Interview by Grant Skelton
Dying. Walk in that reality for a moment.
Not as a motif in the work of your favorite poet. Not in reference to gore-drenched lyrics by the growing throng of death metal bands. Not an aphorism etched in a tattoo. Not something conceptual, thematic, or abstract. Rather, consider dying as a concrete reality—something that will happen to all of us, along with those we love and care about.
Sometimes, dying lasts mere fractions of a second. For others, it may take years, even decades. Traffic accidents, terminal illnesses, natural disasters, war: any number of these circumstances could cause us to meet our end. Dying feels alien, unnatural—something that happens to other people, not to us. But dying is not a sad reality, not sad in and of itself. It is merely reality. How we regard it is more personal. More subjective.
This is the space from which Nortt’s latest album, Endeligt, speaks. Released on Dec. 29 via Avantgarde Music, Endeligt is the first Nortt’s faithful mourners have heard from him since Galgenfrist in 2007. “I have come to learn that the word ‘endeligt’ doesn’t translate too well to English,” Nortt explains. “The idiomatic meaning is closest to ‘death’ or ‘cease to exist.’”
The album’s sound is stark, unsettling, and foreboding. Sardonic serenades designed to lull the listener into a sleep of the most eternal sort. “Either my narrators are in the process of dying,” Nortt says, “or they are already dead.” Anyone acquainted with Nortt’s previous funereal musings will find no surprises present on Endeligt. Furthermore, for those unfamiliar with Nortt, consider this album a warm—or rather, cold—introduction.
Like in Nortt’s back catalog, the vocals on Endeligt are arid, croaking rasps. Were one to actually capture death rattles in a field recording, Nortt’s vocals would still sound more terrifying in comparison. His ominous lyrics tend toward the abstract. “The sparseness and the abstractness were somewhat intended,” he offers. “That is, I never thought of writing in a different style; it was simply what felt natural to me.” Themes of finality, futility, and nihilism appear prominently in Nortt’s lyrical universe. On this point, he adds, “Words like ‘night,’ ‘death,’ ‘grave,’ and ‘solitude’ are positive and optimistic in my lyrical universe, and if you don’t get that angle, then it must be pure nonsense I write.”
We can choose to dismiss Nortt’s work as “morbid” if we so choose. Doing so might give us a perceived sense of moral superiority to a thing so foreign as dying, but that momentary sense of superiority will not help us to evade its certainty. Nortt’s music does not endorse dying—it is not a goal to be reached or a solution to the suffering life may bring. Rather, Nortt would have us understand that dying is amoral: it is neither good, nor evil. It should be understood, but not worshipped. Acknowledged, but not pined for.
Should we contemplate dying in such terms, perhaps we may seek to change how we live while we yet have life.