Legends of the night. Demons of the dark. NECROPHOBIC have been wringing blood and bile from the hangman’s noose since 1989. Arch purveyors of a uniquely vicious and vital strain of blackened death metal, the Swedish quintet have amassed an imperious catalogue of arcane horrors over the last three decades. Making an immediate impression with their classic 1993 debut “The Nocturnal Silence”, they have thrived in creative fits and spurts, often disappearing into the shadows for long periods, but always returning with another densely atmospheric paean to Hell’s depths.
Known as a fearsome live band, with countless tours and festival appearances to their ignominious name, NECROPHOBIC have mastered a combination of macabre imagery and pitch-black poetry, powered by the old school spirit, but delivered with a tyrannical, cutting edge intensity. Following in the footsteps of certified classics like “The Third Antichrist” (1999) and “Hrimthursum” (2006), the band’s most recent recorded works have seen them expand their vision and pursue a more cerebral course. Both “Mark Of The Necrogram” (2018) and “Dawn Of The Damned” (2020) were celebrated as new benchmarks for unholy extremity, as the Swedish band’s long-time relationship with producer Fredrik Folkare propelled all involved to a new peak of potency. Although touring plans were inevitably thwarted by the Covid pandemic, NECROPHOBIC were clearly on the greatest of form and growing in confidence and power. Frustrated by the premature cessation of touring in support of “Dawn Of The Damned”, guitarist, chief songwriter and conceptual visionary Sebastian Ramstedt was determined to drag something new and exhilarating from the ashes of his band’s plans, even if it took longer than expected.
“I didn’t feel like we had really done the last album properly,” he admits. "We had so many gigs after Covid, and plans were pushed forward because we were out so much, so it took more time than usual for me to start on a new record. But this time it was actually Tobias (Cristansson), our new bass player, who had a lot of demos. It didn’t sound anything like NECROPHOBIC, but these were attempts at writing songs, and I felt that kick-starting my own writing. Tobias had written eight or nine songs, more in a classic thrash, death metal vein, but still some of the riffs had something. So I sprinkled the NECROPHOBIC powder over four or five or his riffs, and then the songs started to build from there. Normally I get a whole idea or an atmosphere that I want to express with riffs, but this time it was his riffs that started the process, so that was cool.”
Enigmatically titled “In the Twilight Grey”, NECROPHOBIC’s tenth studio album immediately asserts its separation from everything that has gone before. The atmosphere is cold but crystal clear, as opener “Grace Of The Past” casts its mesmerising, monochrome spell. Colder and more biting than recent efforts, “In the Twilight Grey” is full of brutish metal songs, hewn from unnamed obsidian horrors, but its texture and tone is one of haunted detachment, as vocalist Anders Strokirk roars infernal soliloquys over a bedrock of pulverising metal bravado. The classic NECROPHOBIC sound is still conspicuous by its rowdy presence, but this time the execution is old school to the bone.
“For me, records come in pairs. When I get inspired, I get two albums out of it. Like ‘Hrimthursum’ and ‘Death To All’, they both came from the same writing streak, so to speak,” Sebastian explains. “’Mark Of The Necrogram’, which was material built up during my absence from the band, was written alongside ‘Dawn Of The Damned’. I just kept on writing. This time, there was a pause [between records] again, and I had to start something completely new because the well of inspiration was empty, and there was nothing left to take anything from.”
NECROPHOBIC have always been a more dynamic and daring band than their somewhat narrow reputation might suggest. “In the Twilight Grey” hammers their boldness home via some of the most hard-hitting and direct songs they have ever recorded. Equally, the new album is home to several songs that push NECROPHOBIC’s music down strange, new avenues. Fuelled by the dark side, Sebastian Ramstedt understands the importance of retaining the essence of the band’s early days, even as the means of expression continues to evolve.
“Usually I think about what David Parland (original NECROPHOBIC guitarist, who passed away in 2013) would do,” says Sebastian. “So that’s how I wrote ‘Stormcrow’ and a few of the other songs, in a very, very classic NECROPHOBIC manner, not trying to create anything new. I always have the call from the ‘Darkside’ (the band’s second album) days, in the back of my head, and that’s the template for the NECROPHOBIC sound that I like. I started by looking back, to 1996, and tried to create from there, instead of from recent times. I don’t know if these songs are simpler, like we were in the 90s, but there is still the layering of the modern era. The riffs are kind of simple, but the arrangements and the atmospheres are not.”
A belligerent showcase for the current NECROPHOBIC line-up - Ramstedt, Strokirk, bassist Tobias Cristiansson, drummer Joakim Sterner and guitarist Johan Bergebäck – “In the Twilight Grey” may be their most immersive and intriguing album to date. Ramstedt notes that the band’s last two albums were written largely from a personal perspective, but that these new songs are framed in a much more abstract way, as NECROPHOBIC explore emotional extremes and unknowable truths to a magnificently macabre soundtrack.
“The album title from an old poem that I stumbled upon, by Yeats,” says Sebastian. “His poems can be very hard to understand and I wouldn’t dare to say what this one is about, but maybe it’s something about our belief and our faith in nature being lost to the everyday struggle, and that we shouldn’t forget about spirituality. I felt that to be in the twilight grey is a feeling that I can relate to. I nearly lost my life at one point, and if you reach that point when you have no way out and you think you’re gonna die, and then you start to live again, a piece of that death will always be with you. You will always carry the Twilight Grey with you. Am I stuck in the twilight grey, and just pretending to be a happy person? That’s what I liked about the title. It’s very honest.”
Both a cry of defiance and an existential quest, “In the Twilight Grey” feels more intense, more intimate and yet more grandiose than any of its nine full-length predecessors. The sound of a legendary band at the peak of their powers, songs like “Stormcrow”, “Cast In Stone” and the epically eccentric title track are as wickedly anthemic as anything in the Swedes’ formidable canon. Prepare for war, accursed legions: NECROPHOBIC are back, and blacker than ever.
“The plan is to do it right this time,” Sebastian concludes. “We don’t do long tours, but we do weekends and shorter tours a lot. That’s more effective these days. With too many bands on the road, you don’t really fill arenas on a Monday in Berlin, you know? But we’re definitely going to try and do all the things we wanted to do for ‘Dawn Of The Damned’. People had better like this album because we’re coming! [Laughs]”
Anders Strokirk - Vocals
Sebastian Ramstedt - Lead guitar
Johan Bergebäck - Rhythm guitar
Tobias Cristiansson - Bass
Joakim Sterner - Drums