Interview: Serena Cherry – Noctule/Svalbard

Serena Cherry, for those who are unaware, fronts one of the most exciting post-hardcore bands in recent memory. That being UK-based Svalbard, who released one of 2020’s best with “When I Die, Will I Get Better?” When word began to circulate that Serena was going to release a solo Black Metal project based on the fantasy realm of the RPG game Skyrim, we here at The Metal Wanderlust were unquestionably exited about the prospect of speaking with her about this. Lucky for us, Serena was kind enough to take some time to answer a few questions. Below we chat about pandemic living, Svalbard’s upcoming tour, and all things Noctule related, Skyrim and various musical influences. An excellent chat with a wonderful musical talent. Enjoy!

Hello Serena! So nice of you to take some time to chat. Much appreciated, indeed. As I write this, Spring is in the air! How are you finding things, after such a long year? A summer without touring, and a Winter seemingly without end, how ready to get back on the road are you?

Hi! Thanks for taking the time to speak with me. I cannot even put into words how ready I am to get back on the road! Playing and watching live music is what makes me feel the most alive, I am yearning to have that glorious feeling back where you are just captivated in a room of loud metal! One thing I have vowed after this past year is that I will never stand at the back and watch shows again! I wanna be down the front head-banging making the most of every band I see!

When it comes to performing again, I am a mixture of excited and really nervous! This is the longest I have gone in years without playing a show, so I think it’s going to be very overwhelming when that time comes. I will probably cry haha!

With Svalbard planning a rather extensive tour this year, do you plan on performing live with Noctule also? Have you considered Noctule as an opening act, perhaps? Or is “Wretched Abyss” designed to be more of an exclusively studio project? 

Yes, I have a live backing band already and we are booked to play Incineration Fest in May 2022. Hopefully we will play some shows before then, as playing your first show as a band alongside Emperor would be crazy haha!

I don’t think I would be able to tour Noctule as an opening act for Svalbard on a tour, my voice would die after two shows! That would be such a brutal two sets to play every night haha! I have some ambitious plans for the Noctule stage show, I’m really excited for people to see it live.

Your guitar work is absolutely incredible. The mixture of sounds, at least to my ears, goes from atmospheric beauty like Explosions in the Sky and Red Sparowes, to a more punk/hardcore sound like Fugazi or Converge. Particularly with Svalbard, obviously, but I hear those elements in Noctule as well. Both crushing and melodic. Furious and easygoing. Can you tell me more about your style of playing? It seems your range of influence is quite diverse. 

Aw, thank you very much! It is always so touching for me to be complemented on my guitar work because I pour my heart and soul into every riff. Thank you. You are absolutely right that I am inspired by post rock like Explosions in the Sky and Mono. I adore all the reverb and delay drenched leads! So atmospheric. I’m also heavily influenced by film / game soundtracks and classical music. I am always searching for that soaring feeling when I write a melody. When it comes to heavier influences, I am really inspired by melodic black metal such as Immortal, Cor Scorpii, Windir, Keep of Kalessin, and also melo-death such as Insomnium and Kalmah. I’m a sucker for beautiful dual leads shredded at breakneck speeds!

Taking the lyrical content of your work with Svalbard into account, Noctule seems a bit of an escape. Going from a deeply personal, justifiably angry, yet heartfelt approach to the complete fantasy realm of Skyrim. Much like playing the game might be for many, was the decision to create music based in this world a way for you to unplug from the intensity of the real world?

Absolutely. I wanted to immerse myself in the fantasy world and scream about dragons. Writing lyrics for Svalbard is a grueling process of ripping your heart out and placing it on your sleeve. With Noctule, it is the complete opposite. The lyrics are a celebration of the characters, quests and places in Skyrim that have bought me so much joy. I like to relate doing vocals in Noctule to the ‘shouts’ that you learn in the game. It’s very empowering. 

I must admit to not having a great deal of inside knowledge about Skyrim.  I can say, however, that the song titles and the music  have inspired me to want to know more. The open world concept in general intrigues me, especially how that relates to the creation of music. The possibilities seem endless! Can you tell me more about your decision to set the album in this universe?

Because I tend to write all the music and then do lyrics and vocals afterwards, I actually had 3 instrumental Noctule tracks already written before I even decided to theme the music to Skyrim. Basically, it was Lockdown One in the UK. I lost my job. All tours were cancelled. Suddenly I had way more free time. So I started playing Skyrim again and writing black metal music. Three songs in I realized that the epicness of the game, the Nordic ruin settings, the dark plot lines, were all inspiring the music I was writing. Once I realized this, the music flowed out of me even faster! To me, black metal and Skyrim are such a perfect match. I’m surprised no one has done it before!

Do the lyrical themes in “Wretched Abyss” follow a single narrative, or are they more like separate side-quests? Additionally, will there be more material from Noctule in the same vein, or based on a different RPG?

Wretched Abyss is about a Deadric Prince called Hermaeus Mora. It’s an ethereal being that takes the form of tentacles and eyeballs when you first encounter it. It’s very Lovecraftian. He appears in the Winterhold quest, which is one of my favourite quests in the game.

I have actually already started writing the 2nd Noctule album! This time the entire album is going to be based on Sovngarde, which is the beautiful area where the final quest takes place in Skyrim. The music in the game during this quest is all choral and hymnal, my idea is to create a choral black metal album in ode to this quest.

It is my understanding that you were in a Black Metal band several years ago. What are the differences in approach from that project to what you’re doing with Noctule? 

Haha, I was a teenager when I formed my first black metal band! I didn’t really have a clue what I was doing! With that band, I bought a 4 track and used to record my own albums on tape with my drum machine. Then I built a live band and we played some great shows with bands like Gallhammer and Genghis Tron. But as with most bands, life gets in the way, people want to do other things with their life. I guess Noctule is similar to my old black metal band in that I write all the music. But hopefully we will be better live hahaha!

Did you do any specific listening while preparing for the album? Meaning, was there anything on rotation that typically is not while you’re working on material for other projects? 

Not particularly, I have very eclectic music taste and listen to a huge variety of music regularly. I think at the time of writing it I was listening to a lot of Inferi, who are amazing.

Evenaar” and “Deathbell Harvest” are my personal favorites from the album (with “Labyrinthian” being not too far behind). The backing vocals on “Evenaar” are wonderful, and mix so well with the guitar melodies you’ve got going on. “Deathbell…” is fairly relentless all around, especially with the various changes it goes through. Extremely powerful and majestic. The same can be said about “Labyrinthian,” truth be told. Was it difficult for you to choose which tunes to release as singles?

Yes!! It was so hard to choose the singles! Because there is quite a lot of variation between a fast, ferocious song like “Wretched Abyss” or a slower, proggy track like “Evenaar.” I wanted to pick singles that would grab the listers attention but also showcase the diversity of the album. I put quite a lot of pressure on myself over the decision, but I’m happy with the reaction the singles have had so far. I think having songs like Deathbell Harvest as album tracks is nice because it means it’s not the kind of album where only the singles stand out.

“Evenaar,” as best as I can tell, is derived from some sort of dragon language, or shout. As are “Unrelenting Force” and “Become Ethereal.” While “Deathbell Harvest” could be about amassing ingredients for a deadly potion. “Labyrinthian” and “Winterhold” are locations throughout the realm, if I’m not mistaken. The song “Wretched Abyss” seems rather intricate to me as an outsider, but fascinating nevertheless.  Can you tell me more about what this song means to you, and how these locations and spells interconnect? 

“Evenaar” means to extinguish in dragon language. It’s about that flame of hope dying out, which is something I think a lot of people felt during lockdown. “Unrelenting Force” is an empowering song about quite literally being able to shout someone down, as the shout enables you to knock enemies back. Which I find very symbolic haha! “Labyrinthian” is my favourite dungeon in Skyrim, the quest feels so rich in history as you delve into Nordic Ruins and follow ghostly spirits to obtain the Staff of Magnus. I am fascinated by the Lovecraftian theme of the “Wretched Abyss” and how manipulative he is in the game.

While preparing questions for this interview, I asked some other folks from The Metal Wanderlust if there was anything they’d like to ask you, specifically Skyrim related. One exchange was as follows:

Person One: Ask her about an arrow to the knee. Seriously.

Person Two: I used to be an adventurer like you…

I can’t claim to understand the inside joke here, but there certainly seems to be one present. I’d kick myself if I passed up an opportunity to mention this.  

Hahaha “then I took an arrow to the knee!” Tell them I heard they’re reforming the Dawnguard…

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer questions for us. We’re all great fans of your work, and very much look forward to sharing our admiration for the Noctule record. It looks like the remainder of 2021 will be quite busy for you. Besides the release of “Wretched Abyss” and a Svalbard tour, do you have anything else in the works? 

Thank you for these excellent questions, I really enjoyed them and really appreciate the effort you have put in to researching them. My plans for 2021 are to write the second Noctule album, start writing the new Svalbard album and get my live band and stage show looking and sounding great for when Noctule can finally debut live!

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