Necronautical frontman talks genre-smashing fourth album and triumphant return to UK tour circuit
With its mind-boggling array of purist codes and conventions, elevated icons and genre-defining legends, few subgenres are harder to infiltrate and carve something resembling a reputation within than the notoriously elitist echelons of black metal. And from the blood-drenched, raggedly visceral carnage of Norwegian legends Mayhem to the frigidly haunting orchestrations of Emperor, precious few succeed in making their mark as artists in their own distinctively inimitable right. And yet, when four talented extreme metallers from Manchester first began captivating audiences with their savage, blackly immersive craft back in 2010, the global extreme scene couldn’t help but sit up and start paying attention. Now with fourth opus ‘Slain in the Spirit’ ushering in a new pinnacle of masterfully instinctive musicianship, Necronautical’s visionary main man Russell ‘Naut’ Dobson explains how it all came together in the most unlikely circumstances…
No matter how masterfully complex, genre-defying or distinctive in character, bands of a newly-formed status will inevitably find themselves crudely pigeonholed at some point or other in the fledgling phases of their career. Whether that’s hastily shoehorning them into some sweepingly generic subgenre that barely scratches the surface of their sound (see: female-fronted or progressive metal) or measuring their merits in accordance with how successfully they emulate their big-name predecessors, establishing a reputation independent of such hackneyed tropes and traditions is certainly no mean feat for the up-and-coming artist. Case in point: a certain highly talented British extreme metal collective who, from the earliest outset of their relentlessly ambitious studio output, left jaws agape with their intensely visceral yet opulent melding of scalding aggression and grandiose, soundtrack-worthy arrangements. But in spite of the ever-advancing compositional prowess the Mancunians have illustrated in spades from the get-go, it wasn’t until earlier this year that many listeners first began recognising Necronautical as artists in their own fiercely individualistic right.
“Actually, I think it was a lot to do with the decision to drop corpse paint this time round,” Russell observes of this notable shift in perception among fans. “During the press turnaround for ‘Apotheosis’, looking at the way people responded to us, we noticed we were getting a lot of parallels with classic Norwegian black metal bands. Of course, I take that as a compliment and I would say we are fundamentally a black metal band, but I also felt like, throughout ‘Apotheosis’, we were touching on various other sounds and styles outside of the genre. You know, those progressive switches and the death metal sounds we've been doing since the very beginning. I think we've always been this way because, fundamentally, myself and the guys are big fans of all that. But interestingly, having just simply removed the paint and basically saying publicly that we are more of an extreme metal band, I think that kind of opened people's eyes a little more to what we do musically.”
But however fluid and sonically varied Necronautical's sound may have long proven to be, the anticipated follow-up to ‘Apotheosis’ nevertheless marked a major point of progression onward into increasingly brutal and instinctive compositional territories. With the creative process having been accelerated significantly by the shock arrival of COVID-19 back in March 2020, the unprecedented wealth of free time that followed provided Russell with a long-overdue opportunity to reflect not only on the creative direction of his band, but also on the altogether more pressing matter of his own personal well-being.
Of this difficult yet undeniably enlightening period, the composer comments: “I feel like in some respects, this will be a time that I look back on and value in some way because my life’s been really full-on for so many years. This was nice time for me to spend a little more time relaxing and spending quality time with my girlfriend and my stepdaughter, and I feel like now it's more important than ever for me to make the effort to keep up more with that part of my life. My personal drive and work ethic has always been such that I've always told myself I don't have time to relax, but actually the pandemic has taught me it’s very healthy to relax and that it’s okay to be tired sometimes. Prior to that, I was just constantly burning myself out all the time.”
With this much-needed headspace providing both ample time to meticulously craft the precise shape and form of their next eagerly awaited body of work, it was renewed vigour and enthusiasm that Dobson and co. threw themselves headlong into the creative process in the months that followed.