With thirty years of active, nefarious service under their bulletbelts, NECROPHOBIC are undisputed legends of the death and black metal underground. Formed in 1989 by drummer Joakim Sterner, the Stockholm blackhearts propagated a singular and fearless vision from the very start, confirming their prowess with now legendary debut album The Nocturnal Silence in 1993. Eschewing the self-conscious amateurism and primitive sonics that many of their peers held dear, NECROPHOBIC established a bold and vivid identity of their own, conjuring a densely melodic but endlessly wicked take on macabre extreme metal that countless lesser bands have since emulated.
Over the course of their first two decades, the Swedes were not exactly prolific, but the records they did release left a permanent mark on the metal underground. From 1999’s viciously infernal The Third Antichrist to the grandiose conceptual splurge of 2006’s Hrimthursum and the cudgelling blasphemy of 2009’s Death To All, NECROPHOBIC made every artistic statement count, dragging their loyal global fanbase ever further into the sonic black along the way.
Despite numerous line-up changes and moments of turmoil, NECROPHOBIC’s dark light has never dimmed. As a result, when the band’s most efficacious line-up reconvened for 2018’s Mark Of The Necrogram, it was obvious to fans and critics alike that the Swedish quintet were back to the blistering form that first cemented their reputation. With guitarists Sebastian Ramstedt and Johan Bergeback back in the fold after a five-year hiatus, it was a self-evident career peak for all concerned. Not just the best sounding record of the band’s career, but one of the most monstrously dramatic and destructive records of the decade, it made the prospect of the next NECROPHOBIC album even more mouth-watering. Fast forward to 2020 and chief songwriter Ramstedt has summoned another breath-taking eruption of otherworldly malice, this time bearing the title Dawn Of The Damned.
“It could be daunting to write a follow-up to an album that everyone liked, but you can’t think like that,” says the guitarist. “Me and Johan were out of the band for five years before Mark Of The Necrogram but I’d started to do the work for that album back in 2010! Then we left the band, so I had five years to build up the energy for that album and, in the end, it almost wrote itself. For this album, I practised guitar a lot, like crazy! I’ve never practised that much in my whole life, and that gave me new tools, new riffs and new ways of writing music, so I was more eager to put all my new knowledge of how to play the guitar into an album.”
Long-time fans of this most consistently hell-bound wrecking crew need not panic, of course. The new NECROPHOBIC album is undoubtedly the most imaginative and creative of the band’s career to date, but as Ramstedt avows, this is neither the time nor place for radical departures.
“Of course, Necrophobic is like a black metal version of AC/DC!” he notes with a grin. “We should not go too far away from what we do, you know? If I want to do something different, I can form another band. It’s not a job for Necrophobic. But it was exciting to put all these new abilities into the same Necrophobic formula. It was exciting and it worked out really
good. It was kinda easy this time, but now I’m horrified about writing another album! [Laughs]”
Not just an album of great musical depths, Dawn Of The Damned is immediately recognisable as the most lyrically profound and absorbing record of Necrophobic’s career to date. Buoyed by the ecstatic response to Mark Of The Necrogram, Ramstedt has plundered his innermost thoughts and most revealing past experiences to weave a narrative journey through the outer limits of pitch-black consciousness.
“I knew this one was going to be a concept album and I wanted it to be almost like a journey that you can meditate through,” he explains. “It should be an album that swallows you and spits you out on the other side. It engulfs you. That was my aim, and I wanted it to be much darker than Mark Of The Necrogram. That was such a well-produced album and it was easy to like the songs – it was immediate. Maybe the listener won’t like Dawn Of The Damned first time around, but that’s okay. I tried to make the songs more interesting for someone who makes the effort, someone who’s willing to take the time. It’s still not a complicated album because Necrophobic is not complicated! [Laughs] But by our standards, it has more layers.”
Although Necrophobic have always existed in a dark and diabolical lyrical realm, Dawn Of The Damned is unique amongst the band’s records due to its refined parallels between Ramstedt’s personal experiences and the universal forces with which we all battle. The band’s ninth studio album is still a brutal whirlwind of aggression, of course, but something more grimly magical lurks within its subtler textures and ingenious side-steps.
“In the ‘90s, we practiced a lot of magic. We did a lot of meditation, a lot of lucid dreaming, and of course it all fit together with the black metal scene in the ‘90s,” Ramstedt notes. “I had a lot of experiences and I always wrote them down, after every experience. Now after all these years I have enough distance from that to be able to pick it up again, so I wrote about these experiences but in a way that the listener can follow. It’s about is how I go into the lucid dreaming, how I form my dreams, how I decide which crap to leave behind and what to bring back from this meditation and how to develop as a human.”
“t’s also about what happens with you when you have to do something hard in life,” he continues. “Sometimes you have to burn all your bridges. So this album is also about taking these irreversible decisions in life. Maybe you’ll lose friends and you’ll destroy stuff, but you have to stand by that. This is the astral journey where those decisions are made.”
There is no doubt that Mark of The Necrogram signified a new high for NECROPHOBIC in terms of sonic power. Building on that artistic momentum, Dawn Of The Damned offers an even richer and more punishing range of dynamics. With Ramstedt, Bergeback and Sterner joined by vocalist Anders Strokirk and recent recruit, bassist Allan Lundholm, the Swedish destroyers have never sounded more potent. Once again recorded in collaboration with Fredrik Folkare of death metal icons UNLEASHED, it’s an album that proclaims its creators’ idiosyncratic approach to hammering their infernal point home.
“The guitar work on this record is definitely over-the-top!” grins Ramstedt. “Guitars are rarely used like this in death and black metal. Maybe that’s because I mainly listen to ‘80s metal myself, and I don’t listen to much extreme metal. When you’re inspired by guys like Jake E. Lee or George Lynch, you start to think in different ways. So it’s absolutely a black metal or a death metal album. But there is another dimension to the harmonics, for sure.”
Already destined to be one of the metal records of 2020, and an inspirational antidote to the insanity all around us, Dawn Of The Damned would score full marks from most diehards, even without the added thrill of hearing DESTRUCTION vocalist Schmier making an appearance. Fortunately, NECROPHOBIC have that covered too.
“We have one very special guest for an extra song I wrote, which is almost like a Destruction, Teutonic thrash pastiche! It’s a totally ‘80s, Pleasure To Kill vibe, and it came out so good, we thought ‘Fuck, we should ask Schmier!’ and he was up for it. So he shares the vocal duties and it came out amazing.”
Proving that it’s eminently possible to stick to your guns while flexing new muscles at the same time, NECROPHOBIC have enjoyed a turbulent three-decade rise to glory. Currently in the form of their malevolent lives and enjoying a new wave of acclaim and popularity, the Swedes’ future looks brighter – and, of course, blacker – than ever. Ultimately, there’s no mistaking the sound of the real, Satanic deal.
“You can be a pretender and play evil sounding music because it sounds cool. But for me, it doesn’t matter if we sell 1000 records or 100,000 records.” Ramstedt concludes. “This is for real. It’s not pretend, and that’s the difference.”