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  • Interview by Faye Coulman

Necrophobic’s Sebastian Ramstedt talks COVID-19, cosmic upheaval and killer 9th opus ‘Dawn of the Da

The world as we know it is awash with apocalyptic horror, teeming with tales of sorrow and woe as we, locked in the maddening noise and isolation of our own heads, endlessly fret and ruminate over the sorry state of affairs that is the year 2020. Small wonder, then, that this exceptionally dark chapter of human civilisation has proved such a rich and fertile source of inspiration for many a darkly-inclined metal unit. But while blackened collective Necrophobic may have long aligned themselves with all things decidedly grim and frostbitten, epic new slab ‘Dawn of the Damned’ is so much more than just a fine, delectably sinister specimen of the genre. From its visceral layerings of bone-scraping tremolo to grandly expansive spirals of lacerating fretwork that audibly glimmer with infernal fire, it’s evident that the Swedes’ ninth studio masterwork has an altogether more purposeful and intelligent agenda at work here. Guitarist and compositional talent Sebastian Ramstedt lifts the lid on this deliciously nightmarish long-player.

“The funny thing was, when I wrote these lyrics and this music, in my mind, I had a feeling that this is like a farewell to something. This is a goodbye to life as we knew it, as we know it,” reflects Necrophobic’s Sebastian Ramstedt on the darkly prophetic conception of groundbreaking ninth opus ‘Dawn of the Damned’. Indeed, reflecting on the life-altering arrival of COVID-19 to European shores last March, it’s hard to believe it’s been over half a year since Dark Matter last had the pleasure of holding an audience with the aforementioned riff lord and composer. Largely because, since our last exchange with this towering institution of a metal collective, frighteningly little to nothing has changed here on this dreary, rain-sodden rock we call the United Kingdom. After a momentary flicker of activity back in the summer, our local boozers have once again shut up their doors, families are still estranged from their nearest and dearest and the ‘R’ rate is once again gathering alarming momentum. And as we inch, with agonisingly slow inexorability, ever closer to the end of this veritable catastrophe of a year, the concept of live music is fast becoming an increasingly alien prospect, a faded relic of a bygone age quite possibly forever consigned to the history books.

But how keenly we recall the bitter disappointment of Necrophobic’s long-awaited European tour being brought to a violently abrupt halt mere hours before the Swedes were set to unleash hell upon the city of London back in March. As our last chat with the band on the subject of COVID-19 and its devastating impact on the music industry abundantly revealed, this proved to be a catastrophe of unprecedented proportions, not least after Sebastian and his family themselves contracted the virus before luckily making a full recovery following a few weeks of precariously fragile health. But despite the crippling effects of COVID-19 and the unending multitude of spiritual, physical and financial complications it brought with it, it’s clear that, while the better part of the western world descended into a prolonged period of Netflix-bingeing apathy and despair, Ramstedt and co. were putting all this dead time to exceptionally productive use.

“It’s been great that we have had all this time to make this release what it is,” Sebastian comments of the band’s latest impeccably orchestrated long-player. “You know, we had this time to really think through the mix and make all the preparations and the videos and everything else. So we have used the time actually very well. Of course, we had written most of the songs long before this pandemic came. But when we had to finalise the mix and add the last details and decide how the overall feeling and atmosphere would be; it kind of had the tension of the world in a state of great change and the world locked down in fear for some reason. For many reasons, most of our albums are more about aggressive power and going your own way, against Christianity or whatever, but this album is much more about looking into yourself and to manage to cope with or fight your own inner demons. And as the whole world is in this state, it's very interesting to put out an album about this during these troubled times. I mean, it lands quite well so to speak.”

Indeed, the album’s conception could have scarcely begun at a more eerily appropriate moment, with Sebastian’s private struggles with depression coinciding with the onset of a global catastrophe that would later rock human civilisation to the very core of its being. Revolving around the darkly introspective concept of monumental, life-altering change effected via the most turbulent and traumatic of personal misfortunes, ‘Dawn of the Damned’ is a record born of the very darkest cosmic energies and unearthly vibrations. Be it in its ghoulishly echoing, sulphurous screams, bristling lashings of tremolo or gargantuan lines of blackly expansive fretwork, there’s no mistaking the undiluted torment at work within this grimly apocalyptic slab.

“I really tried to draw the atmosphere out of this one because this is so much based on my own experiences with depression, and also my own experiences with rituals,” the guitarist elaborates. “I really tried to get that kind of inner conflict thing going on in the music. The harmonies take you this or that direction, it doesn't stay on the same page and it shifts all the time during the album, just like when you're awake at night, lying there in anguish trying to figure out what to do with your miserable life. I tried to that very particular feeling down in some way and I think I succeeded because, when I listen to ‘Mark of the Necrogram’, the last album, it was more of a very powerful, like, conquering triumphant feeling. But this album really takes you more into the dark with maybe a glimpse or suggestion of how to get out of it. But it doesn't give you the answer. It leaves the listener tangled in the dark and when the album is over and it's up to yourself where you want to go from there. As I said, I was left with this feeling that something was coming to an end, and I felt this so strong, because I also kind of opened the gates to the astral worlds to get access to a spiritual demonic world of sorts. I don’t necessarily believe in its existence per se, but I believe that it can definitely affect you and if I open my mind to it, it will affect me whether it's real or not. And I felt by doing this, I kind of opened the gates to a great change and the great unknown. I had a feeling that something really bad or something very life-changing will happen.”

With the compositional foundations of this explosive yet immaculately structured long-player firmly in place by early 2020, Ramstedt and co. quickly set about expanding their sonic repertoire in accordance with the darkly diverse plethora of musical moods and energies contained within. As well as extracting influences from across the extreme metal spectrum spanning everything from the most sumptuously progressive, riff-laden passages to deliciously gratuitous episodes of searing aggression, Ramstedt spent no shortage of time painstakingly honing his repertoire as a guitarist ahead of the recording process that followed. Aesthetically speaking, the resulting record is as wondrously visceral and ghoulish a work as any black metal fanatic could wish for. Yet when it came to the underpinning structure and sequencing of this hell fire-scorched epic, Sebastian reveals an unlikely but tremendously inspirational influence that proved absolutely integral in bringing the record to ghoulishly mesmerising fruition.

“Back in the 80s, I absolutely hated hair metal, but since then I’ve looked into those bands again with new eyes, because for some reason they sold a lot of records, and it was not only because they were pretty boys. I feel like there's some really good musicians in those bands and, as songwriters, there's a lot of to learn from them. Let’s face it, it's basically pop music with a heavy metal image, but the writing is so competent and so hooky and they really knew how to keep the attention of the listener back then, even if the music is a bit on the cheesy side. For example, do you know the song ‘Dead Ringer for Love’ by Meatloaf? It truly is the perfect song because every riff and note has a reason to be there and I kind of wanted to recreate that sort of perfect song where everything fits so I can take that as a template for black metal, but of course it will sound nothing like Meatloaf. What want is for you to be able to put down the needle anywhere on the album, and there should not be a single unnecessary moment there at any point. Now, I realise some people think our albums go nowhere musically speaking, but I think they maybe seek more riff-based music where they just want to listen to this or that riff over and over again. I think our songs move and make sense as a whole. They lead you somewhere, so I can understand the criticism for it, but in my perspective, I want every part to fit. You know, I want everything to lead up to the next part.”

But while ‘Dawn of the Damned’ is unquestionably Necrophobic’s most accomplished and seamlessly coherent record yet, it’s clear that the championing of artistic vision and integrity over the mindless rehashing of ‘trve’ genre clichés has long figured prominently in the Swedes’ fearlessly distinctive sonic identity. Intrinsically linked to the eerily transcendental disciplines of dark magic that Sebastian and co. have been avid practitioners of for the better part of the past three decades, theirs is a collective centred firmly on the spiritually enriching principles of ever-progressing growth, evolution and enlightenment – both as absurdly skilled musicians and human souls seeking to navigate the tricky, frequently hostile territories of this earthly plane. And, following the groundbreaking unleashing of ‘…the Damned’ last month, never before has their darkly infernal flame burned brighter.

“We never really cared to follow the crowd,” Sebastian notes of the band’s fearlessly individualistic sonic identity. “In the 90s black metal was a lot about destruction and very little about contemplation or spiritual work. Of course, some bands were deep into that. But I think there was a big difference between us and most black metal bands back then because me and Tobias [Sidegård] we were also members of a dark magic order. Then there was also the MLO, the Misanthropic Luciferian Order which was practicing black magic and we were practicing dark magic and there's a very, very big difference because the black magic is, as I see it anyway, almost for no purpose or reason. And when you ask these people what they stand for, you never get any clear answers apart from like, everything is bad and needs to go away, whereas the dark magicians had more of a path of knowledge where they wanted to grow as spiritual beings, but not for the sake of destruction. We took the dark path and we mastered the art that was kind of equally refused by the dark and also by the light way. From the outside looking in, it appears to be something very destructive, but our goals were to be more fulfilled and connected with ourselves as spiritual beings. So, just like in this record, it was not just to face death and darkness and what have you, but to face it in order to grow to a new level of being and consciousness as a person.”

'Dawn of the Damned' is out now via Century Media

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