Necronautical – Slain in Spirit


Manchester black metal lords, Necronautical, are a reminder of the supreme power of the genre when executed with finesse and chauvinism. What good is symphonic black metal if not delivered with an imaginary sword in one hand and a copy of Plato in the other? The “self” is important in the lyrics here, but you’ll find no angst, mental health musings or mundane clichés about living life in the prison of a free society. Necronautical write stanzas about Greek gods and the heroic attempts of the individual to transcend the banal concerns of the material world in favour of a higher plain of consciousness.

Of course, the music is pompous and strident, but the Manchester quartet know how to infuse it with raw death metal and vintage thrash underneath the epic choirs and symphonic keyboards. Opener, ‘Ritual and Recursion’, is worthy of the finest in the Septicflesh back catalogue and as heavy as Emperor in their prime. Few bands can accent the death metal note changes of the guitar with orchestral keyboard hits and get away with it. Even fewer can mix blast beats with female soprano choruses and Tom G. Warrior death grunts. But Necronautical are all about aiming for the impossible. The pinch-harmonic riff of ‘Occult Ecstatic Indoctrination’ and complex death metal tremolo patterns of later verses work wonders in tandem with the malevolent shrieks of Russ Dobson (aka Naut). Listen how the celestial keyboard dashes underpin the superb key changes. This is symphonic blackened death metal in the vein of Deception and Ghosts of Atlantis.

It’s difficult to create atmosphere with so many ceremonial moments of symphonic posturing, but Necronautical are masters of ambience among the blasting metal escapades. The emotion and agony of the guitar lines in ‘Slain in the Spirit’ give way to vintage thrash metal rhythms and remind you that black metal did not go into decline when Emperor called it a day in 2001. Their legacy lives on here, but Necronautical are more than mere custodians for symphonic black metal. The female choir harmonies at the end of the title track are like the heavenly melodies a Viking hears as he ascends to Valhalla. You’ll have your arms raised to the sky like a Wagner enthusiast undergoing a quasi-religious experience on the excellent ‘Hypnagogia’. This is how you compose a hostile extreme metal song and inject it with the splendour and might of the theatre. On playback, the verses use the same down-picking crunch as Celtic Frost’s ‘Jewel Throne’, but the transition to frenetic blast beats in the chorus and the technical breakdown riff at the end are as modern as anything in metal today.

By track five, you’re asking if there’s not at least one mediocre song on here. How can they keep up this standard? ‘Pure Consciousness Event’ is as mind-boggling and cerebral as the title suggests, yet the Slayer rhythms and Dimmu Borgir theatrics produce a magnificent orchestration of adrenaline-fuelled metal. Their contemporaries should shudder if ‘Necropsychonautics’ is the nearest thing to a functional track that neither dazzles nor fizzles away. This would be a standout song on most albums, but it falls into the background when ‘Contorting in Perpetuity’ takes over and gears up into a maelstrom of sharp string bows and dissonant arpeggios, like their fellow Mancunians in Wode. A rare reset at 02:50 seconds gives us a glimpse of wandering bass notes and expressive lead guitars and shows once more that Necronautical can be just as progressive and mystical as Opeth. This is sophisticated music that never relents in its metal ferocity.

The last quarter loses a bit of momentum in the minefield of repetition, but this is a minor concern when the music is so imperious. End track, ‘Death Magick Triumphant’, marauds with reverb-heavy folk guitar and sturdy strings before evolving into the mood of a Danny Elfman film score merged with blackened thrash. It encapsulates the heart of Necronautical’s mighty vision of metal as a divine artform that can transport you to a higher plain. You feel chivalrous and invincible but also willing to take risks that could cost you your life. A state of agitation is always present in the knowledge that this adrenaline must subside at some point.

Slain in Spirit is a triumph that will appeal to the navel-gazer and the doomsayer within you. Rise up and find your inner self.

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 20/08/2021

Record Label: Spinefarm Records UK

Standout tracks: Ritual and Recursion, Occult Ecstatic Indoctrination, Hypnagogia

Suggested Further Listening: MYNSKH – Chapter 01: Obliterating Perfection (2020), Emperor – Prometheus: The Discipline of Fire & Demise (2001), Ghosts of Atlantis – 3.6.2.4 (2021)