Tragic Castle Obsession: Old Nick on Blending the Happy With the Grim

For just over a year now, Old Nick have been delivering a unique take on black metal. Described on paper it may not sound too unusual – raw black metal with dungeon synth is everywhere these days – but Old Nick stand out because of both their sound and spirit. Their aesthetics might pull from black metal tropes – corpse paint! Weapons! Ridiculous stage names! – but their records are called things like Haunted Loom!!!, Flying Ointment and T.N.O.T.A.A.T.P.B.T.Q.A.S.F.A.B.O.O.T.D.O.S.S.T.T.E.V.H.S. (The Night of the Ambush and the Pillage by the Queen Ann Styl’d Furniture, Animated by One of the Dozen or So Spells That Thee Eastern Vampyre Has Studied). Simply put, there’s no one else in black metal making music with this kind of aesthetic approach, whole-heartedly embracing the campiness inherent within black metal.

The same is true of their sound. Furious black metal is combined with retro keyboards and a strong sense of dynamics, resulting in music that’s incredibly high-energy and engaging, but also incredibly fun and enjoyable – not words usually used to describe black metal. 

It’s also notable that Old Nick have, until this year, a ridiculous release schedule, with two albums, seven EPs and two split records released in 2020, made all the more notable for the fact that every single one of them was absolutely incredible, making Old Nick one of the genre-defining underground black metal bands of our time.

So, when the opportunity came up to ask Abysmal Specter about how the band have managed all of this, their thoughts on “happy” black metal and just what the future might hold, we had to jump at the chance. Here’s an insight into one of the best, most interesting black metal bands in a long, long time.

It’s hard to ignore that since the first release of Witch Lymph, Old Nick have put out a huge amount of records in a very short space of time. The first question has to be – how? Is this down to a rapid write-record-release schedule? Or was a lot of material recorded ahead of time and gradually released?

We write as we record, and it’s really as simple as that! We focus on ridding our musical inhibitions, and just relentlessly writing and listening to all different types of music. None of us exclusively listens to BM, which helps us have constantly revitalised inspirations that we can then bring back into the sphere of BM.

Related to which, for how much longer can you see this release schedule being maintained?

As you may have noticed, it’s definitely slowed down and we are now focusing more on full-length albums. The whole process has been organic, and nothing is planned ahead of time. This way it stays exciting and unpredictable.

A lot of black metal tries to be very serious and grim, but Old Nick is much more playful, almost kitsch. Could this be described as a mockery of the genre? Or would it be more accurate to say it’s just a different side of black metal that’s always been present, but rarely built upon? I’m thinking here of the video for Immortal’s ‘Call Of The Wintermoon’ especially.

Absolutely in no way a mockery of the genre, more a figurative magnifying glass. We just over analyse the trivial and not-so-trivial details and cliches that make BM what it is today. We are also not a joke band, even though the song titles can be a bit funny at times. With Old Nick, the extreme themes of darkness and fantasy just cave in on themselves to create totally absurd and campy concepts.

Likewise, normally when bands combine black metal and dungeon synth it’s done in a very grim, overly dramatic style, as with the vampiric black metal subgenre. But Old Nick seems much brighter, with the synths almost having a chiptune element to them. Was this intentional when you started writing? Or was it a case of playing about with different sounds and finding this combination almost like a happy accident?

I’d say it’s certainly a happy accident, there was no gameplan to make “happy” sounding BM. Similar to classical music, there is an ebb and flow to the atmospheres that are conveyed. The dynamic between “happy” and “grim” creates more hard hitting transitions, and engaging songs. Less monotony is a good thing, and it’s always preferable to keep the listener guessing.

Across the different Old Nick records, as well as those on Grime Stone Records, it feels like a world is being constructed through the music and artwork – like even if they aren’t concept albums in the classic sense, there’s a lot of storytelling and worldbuilding going on. Is this something you set out to do intentionally?

There is not any connectivity between any GSR release. I’m sure someone could write killer fan-fiction about it though!

Even though the music of Old Nick (and Grime Stone Records as a whole) doesn’t have an explicit political feel to it, you still have “say no to NSBM” on the Bandcamp page. Do you think it’s important that bands make statements like this, especially in black metal and dungeon synth?

Yes, I do feel like it’s important to separate oneself from hatred and bigotry. GSR stands for the love of music, and will never participate in hatred of any sort.

Old Nick’s latest release Iam Vampire Castle is out now on Grime Stone Records. Order here.

Words: Stuart Wain

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