The last five years have seen The Infernal Sea emerge from the mists of the English fenlands to become one of the UK’s most intriguing black metal acts, a band shrouded in mystery who delve deep into the horrors of Europe’s past. With their third album set to drop this month, Rich Holmes talked war, plague and heresy with bassist C.R…
Blood-drenched holy crusades.
Men screaming as they burn at the stake.
The tales of The Knights Templar – an order of Christian warriors formed in the 12th century – are rich pickings for artists drawn to the darker side of human nature.
And for East Anglian black metallers The Infernal Sea, the Knights’ rise and fall has proved fertile subject matter for their new album, Negotium Crucis…
“The Knights were the Church’s secret weapon, bringers of death!” explains bassist C.R ahead of the record’s September 18 release. “They committed unspeakable atrocities at the Pope’s command, then in the end were sold out by the Church and put to death due to public outrage. The Church, wanting to save face, deemed them heretics.
“The Knights believed their own hype and foolishly believed the Church would protect them.”
The quartet’s obsession with the Middle Ages was evident on their 2016 breakthrough, The Great Mortality, a record which peeled back the putrefying skin of The Black Death and explored one of the most horrifying chapters in world history.
The Infernal Sea even play live wearing plague doctors’ masks, a move that has built a sense of mystique around the band.
“Our lyrical and conceptual themes are directly taken from historical accounts, with some poetic license,” says C.R. “It is about capturing the vileness of the period in which we are studying.
“The Middle Ages is a pretty fascinating – and broad – time in human history, and some absolutely sadistic happenings took place.
“It’s an interesting and satisfying period to study that happens to combine perfectly with black metal.”
Can he see parallels with the havoc wreaked by 14th century plagues and the current global pandemic?
“There was lots of fear-based propaganda from the ruling class – not much has changed!” C.R replies. “In the 1300s the government didn’t know how to manage a pandemic. Sadly, not much has changed in that regard too.”
Thankfully for the band, most of the writing and recording of Negotium Crucis was completed before the UK’s lockdown.
And the new opus is set to build on the success of The Great Mortality and 2017’s Agents Of Satan EP.
It’s a rawer, harder hitting effort than The Great Mortality. The spectral melodies and ghastly auras that define The Infernal Sea still weave their way through tracks like Rex Mundi and Devoid Of Fear.
But the band have fully embraced their love of black ‘n’ roll this time out.
“We have adopted more rock and punk stylings into our brand of black metal which suits us well,” says C.R. “The differences in production styles were deliberate too.
“Going into The Great Mortality we wanted a clear production. The band at the time had come off the back of a few EPs and self-recorded first album, which were pretty limited production-wise due to resources.
“Going into Agents of Satan we wanted a similar sound but ultimately knew where we wanted to go with the next full length which turned out to be Negotium Crucis. Here you see a huge departure production-wise, we wanted this to be raw, real and live sounding, old fashioned without being too necro.
“And with Negotium Crucis, we focused more on the song writing, creating songs that worked not only in a live setting but also as a collection of songs. The essence of creating an album that flows track by track is very important to us.
“The album flows well musically and conceptually the lyrics unite the album in a grim fashion. Personally, Befallen Order is a standout track, it has an anthemic vibe to it.”
The Infernal Sea, who formed in 2009, are part of a group of UK black metal bands, which have brought the scene to international attention over the last decade. Winterfylleth have grabbed the magazine covers, but Dawn Ray’d, Fen, A Forest of Stars, Necronautical, Saor and Haar are all well established on festival circuits, and lurking in the shadows are the likes of Abduction, Thy Dying Light, Antre and Úir.
It’s a far more vibrant scene than we’ve seen in the past.
C.R puts his own spin on UKBM’s upsurge…
“Ten years ago, the scene was very small, we were playing shows with death metal, punk, grindcore and metalcore bands etc. but relatively few black metal bands unless they were touring from overseas.
“The last five to six years has seen a noticeable increase in bands. There is certainly quality and diversity in terms of the music. However the nature of the scene is still very DIY/underground.
“This is starting to change, with the media, social media and labels taking note of the UK scene, we are being taken seriously as a creative force within the ‘black metal’ banner.”
The restrictions brought about by the Coronavirus pandemic, however, are stifling extreme music – and indeed any underground scene – which thrives on live shows in sweaty basement venues.
And bands like The Infernal Sea, who’ve appeared at Bloodstock and Damnation, have seen those traditional festival showcases put on hold.
The impact of Covid-19 on live music is a major concern for C.R…
“Already many venues have closed or are on the brink of liquidation. There is going to be a serious shortage of opportunities to play shows in the ‘underground’. If a 200-cap venue is reduced to a 20 to 30 cap, they are going to struggle to cover any costs, it then becomes about sustainability, it’s crazy.
“The recent protests from music industry professionals were pretty inspiring, let’s hope the Government takes notice.”
The Infernal Sea have certainly built a formidable reputation for their electrifying live sets. Corpsepaint and black metal cliches are replaced by robed, masked figures born from some medieval nightmare. It’s ritualistic. And vital to the band’s sense of self.
“Our unholy sermons are very important to us,” confirms C.R. “It is essential to unite the visual aspect with the aggressive nature of our performance, our stage attire successfully elevates the experience, placing a barrier and removing the human element.”
He continues: “Something that so many bands forget is that it’s a ‘show’. This is such an important element for us, despite the attire we are able to show some personality, bombast and bravado.
“The spectacle of the attire incorporated with our lanterns, smoke and on occasion the addition of our ‘Agents of Satan’ builds for a memorable moment.
“The ‘bigger’ shows where we can make the most of these elements have done the most for building our fanbase.”
Would The Infernal Sea ever play a socially-distanced concert?
“It’s possible, if this is the new way and there is an appetite for it,” he suggests. “Clearly there is much to be lost from the experience of attending a show and being forced to socially distance.”
For now, though, C.R. and his cohorts are using the pandemic to their advantage: they already have new releases lined up for 2021.
And fans reeling from the cancellation of gig after gig can at least sink their teeth into Negotium Crucis, while we wait out the storm.
C.R signs off: “Post Covid-19, The Infernal Sea shall continue with our dominance, creating vitriolic black metal and performing unholy sermons!”
Negotium Crucis is out on September 18 via Apocalyptic Witchcraft Recordings.
Main photo by Jay Russell.
Check out the lyric video to Befallen Order below…