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There’s plenty of themes within black metal that have been played out to the point of being cliché. Satanism, anti-Christianity, misanthropy, war, genocide, goats, even various degrees of fascism and extreme politics, whether genuine or for shock value – all are fairly common-place within black metal, so much so that they can hardly be considered surprising any more to fans. So, UK band Necronautical are that most rare of things – a black metal band with a unique theme (ocean and sea-faring, in case it isn’t obvious), and one where said theme is used to compliment the music on debut album Black Sea Misanthropy, enhancing it rather than overwhelming it.
The initial crashes of thunder and ghostly choir that introduce opener “Come Hell Or High Water” set the scene early on, but within a minute, they are replaced by blistering, hugely impressive black metal. Emperor is the most obvious point of comparison, though with the symphonic elements used sparingly and in more subtle ways than Ishahn and co ever did, but there’s more to it than that. Whilst that mighty band flew close to the sun with their technical and progressive tendencies, Necronautical keep things very metal, with moments of Behemoth-esque death metal brutality at points; though thankfully, there is no hint of the sterility that comparison might suggest. This is an album full of energy, with a superb production (handled by vocalist/guitarist Naut, also of Ethereal) that puts that across with just the right level of cleanliness and sheen. Metal that is this technical needs a good production, and that is just what Black Sea Misanthropy has – there is a lot going on in these songs, and it can all be heard without ever feeling overly chaotic or like a blur.
There are a lot of different shades to Necronautical’s palette, too. The songs twist and turn, going through distinct movements and phases, ensuring they are never less than thrilling, with plenty of changes of emphasis and tempo. The majority of the album may blast away at an intense pace, but there are also songs and moments within songs where the band slow things down, demonstrating that there are more ways to be intense than simply through speed. “Abyssal Gigantism” moves along at a fairly ominous pace for the majority of its duration, breaking up the album nicely without losing any of its power or intensity, and “Ghosts Of Men” features an excellent clean guitar section that maintains an atmosphere of dread that stays even when the band pick up the pace once more, and the closing minutes of “Dominion”, when the band slow down that bit and give the rhythm section prominence, are absolutely superb. Likewise, album closer “The Heroic Age Of Antarctic Exploration” is a chilling, dramatic closer, largely played at slower speeds and full of icy atmosphere, with a closing movement reminiscent of Opeth, back when they actually played metal.
Further praise has to go to the guitar playing of Naut and Carcarrion, too. The rhythm section do a superb job, playing with intensity and skill that would shame a host of other extreme metal musicians, but when the guitar solos and leads kick in, they invariably steal the show. Naut and Carcarrion are superlative musicians, and their playing is impressive both in its own right, whether playing tremolo-picked leads or solos that carry more than a hint of classic metal about them, but also in how they use such moments to aid the song, complimenting rather than dominating proceedings. Additionally, the lyrics are not all blatantly and obviously about the ocean, with tracks such as “Ghosts Of Men” using the theme in more subtle ways than might be expected.
Frankly, I didn’t think I’d enjoy Black Sea Misanthropy nearly as much as I do. The metal I like most is typically more Transylvanian Hunger than technical, and I’m a big fan of raw productions. So, that I think so highly of this album is especially notable. There is a huge maturity to this band that makes this début even more impressive, and I would not be surprised at all if, given the right push from the right labels and media, Necronautical become big. A superb release that I highly recommend.
Edit – I had originally attributed the guitars solely to Naut, and had Carcarrion down as the drummer. This was a mistake on my part, and I’ve change the review to rectify this. Apologies to all involved!