Darkness demands disciples. Phillip Newton is an avowed student of what occurs outside the light. As the frontman and guiding force of local band The Noctambulant, he’s not out to proselytize about his journey but rather chronicle what he sees. The band’s most recent release, 2016’s Advocatus Diaboli, is a 10-song roar of brutally good melodic black metal. Traveling seems like an apt descriptor; the band’s name means “Night Walker” in Latin.
From the opening boom of “Legion,” the band—Newton (aka E. Helvete) on vocals and guitar, Chris Bhoff on lead guitar, bassist Lars Goerschafft, and drummer D. Franseth—assures the listener that they aren’t playing around.
Recorded at Franseth’s home studio, Advocatus Diaboli (Latin for, “Devil’s Advocate”), features undeniable collective chops, Newton’s fierce vocals, and a high-quality production that creates one powerful metal release.
Historically, Florida has been known for producing thrash and death metal. Newton allows that his band is more influenced by Swedish black metal. “Death metal is more disciplined but black metal is more cathartic,” says Newton. “Black metal is metaphorical. I might write a song about old gods and possession, but it’s really about my ex-girlfriend.”
Tracks like “Evil Calling” and “Take What I Want” blast forth with an unrelenting pummel. They also benefit from some rarely heard harmonic and melodic approaches to metal. Chromatic riffs more akin to avant-garde music and dissonant solo passages set the band even further apart from the pack.
A Jacksonville native, Newton was raised by two now-retired members of the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra. When speaking about the composition of his music, he speaks eloquently of the unorthodox tonalities and esoteric chords rarely he utilizes, ones generally not used in metal.
“I’m a classically-trained trumpet player and when I think of guitar solos, I’m not a Joe Satriani; I can’t shred like that. But I’m inspired by something like Mahler,” he said. “When you hear the trumpet in his compositions, while sometimes they’re technical, they’re very lyrical. It’s almost like someone singing. So that’s what I try to incorporate in my guitar work: the dissonance, into the suspense, and into the resolution. I like using more than your typical ‘metal minor scale.’”
The Noctambulant played their first gig at a 2012 Zombie Walk. “That was a mess,” Newton laughs. “We played maybe eight songs, and half of those were covers of stuff like Venom.” The band tightened up their sound and, starting in 2013, the band released two EPs and a single. The band scored a record deal with D.G. records for Advocatus Diaboli, but due to the album’s final mixing, and what Newton feels was an overall bad experience, the band parted ways with that imprint. They’ve since recorded new tracks with the addition of onetime guitarist John Hoarfrost—including the crushers “Blood Hunt” and “Leviathan”— and are gearing up for their forthcoming full-length. Most recently the band released a cover of Dark Funeral’s classic cut, “My Dark Desires.” The Noctambulant’s music is available on their website, iTunes, Spotify, and Soundcloud.
When asked about other local bands he admires, Newton says nothing. The Noctambulant’s success has been mainly not home but abroad. They’ve toured the States, and tour the states, for months out of the year. Online reviews of their music have been unilaterally positive. Scoring impressive endorsement deals with, among others, ESP guitars and Peavey is a good indication of the support they receive and the faith that many have in them. While the band routinely plays local clubs like Nighthawks, they’re just as likely to play two-day metal fests on the other side of the country. Two pro-shot videos of songs from Diaboli are available on the band’s YouTube channel.
It would be amiss to not acknowledge other crucial local underground metal bands mining their own divergent metallic, heavy inspirations: Yashira, WØRSEN, and LA-A all qualify in this regard. But while The Noctambulant might be “of” this scene by proximity, they’re not truly “in” this scene.
Newton’s greater worldview surely guides his creative calling. The 35-year-old Newton describes himself as a LaVeyan, or non-theistic, Satanist. “While that sounds like an extreme ideology to the mainstream, it’s basically another way of saying you’re an existentialist,” says Newton. The existentialist tag makes sense. He graduated from college with a philosophy degree. That education actually led him to explore Satanism. “My grandparents were religious, but my parents really weren’t super religious; they took me to church just because they thought I should be exposed to it.” Newton eventually found his own beliefs, a faith not contained in the walls of a church. He’s an anti-metal preacher’s worst nightmare: smart, witty, and devoted to the cause of real metal.
“We don’t worship a little guy with horns in a red suit. You make your own existence and you are the sum of your actions. So if you’re life sucks, and you’re not willing to change it, it’s your fault.”
At its core, the black metal music scene is transgressive. It’s also tribal, to some degree ceremonial, therapeutic; even purifying. On the one extreme of the spectrum, Newton cites the 2006 alleged-ritualistic suicide of Jon Nödtveidt, vocalist for Swedish black metal band Dissection, who was an avowed theistic Satanist. “I have no doubt that he was serious about his beliefs,” says Newton. “They [Dissection] were all about anti-cosmic death and the destruction of all life. He was done with his life, so he practiced what he preached and killed himself.”
Yet for every troubled, possibly-mentally-ill listener that blows their brains while invoking one last demon from a black magick grimoire, there are legions of other fans that suspend their belief long enough to jump into the music’s narrative of cemeteries and sacrifices to clandestine gods, while not drown in the undertow of the music’s surely intoxicating sonic and visual elements cloaked in black and white.
“In metal, so many people drink their own Kool-Aid to the point where I want to tell them, ‘you are not this person. It’s an act,’ and they can’t seem to get that,” believes Newton. “We’re musicians and we’re also entertainers. You don’t wake up angry at breakfast.”