Ritual & Recursion – Exclusive Interview with Necronautical

Photography by D. Walmsley.

‘Northern powerhouse’ is a term that invites cynicism in modern politics after eleven years of a Conservative government with little to show for its efforts to rebalance the economic growth of the UK away from London. But we might use the term to describe English black metal sensations, Necronautical, who started the year with the unenviable task of bettering their acclaimed 2019 record, Apotheosis. We all waited with a mixture of excitement and fear to see if they could do it, and they signalled their intent within thirty seconds of new album, Slain in Spirit. You’ll know what we’re talking about when you hear the orchestral hits and blast beats of the first track on their new record. Necronautical are ready to continue their ascension to the top ranks of the black metal elite.

Now on album number four and their second for Candlelight records, the quartet hope their new LP will attract the attention of the top festivals and bring their music to a wider audience. They have the pomp and the dynamics to charm 20,000 screaming metal maniacs and can offer something for everyone, whether you like thrash, death metal, symphonic metal, or black metal. But the band know that chasing commercial success is a recipe for disaster. Those artists that tone down their records in the hope of unleashing the more brutal songs from the back catalogue on a bigger live stage are not being true to their selves. Slain in Spirit will not be blasting through mainstream radio anytime soon – their sound is frenzied and layered with lightning riffs, unsettling screams, and murderous drum rhythms. Necronautical write music on their terms and no one else’s.

As a certainty for the higher reaches of the album of the year polls, we tracked down lead vocalist and guitarist, Naut, to discuss the making of Slain in Spirit and to find out more about the meaning of their esoteric lyrics. Welcome to the world of Necronautical…

Necronautical vocalist and guitarist, Naut (second from the left), also plays lead guitar for Manchester black metal titans, Winterfylleth.

Let’s start with your latest album, Slain in Spirit. Wow! It’s fifty-one minutes in length and not one note goes to waste. How long did it to take you to write this album from your first rehearsal up until the pre-production stage?

Naut: Thank you for the kind words about the album, the positive feedback is always nice to hear. Actually, in comparison to other records we’ve done, I think Slain… came together pretty quickly. As far as that first rehearsal, it never really happened! Our lives are busy and so rehearsal time is almost always used for preparation for shows rather than for song-writing. But I can tell you that the first riffs and ideas for Slain… were starting to come together in the summer of 2019 – actually, a couple of months before our Apotheosis record came out. We had definitely started the preproduction at that stage, and I know for sure that most of Side A was written that summer. I think having finished Apotheosis the winter before, we felt really hungry to write some aggressive songs. The album that came before was more of an atmospheric work, and we just felt so driven to make something that would be heavy. I feel like when you have that hunger, that’s the perfect time to start the work. There was no waiting around, we knew what we wanted to do, and we did it.

It was difficult in some ways to continue the creative process through the lockdowns of 2020. However, without shows to play, we were able to use technologies like Zoom and What’sApp and even voice notes and videos of riffs to put the songs together. By the winter of 2020, everything was set, and we were ready to record the final parts at Foel Studio, which was a triumphant end to an otherwise shitty year.

People are saying that Necronautical have transcended black metal altogether with this new record. What are your views on this observation?

Naut: I don’t really believe that’s true. We are fundamentally a black metal band. I guess the point is that we are unafraid to integrate other styles and influences with that sound, and so we are certainly not aiming for that pure black kind of style. But that being said, I feel like there is a hefty dose of black metal that exists at the very core of what we do. It’s that bombastic release from the combination of the scream and blast beat, that is our primal call, and I don’t think that’s gone anywhere. To be honest, I think a lot of the observation has to do with the adjustment to the band image. As I said before, we’re not aiming to adhere too strictly to the genre parameters of black metal or any other style, and so we made the choice to drop the face paints because it was too closely associated with a world we do not occupy, as much as we did enjoy using that aspect. I don’t think there’s been any sonic overhaul to what we’re doing. It’s more of an evolution if anything. I just think it’s interesting that once that image was removed people began to digest our music in a different way. And in a sense, I think that’s a good thing, actually. People seem to focus more on the songs themselves rather than our place in black metal.

The symphonic elements are much more powerful on Slain in Sprit, yet the guitar tone is a crushing death metal one. In your opinion, which song on the album achieves the best balance between these two competing styles, and why?

Naut: For me, I feel like the album came out pretty consistent, and that’s something we feel proud of. In terms of its sonics, we were beyond happy with Chris Fielding’s work on the mix. Necronautical records, and Slain… in particular are not light on the layers. There’s an incredible amount of sound sources in the mix, and Chris handles them excellently. I’m pleased the guitars came out a little heavier. To be honest, we didn’t really change the equipment between this album and the last. I think maybe I used a different guitar, but that’s about it. That heaviness people keep alluding to is simply born of the way the guitars are played and the composition of the riffs, but we were super happy with that. I put a lot of work into the keyboards and symphonies. The entire time I do this, it’s very important to me that I am using them to serve the song and add some atmosphere to riffs, rather than make them the focal point. Because of this I think that even though there’s a lot happening, the whole thing still sounds focused and cohesive. As far as where I think this was best achieved, I might say ‘Occult Ecstatic Indoctrination’, which is the second track. I’m really fond of the intro riff, and I felt like it had this kind of rich, almost middle eastern kind of vibe to it, like in my mind I was getting images of Xerxes in his grotto in the film, 300, and so for the keyboards there I used some chimes that sound like money jingling, some snake charmer wind instruments, and some throat singing to add to the atmosphere… I feel like that section came out really cool. And I was super happy with the Hammond organ that appears later on. It’s a lot of fun for us to use these elements because they help us to enrich our vision for the music. It’s almost like a cinematic approach I suppose, rather than a desire to fit in that ‘Symphonic’ box.

Your fellow Mancunians in Wode put out a colossal album this year. How much does this spur you on to keep pushing yourselves as a band when you see your contemporaries hitting such a high standard?

Naut: I agree the Wode record is really great. It’s funny that Necronautical are known as Mancunian because none of us are really from the city. It’s just where we rehearse and kind of base our collective activities because we are scattered around. Wode are an awesome band – I think we’ve only played one show with them though, so I can’t profess to know them personally, but musically I agree they are right on. I’d also like to shout out Ninkharsag from Liverpool who released an incredible record this year. I feel like black metal in the UK has never been stronger, and we are seeing some truly great records coming out of this country now.

As for being spurred on by our contemporaries, I’d say that is simply not the case. Music is not a competition, and I feel like a lot of musicians out there would do better to know that. The entire thing is subjective. Not everybody is going to enjoy your work, and just because you don’t find yourself as the most popular band doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong. I feel some bands are chasing this notion of ‘success’ a lot of the time, rather than focusing on their art, and that’s a shame for them.

What matters to us is authenticity, that we are creating the artwork that we want to create. I feel like if Necronautical were looking to a band like Wode or similar and feeling like we had to top that effort, our hearts would be in the wrong place. Ultimately, we do this for ourselves, it is our passion. We make music from the heart, and we stand 100 percent behind what we do, irrespective of whether it is popular or raises our profile as a band. The only losers in this game are the ones who are in it to win it, ironically.

Necronautical in their corpse paint days.

It’s good to hear a classic 1980s thrash sound in your music underneath the black and death metal attack. Which are your favourite thrash albums from the 1983-1987 period?

Naut: Thanks, it’s cool that you picked up on that. I mean, it’s not really an intentional thing, but certainly we all grew up on thrash music as teenagers, and the influence of some of those bands is as strong if not more so on us than that of black metal bands. So, I guess subconsciously that’s coming through, especially in the drumming and some of the lead guitar work. As for some of my favourite records from that period, I HAVE to mention Master of Puppets and Reign in Blood. Obviously, everyone with a heart for metal knows these records, but definitely for all of us in Necronautical these two were fundamental, and I still consider Metallica and Slayer to be hugely influential. For a few wildcards, I’m also going to mention Dark Angel’s Darkness Descends, Exodus’ Bonded by Blood, Sodom’s Persecution Mania, and Testament… Actually, I think Testament were a little late for your parameters, haha. I’m a fan of Megadeth too. Never really got on with Anthrax.

Let’s talk lyrics. One stanza stands out in ‘Occult Ecstatic Indoctrination’. It reads: “Why frame the mind as a fortress/ Unless you fear what lies outside/ I open the gates/ I permit the influences to reside.” What is this song about?

Naut: Sure. Our bass player and tenor vocal, The Anchorite, is the main force behind the lyrics themselves. However, the sort of concepts and themes are more of a collaboration between he and I, and, ultimately, delivery ends up being my call because I am the primary vocalist. It may seem strange to not be writing the lyrics I sing, but actually, we love this part of the process, and I certainly get chance to connect with the work.

In any case, Slain… at large is dealing with the notion of altered states of consciousness, and the track ‘Occult Ecstatic Indoctrination’ is looking more closely at a pharmacologically altered state as a form of indoctrination. Psychoactive drugs have been known to create spiritual experiences within people in certain scenarios, or to enhance them. At the time of writing these lyrics we got really interested in this. The music itself is intended to make you feel like you’ve gone to another place – it is meant to be overwhelming, beautiful and terrifying all in one, much like a psychedelic experience is. The indoctrination aspect was mostly inspired by Crowley, as well as various cult leaders, who would use psychoactive substances as part of ritualised magick. The line you’ve highlighted there is written through the voice of the antagonist, encouraging the psychonaut to move fearlessly into this strange new realm and allow it into the heart and mind.

The song, ‘Hypnagogia’, is another one that catches the eye: “I resolve to transcend this mortal coil/ To cast off the burdens of beings made only to toil.” How accurate is it to say that these two lines sum up the main theme of Slain in Spirit?

Naut: Fairly. It’s interesting you picked them. I actually think they encompass the angle of the band’s lyrics and concept at large, rather than just that on Slain… We’re generally dealing with that deep yearning that exists within us, to find something greater or more than what is presented to us through knowledge and exploration. It’s about escaping this existence to a higher plain of self.

What do you expect to be the biggest challenge in recreating your epic symphonic metal sound in a live setting?

Naut: Well, we’ve been doing this fairly successfully through the years. It’s not the easiest job, but I’m on top of the technologies and everything. It’s just a case of putting in the work. We’re confident in our songs as guitar pieces as well – even without the keys you would find a great deal of melodic depth in the live elements, so we just figure it out. To be honest, the biggest challenges we face are delivering the vocal lines while playing the riffs and figuring out which songs to perform live, as there’s quite a bit of work that goes into prepping a track for the stage.

How much easier is it to keep the band going now you have Spinefarm UK/Candlelight Records backing you?

Naut: They’ve been great with us, and they have really helped us to progress on the business side of things. We really hope to begin working with a reputable booking agent soon. In my opinion, that is the missing piece of the puzzle right now but also a hard thing to secure. We are honoured to work with Candlelight Records, as they are one of the best in the game and have released countless albums that we simply love.

Which member of the band should fans be most wary of meeting if they see you backstage or before a show?

Naut: I wouldn’t wish us upon anybody. Carcarrion [guitars/backing vocals] is a very approachable guy though. He loves meeting the fans!

What’s the biggest snub Necronautical have received in their career so far?

Naut: We are snubbed by a great deal of festivals, but I guess that’s how it goes. We’d like to see that change down the line. But to be honest, generally, our experience in music has been good. We’ve worked with some great people and have many great experiences to reflect on. I don’t think we are difficult to work with and consequentially there haven’t been too many obstacles placed in our way.

They say never meet your idols. What has your experience been like when you had the chance to meet your musical idols?

Naut: I haven’t had so many bad experiences really. But it’s not something I ever really go out of my way for. There have been musicians I have admired for a lifetime eating breakfast next to me at Inferno Festival for example with Ihsahn… but I didn’t really want to disturb him. I guess, I imagine if I were him, I’d rather just be left to my breakfast. He had melon, incidentally.

Actually, whilst we are on that subject, the next morning I had the hangover from hell, looked and felt like death, and our drummer, Slugh, was in the hotel room with me snoring very loudly. It was dark and muggy, and I just had to get outside. So, I run out of the room half-dressed and get in the lift, and there with me are Ihsahn and Samoth. We shared the ride down. I was way too hungover to face them. I was star-struck but in too much pain to speak. To be honest, I’m fine to meet my heroes, but I’m probably happier for them if they never meet me.

Final question: Who would you choose if you could have any guest vocalist in the world on your next album, and why?

Naut: Well, we had some great operatic additions from our friend, Victoria Harley, on the last record, but that being said, we generally prefer to do things ourselves. Sometimes a guest vocal can be a really cool thing, but a lot of the time it feels like a kind of coat tail riding thing, or like a sell for a song or record, rather than the vocal really adding something to the mix. Not always of course, but I guess, generally speaking, we prefer just to push new sounds out of ourselves. I mean, once upon a time I may have said ICS Vortex [Arcturus/Borknagar/ex-Dimmu Borgir], but I think Anchorite has that well covered, and that’s to our credit. So, it’s not something we’ve really thought about, but I’m certainly a big fan of a lot of singers, melodic and those of the more aggressive style as well. Too many to list! But I think it’s fair to say we would always prefer to involve either only ourselves or people we are friends with, rather than chasing the big names for a record or whatever.

*** Necronautical released Slain in Spirit via Spine Farm/Candlelight Records on 20 August 2021. You can read the original SBR review here.