January 2016. It’s a cold, wintry night as our car snakes through Saddleworth Moor. An intangible black void surrounds the outside of the car as we plunge further into darkness towards Leeds. I’m in the passenger seat, riding shotgun with DRAGGED INTO SUNLIGHT’s photographer, and we’re listening to Norwegian black metal band Mayhem. Occasionally passing headlights pierce the darkness, illuminating a large antelope skull, nobly resting on the back seat, its long twisted horns casting strange shadows and decreasing visibility in the rear-view mirror. The skull’s presence is ominous and disturbing, yet still guides us perilously towards Leeds, where Dragged Into Sunlight are playing a rare UK gig, bringing together a pilgrimage of followers from as far as Scotland and London.
I’ve followed Dragged Into Sunlight for some time now. The media offered on their website allows a disturbing insight into a sincere and intelligently articulated utterance of frightening metal. Their records describe the dark materiality of fear, with calculated writing that mirrors a Crowley-esque and De Sadean obsession with magic and torture. Murderous confessions haunt their releases, adding an extra malevolent dimension overflowing with savage imagery. I’m reminded of the sonic grotesque of bands such as Mayhem, Venom, Whitehouse and Throbbing Gristle, yet these references hardly describe the Artaudian Theatre of Cruelty that the band insidiously conjure.
Live, the band appear diabolically possessed as they push and strain with backs turned, on invisible leashes to an ominous pulse that eventually explodes into a cannibalistic mania of shock and awe. They are framed by a structure of skulls, totems and candles that grimly flicker and dance to unrepentant strobes. Dark sonic episodes are executed with the precision of a hot razor blade, as murderous confessions meander in foul vapours. Dragged Into Sunlight are easily one of the most brutal and heaviest bands I’ve ever witnessed, effortlessly shifting through complex blast beats, to heavy death riffs, fastidiously focused on a visceral utterance of persistent pain.
Almost five months later I’m waiting outside Liverpool Museum and it’s pissing down with rain. I’ve agreed to meet the usually taciturn T and C from Dragged Into Sunlight for a rare interview. To be honest, I’d expected to meet the band in an abandoned lock-up on the Dock Road. I hadn’t ruled out the possibility of being kidnapped and brutalised. I later discover that the Museum has a history of tragic suicides at odds with the chatter of happy families who meander between dinosaurs and tropical fish. I stand nervously at the entrance of the museum, contemplating a statue of Athena, the goddess of strategic warfare, art and literature.
T and C emerge from the gloom. We exchange handshakes and wander around the museum, pausing to look at ancient suits of hessian armour and the odd trepanned skull. We drink tea. Both of them appear intensely alert, articulate and amiable; however, there is an underlying, palpable tension lurking in the subtext of this encounter. We chat informally about the trials and tribulations of touring, adding a series of anecdotes unfit for publication but adding to the sense of mystery and debauchery that surrounds the band. They’re just about to start an extensive US tour, yet seem unmoved and unflustered about their current success. So who are Dragged Into Sunlight…?
T: Dragged Into Sunlight are a collective and only a few realise that we’ve invited around 10 musicians to collaborate with us over the years. A lot of those musicians looked at the initial idea as an escape from the constant grind of touring and all the bitterness and frustration that can cause. We all shared a common desire to experiment and deviate from the expectations of the recording and touring circuit. Dragged Into Sunlight became a kind of cauldron for ideas and an opportunity to explore a deliberate and extensive writing process. We’re obsessed with refining ideas to perfection, which can be difficult when some members of the band are over 300 miles away, but we’re driven by that process and we’re not happy until we’ve reached that state of precision and purity. In terms of influence there’s a lot going on, from Ulver to Burning Witch. But the thing that really pushes the Dragged Into Sunlight philosophy is the horrible fucking emptiness of life that’s there all the time and is impossible to ignore, not just in the media but in the flesh. It’s like there’s an omnipresence of corruption and malignance.
Bido Lito!: There’s a much more industrial sound to your latest album, N.V., and I’m reminded of Godflesh. Would you consider them as an influence?
T: There’s a cultural influence that surpasses the music for us, so much anger that emerges from a number of factors. You could take an album like N.V. and critically dissect it into a thousand pieces. As artists we’re constantly reassessing and analysing our process in relation to the music and artworks; something that bands like Bolt Thrower and Carcass have never neglected. To us there are no excuses for diluting artistic integrity. No excuses at all. For example, [2011’s debut album] Hatred For Mankind was a real struggle and it’s really hard to listen to now because it reminds us of that struggle. We’d be loading in gear in the studio at 3am and taking so much time over the blastbeat sections. It was exhausting and shattering. We don’t really consider ourselves as technical musicians, but the amount of conviction and discipline we apply to the writing and production process surpasses that.
BL!: The Dragged Into Sunlight live experience is gruelling and cathartic; even though your backs are to the audience there’s an affective power. You can see the band getting genuinely wound up on stage.
C: Yes, we feel we’re definitely at our most vicious now. At times in the past we’ve felt a bit fractured and our intention has always been to overcome life events that detract focus and commitment, and always give 200%. We’ve got to enjoy it, we’ve got to harness that energy and project it. There’s a level of trust in the band whereby each member knows that the other is going to deliver. There’s no room or time for carrying dead weight and we simply won’t allow that to happen. We constantly want to push for that extreme next level, to be faster and heavier. It’s hard sometimes when you’re on tour and reversing vans down mountains in Austria. Even on stage, we can’t see the audience, so that is never a driving factor. It comes from inside and it’s about an utterance – a purity of utterance that’s sometimes hard so summon, especially when you’ve driven 48 hours for one show and ended up standing at the side of a road getting drug tested. That doesn’t sound like hard work – I guess the hard part is not wanting to pull out a nail gun and do some damage. Making music is testing, character-defining, as with any artistic output, and it is a constant challenge. It’s that tension which gives rise to an unfathomable energy within Dragged Into Sunlight. We won’t settle for anything less than 200%, that’s a collective commitment. It’s like operating a bulldozer. We just want to smash everything, running over buildings. We want our shows to terrorise audiences but we also want our gigs to be exclusive, special experiences for audiences, like the tape-trading days; you’d go to shows back then and remember them. Meeting new people and catching up with old friends is important to us too and it’s led to discovering other bands who are pushing the boundaries of extreme music but perhaps don’t draw the attention of magazines or anything. Even in a visual sense there seems to be something really interesting about bands like Vomir, performing with black plastic bags over their heads… it’s a throwback to bands like Throbbing Gristle, who really explore a much starker materiality in their artistic output. The narrative is one of suffocation, restriction, danger and risk… elements which really reverberate and stay with us in terms of sustaining and mirroring our own intentions.
BL!: The band occupy an esoteric area of extreme music which remains underground, a network that relies on autonomy. While remaining fiercely individual there’s also a sense of community that exists separately to the more corporate inadequacies of the music industry. The networks remind me of the anarcho-punk scene in terms of form and structure. Do the band share the political commitment of those movements?
T: A lot of people try to lure us into stating some kind of political statement. We’re much more interested in the idea that you could be kicked to death on the streets by people who probably know fuck all about politics – evolution is almost devolution nowadays. You’ve talked about the intelligence of Dragged Into Sunlight: maybe there is no intelligence and there’s something much more primal driving the band. I’ve read interviews with some bands who’ve tried to project their egos through the media. You know? Turning up in fucking priest outfits while they’re doing phone interviews. But anything that anyone says in an interview isn’t really going to break the mould. We’re more interested in spreading like a virus in a much more organic and natural way, letting the records and the live shows talk for themselves. It’s about that connection between artist and subject. For us that’s where the intelligence and inspiration lies.
It’s stopped raining. We leave the museum and go our separate ways. It’s strange how T and C seem to vanish into the whorls of Liverpool’s thoroughfares and there’s nothing immediately striking about their disappearance into a maddening crowd… they might be hunting for a bowl of soup on Bold Street. Perhaps that’s the most disturbing thing about Dragged Into Sunlight, their ability to become unassuming and anonymous away from the media glare. I’m suddenly aware of the calculated expression of serial killers and their abilities to coldly articulate their barbaric actions to stunned psychologists. Dragged Into Sunlight deserve special attention in an oversaturated metal scene due to a stubborn philosophy that engages with the thresholds of violence and annihilation. They remain speculative and mysterious, exerting their independence and emerging in the black holes of the universe and of the mind, both interior and exterior at once. Dragged Into Sunlight inhabit a dark void, realigning and disrupting prescribed notions of the real and the imaginary. If Liverpool is indeed the centre of the universe in a Jungian sense, Dragged Into Sunlight might just be the ones who cause its sudden implosion.
N.V. is out now on Prosthetic Records.