Photo courtesy of Candlelight Records
As the features editor of British magazine Kerrang!, for the past four years Nick Ruskell has fine-tuned articles covering the gamut of hard rock and metal, and written cover stories on everyone from Linkin Park to Bullet For My Valentine. “I can’t say I’ve never been excited to go backstage in a big arena,” he says from his small home outside of London. “It’s a different world than the club scene, and you get exposed to some unusual things. I’ve seen Slipknot without their masks on, which is quite weird. It’s difficult to figure out who’s who.”
When it comes to his own music as the frontman of Witchsorrow for the past decade, Ruskell is lucky if his band even gets its own dressing room. But that doesn’t bother him as long as he can continue to make monolithic doom metal with bassist Emily Witch (to whom he's also married) and drummer David Wilbrahammer. “The metal underground is a quite different than what Kerrang! does, which is good because there’s not any sort of conflict,” he says. “Basically, I’m like Batman. I’ve got two separate identities.”
In Witchsorrow, Ruskell goes under the name Necroskull, the perfect moniker for a songwriter who mixes the galvanic riffs of Cathedral with the grooves of Black Sabbath. Witchsorrow’s third album, No Light, Only Fire (out 9/18 via Candlelight) ranges from sluggish and sludgy to mid-paced and slamming, upping the ante on the multitude of trudging stoner bands out there while an acoustic classical number showcases Ruskell’s diversity.
In addition to finding time to craft three soul-draining epics, 2010’s Witchsorrow, 2012’s God Curse Us, and the new disc between the demands of his day gig, Ruskell has transcended his small town upbringing and overcome bouts of depression to emerge as one of the heaviest and most authentic modern doom composers in the UK since Ramesses. Noisey talked with Ruskell about seeking inspirations from the masters of the genre, the phenomenon of amp worship, and why he steers clear of recreational substances.
Noisey: Clearly there are some giant Tony Iommi riffs in your songwriting, but you seem also to be inspired by other early doom bands including Pentagram, St. Vitus, The Obsessed and Trouble.
Nick Ruskell: I read about Pentagram, but those records were hard to come by in the small town where I was living. So when I finally heard Pentagram it seemed perfect to me. It seemed like a band I was already familiar with because I had imagined them based on what I had read. All those early bands, Trouble, St. Vitus and especially Cathedral, were really important to me and I discovered them at a time when they were all dead in the water, which made the doom aspect even doomier. It seemed like I was discovering a lost civilization and I was never going to be able to interact with any of these bands or see them live.
Was that your first introduction to doom?
I liked Sabbath of course, but in about 1997 a lot of magazines in Britain were giving away CDs at the news agents and there’d always be something by a band like Cathedral, Orange Goblin or Iron Monkey. I liked that the music was heavy and angry but it wasn’t hard to listen to and it didn’t tire me out the way black metal did when I first heard it.
Many current doom bands don’t seem to be familiar with the history of the genre. There’s a lack of awareness of the groups that shaped the genre before Electric Wizard and Sleep.
There’s all this amp-worshipping stuff. When Sunn O))) first came out they toured with Orange Goblin and people thought their set was just a soundcheck, and now suddenly they’re this big band. At a certain point doom stopped being something for metal fans and it became a thing for anyone who was into far out fucked up music. That’s great, but when I got into it only real metal fans were listening to bands like Cathedral and Solstice. Bands didn’t play big gigs. Then I turned around and Electric Wizard are playing for 3,000 people. That used to be completely unthinkable. They wouldn’t show up at their own gigs half the time and I saw them falling apart onstage almost splitting up multiple times. When I was 15, I bought Come My Fanatics and I played it on Emily Witch’s dad’s stereo. I turned it up and it tore his speakers. We had to make a decision whether or not to tell him. we decided not to and let him find the damage on his own.
Did you know Emily for a long time before you got married?
We were friends when we were kids and we’ve been together for nearly 17 years.
Is it hard to be in a band with your wife?
Being in the band together is not what I thought it would be. When we’re writing or making decisions we can both be extremely stubborn. And being onstage together is weird because you don’t see each other acting like that in a normal, everyday situation. But it’s really nice that you’ve got someone you like to be around that’s as dedicated to the band as you are. The good outweighs the bad.
You’ve said you don’t do any drugs, which is a contrast with a lot of great doom bands from Sabbath to Electric Wizard that have made drugs a large part of their aesthetic.
I’m not against people taking drugs. We just live in quite a small town and I’m such a square I don’t even know where to buy them from. But I’m really intrigued by acid and I’m really amazed by all the stores from bands who did it a lot in the 60s. I’m just scared shitless of it because I know that I’d be that guy who takes it and his mind falls out of his ear and he spends the next 10 years trying to climb inside of his shoe. But I’ve tried pot. I saw Electric Wizard for the first time in 2002 and I was so stoned I was leaning against one of the pillars in the venue all night. And the next morning my jaw was stuck over the other side of my face. And I didn’t notice that someone threw up down my back.
How did you want No Light, Only Fire to be a development from God Curse Us?
The main thing we wanted to do was make a record that was slightly different than God Curse Us. When we made that album I was looking for the perfect slow doom record. And once we did that for a whole album, we found ourselves naturally writing slightly faster songs.
What’s the significance of the new album title?
I quite like that idea of switching out the light at the end of the tunnel. Then we came up with the idea, “What if there was a light at the end of the tunnel and when you entered it you found that it was a nuclear explosion? God Curse Us was all about me wanting the apocalypse to happen. When we were writing it I was really miserable. Everything seemed so completely bleak and horrifying. The only thing that was good in life was making the record. And when we started this one I was like, “Well, the world didn’t end, but everything’s still here and it’s all terrible.” So it was more a case of accepting how shitty things are and how bleak and unchangeable the world is. But at the same time, it’s about being really grumpy and pissed off that society has come to that.