Discreetly beavering away on the north-west coast of England since 2010, gradually refining a distinctive amalgam of extreme, melodic, aggressive sounds and exploratory concepts, Necronautical have travelled a long way. Formed as a lo-fi recording project by a trio of bored mates named after an in-joke, they now stand poised to release their spellbinding second album, The Endurance At Night, on legendary reactivated label Cacophonous, ready to assert themselves live in earnest and claim their place among the cream of the burgeoning British black metal scene.
“There was never a plan,” emphasises their disarmingly personable guitarist/vocalist, Naut. “Almost everything has happened accidentally or organically. We settled upon the name when I joked to our guitarist, Carcarrion, ‘All your riffs sound like sailor riffs!’ It was very Viking-type stuff! But as we progressed we wanted to get a more sincere, atmospheric, evil sort of sound, and to take the concept more seriously. So we happened upon this idea of ‘necronautics’: experimenting with near-death experiences in order to experience different aspects of the underworld.”
Their self-released debut, 2014’s Black Sea Misanthropy, centred around the theme of “the world ending under a great flood, nature reclaiming Earth.” With The Endurance At Night, Necronautical have expanded their well-worn oceanic concept outwards and upwards, and made it their own. “We talked about astrophysics and the age of the universe, and Matt ran with it – the concept for this album was more his thing.”
“The aim was to keep the character of the band themed around aspects of exploration, be it the sea, the self, the cosmos…” explains bassist Matt, aka Anchorite (the pair, endearingly, alternate between real names and cryptic pseudonyms). “We were thinking about that next step. So the themes on this album are looking cosmically at ideas of Gods, origins, different mythos and explanations for the formation of the universe. There are a few controversial theories dropped in, almost Flat Earth conspiracy-type stuff. Interesting ideas!”
However, the band deftly channel these weighty themes through an intimate, emotional prism. “The idea of this cosmic journey is to express these personal feelings,” Anchorite affirms. “What Nordic, Greek, even Biblical mythologies do is talk about personal human issues through grand, over-the-top imagery and language, and we wanted to use these devices to get across the same power and message, but with a subversion behind it.”
Perhaps the most powerful example is the album’s stunning closer, Theia. Nominally, as Anchorite explains, it’s about the ‘giant- impact hypothesis’: “There’s this idea that Earth’s moon is the final remnant of a proto- planet called Theia, which collided with our proto-Earth hundreds of millions of years ago.” But Naut approached the song as “a regretful love story about the relationship between our moon and Earth across all time. We’ve taken these ideas from the cosmos and applied them to emotions, so when I’m singing Theia it’s like I’m trying to personify the moon, and speak of my laments and regrets. I feel very personally about that song, but at the same time I’m imagining I am the moon. That may sound ridiculous, but that’s the way we’re working!”
In this sort of music there’s often a fine line between the sublime and the ridiculous. “That’s the line we endeavour to walk!” laughs Naut.
Surprisingly often, oceanically inclined metal artists live a long way from their beloved briny. Heidelburg’s ‘nautical doom’ quartet Ahab are 300 miles from the North Sea, while Mastodon wrote Leviathan a similar distance from their nearest seaport. For Necronautical, sea winds are closer to home.
“I’ve spent a lot of time at sea,” Naut reveals, “because my dad was always into sailing boats, so a great deal of my childhood and teenage years were spent doing that. I’ve been out on some stormy seas in really harsh conditions, so I’m aware of that power.”
Did any of these squally jaunts constitute a near-death experience? “No, I didn’t nearly die,” Naut admits, sounding almost rueful, “but there’s a feeling when you’re on the ocean… you can’t see land, you can’t fathom how deep the water is, it’s so powerful… you feel at its mercy. We’re nothing to nature, we are nothing to the universe.”
“That’s what the cosmic scale is all about,” Anchorite chimes in. “It’s showing how insignificant human activity really is. Any kind of living you try to scrape together is just about what importance you place on it. These things are personally important, but cosmically irrelevant.”
The band clearly have a close friendship that is rare in the misanthropic turmoil of black metal. Naut and Anchorite formed their first band when they were “11 or 12… Ever since then we’ve been in bands together,” reveals Naut. They were thrown into the black metal deep end when Naut saw Dissection and Watain live in 2004 – “I didn’t know what to expect… it blew my mind,” the frontman intones – where their musical destiny became manifest. The band are bonded by a shared affinity for the sea, a fascination with the universe, a love of nature and a specific obsession with the Immortal song Beyond The North Waves (“Essentially the foundation for the entire Necronautical concept,” the band announced via Facebook), as well as a soft spot for extremely cheesy movies. “Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus, obviously that’s not a good film – don’t watch it! – but there’s a song in there, right?” Naut laughs. “There’s all kinds of inspiration, we all think the same kind of stuff is awesome, but growing up around nature has to be influential. The natural world and black metal go hand in hand, it’s the forces of nature at its extreme. Since day one we’ve never done a CD that didn’t have some sort of sample of the weather on it!”
THE ENDURANCE AT NIGHT IS OUT NOW VIA CACOPHONOUS