that sees band members surrounded by a ghoulish multitude of shrouded corpses and rolling mist, seldom does an apparent work of fiction resonate on such an unflinchingly visceral and affecting level. Plunging listeners still deeper into this coldly immersive netherworld of wanton chaos and destruction, ‘Vortex of Negativity’ followed a mere three weeks later, displaying an altogether more intensely sinister and melodic facet of this anticipated body of work as its official release date loomed ever tantalisingly closer.
“That's the reason we chose those two tracks, because they're not very much alike,” Kristoffer elaborates. “But they're still very much a good representation of what Naglfar is. From my point of view, there were other songs we could've chosen also but I feel that, especially the first song we chose, the title track… it's very important to do it like that and put that song out as a single. I don't think that that's something we would have done in the past and probably not in the future either, but for this one I felt that this was just the natural thing to do and that this would be the first one that we would present to people. I think it's an awesome track. We recorded both those videos during one day and they're done by a local filmmaker from here who's actually a relative of mine, and we gave him free rein to do pretty much whatever he wanted with it because we felt that he understands what our band is about and everything."
"But I think one thing that really came out especially in this one is that we've always been using some kind of makeup and stuff, but in these videos we don't use much at all. I think we're actually quite understated when it comes to clothing and stuff. I feel that with many black and death metal bands, the videos often becomes a bit too much, you know? For us, it just has to be jeans and studs and leather, a little bit more easy-going. We're more like hardcore guys that just started to play metal music, that's our background. It’s very far away from being very flamboyant like some British, Norwegian or Polish bands might be. Sometimes it's way overdressed and just ends up looking stupid and you don't get many opportunities to make videos and stuff like this, so it's important that you get it right. I feel that these videos are very honest in the representation of the band and I don't think that we come off as too cheesy and this is very important for the overall message of Naglfar's music. I also manufactured my own clothes for both of these videos. This time around, I thought it was very important that I sew all my own clothes for these videos and do everything myself and in doing so I've managed to burn out a couple of sewing machines because they are not so much friends of the leather.”
With these vividly haunting cinematic pieces playing a pivotal role in creating a thoroughly intense and immersive assault on the senses, it’s ‘Cerecloth’s’ stunningly intricate cover art that perhaps most richly encapsulates the overarching essence of the record in its eerily symbolic entirety. Crafted by legendary black metal illustrator Kristian Wåhlin, this iconic and instantly recognisable imagery inevitably carries with it no small amount of hugely influential tradition and nostalgia. And yet, from its flourishing, meticulously detailed brushstrokes to its strikingly deathly and distinctive colour scheme, ‘Cerecloth’s’ uniquely crafted character stands distinctly separate and apart from the generic, monochrome-laden cover imagery that’s long dominated this frequently derivative subgenre.
“He has this incredible Victorian vibe about some of the stuff he does which is just everything I love,” Kristoffer enthuses of the inimitable artist. “If there is an artist who's especially popular, like during the height of his popularity, you won't see us using him, but Kristian has been around for such a long time and we're all a part of each other's history also and we felt that this was the right time to do this. I was little afraid of what the final outcome would be, but I feel it turned out just perfectly in the end. Of course, we discussed the concept but what we mostly discussed were colours because this was something that I had a very early feeling about, that this album had to go in these kind of colour patterns. I wanted it to be a little bit greenish this time and I think it looks awesome. For those of us who grew up in the ’80s and ’90s, it was always the vinyls and the cover artworks were so important, but it was something that became lost a little when the CD format eventually came along. I know a lot of people were complaining about sound but that's something I always personally held to be bullshit. When the CD made its entrance, I totally feel like the real loss was the pleasure of sitting and looking at these covers and the sometimes very elaborate covers that some bands have. When you go to shows, I’ve noticed that some of the album covers of a lot of the new black metal bands are almost exactly the same, because everybody has like triangles and spheres and stuff like that which I've seen sometimes lying out on tables. You can't really work out which band is which and we call it triangle core or black metal core. Of course we are great supporters of the triangle core, but we feel that the triangle core scene needs to step up their game and create new scenes and stuff because everything visually looks so alike that it’s starting to run into one another.”
Indeed, it’s precisely this fiercely individualistic sense of identity and uncompromisingly meticulous attention to fine detail that continues to fuel and sustain this relentlessly evolving unit ever onward into the 28th year of their illustrious career in extreme music. With this fiery, unwaning passion weathering a host of inevitable, life-changing adjustments and upheavals that would easily dismantle less seasoned and solidly cohesive units, there’s no mistaking the tremendous pride Olivius takes in this long-standing source of unbridled creativity and self-expression.
The frontman notes, “We're not a band that ever compromises on anything and that can be both a strength, but it can also be something that's quite annoying to people around you because it's like you're never happy with anything that you do. Sometimes you have to bring in a third party that puts the fist to the table and says ‘Enough now’ because otherwise it would just keep getting reworked and reworked over and over again, so in that sense it can be a weakness. That's why it's important to have all different kinds of people and personalities in your life also. We have a very complex formula for what me Marcus and Andreas feel we should sound like. Maybe you have seen that we're technically a five-piece, but when it comes to writing and recording we are strictly a three-piece. People should know that the people who handle the writing and recording duties, it’s always the same guys, even though we take in other members of our band, they don't get to write the music. It was always mine, Andreas and Marcus' vision, so with that mind, it would be very hard if one of us three were to fall off the wagon so to speak. It would be very tricky to write music. I feel that sometimes, when I've been a member of other bands also, I feel sometimes that I have a very hard time writing with people that don't know my way of writing and that's something I also feel with Marcus. We also have this band together called Bewitched and he knows exactly - and I know exactly too - when he starts playing what's going to come next and sometimes you don't know yourself, you need your partner to tell you and then everything just clicks."
"That's something very special I feel, to have a partner when it comes to creating music, but it's also quite vulnerable because sometimes it's very hard to write music by myself. We criticise each other quite hard too but there's also this deep respect we have for each other because we have known each other since we were children, more or less. This is still the formula we try to keep, even though now we lead otherwise separate lives. We speak a few times each week and if it's possible we go to the pub to discuss a few ideas and have a beer or two. I think this is the most magical aspect of the band, that for the three of us this is actually an extension of our friendship that has been able to transcend into this adult life and everything that has happened in our lives so far. Because it's very difficult, and it's very hard to keep going with a mission like this if you don't have a reason for it, you know, but our reason is our friendship and that's the best part about Naglfar. Without this, I would never recommend anybody to do a musical project of any sort. It's very costly and something that destroys relationships and something that you have to put maybe even before your own children sometimes. It's just something very extreme to do and I've wished so many times, especially when I was younger, that I could do something else but I've always felt that I'm chosen to do this. This is not something I have chosen, it's something that has called me since I was a very, very young boy and so in a way feel that I'm just some sort of a vessel for something bigger than all of this. As to exactly what that is, I'll leave that up to the viewers and the listeners to decide.”
'Cerecloth' is out now on Century Media
Read our verdict on the record here