(For this week’s installment of Waxing Lyrical, Andy Synn presents thoughts from vocalist Raimund Ennenga of the German melodic death-doom band Nailed To Obscurity, who are now at work on a new album.)
The name Nailed to Obscurity should be a familiar one to you if you’ve been paying attention to NCS over the last year or so, as not only did I identify their most recent album, King Delusion, as:
“…one of the most intriguing and engaging releases of the year…”
in my review last March, but I also selected that same album as one of the runners-up in last year’s Critical Top Ten, and named it as a fitting companion piece to the most recent Paradise Lost album, Medusa.
Clearly I wasn’t the only one to feel that way either, as the band recently signed to Nuclear Blast, and are currently hard at work on their major-label debut (their fourth album in total), which means that now seemed like the perfect time to have a quick word with NtO vocalist Raimund Ennenga about the where, what, when, and how, behind his lyric-writing process.
First off, I’d like to say thank you for this opportunity. I agree 100 % with your statement that the lyrics belong to “the most underappreciated aspect of the metallic arts”. Especially in the more extreme subgenres of Metal, where lyrics are often overlooked. But there are a lot of artists who really care about the subjects they write about, and whose lyrics are a strong addition to the instrumental content of their bands.
I started writing lyrics for my very first band when I was around 18 years old but I wouldn’t say they were very strong. I made some bigger steps with my band Burial Vault (we formed in 2006). I tried to express my view of society and its negative developments as well as the influence of organized religion on politics. Maybe my view was a little naïve here and there but the lyrics were very honest and I can still identify with them.
Nevertheless, writing lyrics is not only about the content within the lines and the words themselves. The placement of the words and phrases have to work well together with the instrumental music to create “a song”. Death Metal is very rhythmic and therefore the rhythm of the lyrics is very important. So, I wanted to learn more about the structural ideas behind the songs.
After I finished the first lyrics on my own, I asked Tobias (guitarist and head-songwriter of Burial Vault) to help me with further lyrics. It was not that I “needed” help to write the lyrics but that I wanted his input on the rhythm of the words and his vision of the interaction between the text and the music.
This was very helpful for me and we worked as a team for quite some time. Then, I felt self-confident enough to write the lyrics on my own. I wrote all the lyrics for our second full-length Incendium and our current album Unity In Pluralism on my own.
In 2012, I joined Nailed To Obscurity after already being a huge fan of their music. Because the music was a lot more moody and atmospheric, I wanted to create a different lyrical direction or “lyrical cosmos”. I wrote down more sentimental and even personal lyrics that reflected my inner feelings and thoughts, with a goal that the texts should be open to any kind of interpretation.
People who know me well enough are able to read a lot about myself between the lines but everyone should be able to get access to the lyrical content by finding his/her own key.
When I joined them, the music for the album that would become Opaque was already written and recorded. Therefore, I started from that, wrote down my first lyric-ideas, and presented them to the band. I absolutely understood that they had a clear vision of how they wanted the lyrics to be phrased and we had to find common ground. I wanted to show all my respect to their ideas and Ole (guitars) and Carsten (bass) sat down with me to finish certain details on the lyrics. Working together I learned a lot about their ideas and how to work with the direction of the music.
When we wrote King Delusion, I wrote all the lyrics on my own but again finished the details with Carsten and Ole. Volker (guitar) and Jann (drums) also added their ideas. It was a rich process and paved the way for our future work. I have 100% lyrical freedom but I get a lot of great input from the other guys to make them fit the music best. In the end, it’s a team-effort.
When it comes to the inspiration for my lyrics, it’s tough to explain. I would describe myself as a very thoughtful person. But it’s not all about rational thoughts! I often find myself reflecting my past and present in a way that sometimes holds me back. But it allows me to see certain things differently and I try to add pictures to my thoughts while I write lyrics.
Writing lyrics allows me to digest my thoughts. It’s a little bit like writing a diary.
Sometimes I feel inspired after I’ve been jogging or after a long drive. Often it’s just a phrase that comes to mind and I write it down to capture it. I also take inspiration from TV series, books, music by other artists, or talks/chats with friends.
Since the making of King Delusion, I have started writing down my ideas like “poems” (not that I would say they really have this quality) to explore them and to have a framework that I can present to my band mates. I am not writing lyrics in my mother-tongue, German. Therefore, writing “poems” in English is also a good way to collect vocabulary that fits with my ideas. This makes it easier to raise a fundament for the final lyrics.
While I listen to music, there are often lines that really grab me by the balls. They resonate strong with me. Paradise Lost’s Nick Holmes is a good example: I like the way he often turns a darker story into something positive, and vice-versa. A very special line is this one, taken from the song “Tragic Idol”:
Long ago you saved me from it all
Your darkened soul embraced me
Gave me such resolve.
The doomed character gave resolve to the protagonist in the end. Lines like these truly mean a lot to me and inspired me on my way to a lyrical vision.
Another perfect example for lyrics I find truly inspiring is “Perfect Strangers” by Deep Purple:
The voice of ages in your mind
Is aching with the dead of the night
Precious life, your tears are lost in falling rain.
I like the way how Ian Gillan uses a lot of strong pictures to create this conversations of two incarnations of the same person that will never meet.
Here is a line from my own catalogue that often hits me:
All my distress – all the tears
That no one saw in all those years
Behind a mask – I hid my fears
How can I clarify my soul from those memories
without losing face – being judged for these?
It’s taken from the song “Sealed” and it’s not the quality of the pictures that gives me chills. It’s the fact that there are no pictures and that it’s very direct. This feels like a soul-striptease and it shows me how much of myself flows into the lyrics.
My lyric-writing process has changed a lot over the years. The involvement of my band-mates allowed me to get a different view on the stuff that I wrote and to get a better view on the phrasing.
I also learned a lot about the difference between writing lyrics for a part that I would growl during my performance and for a part that I would sing with my clean voice. It became easier to handle writing lyrics to certain musical parts but there is definitely no routine for that.
The major thing is the lyrical subjects themselves. I think I know a lot better what I want to write about compared to some years ago.
Overall, I think it’s still an ongoing learning-process and I hope it will never end. Ending this process would mean that there’s no evolution any more and no future-goal to reach out for.
“Torn To Shreds” was the first text that I wrote for Nailed To Obscurity, and I really wanted my lyrics to fit with the melancholic and moody attitude of the music.
I had this line in my head for quite a while back then: “The past is still unwritten”. Certain feelings change our view on things that happened in the past. A situation that happens to us might lead to an understanding of the behavior of a person we didn’t like just because of a similar situation that happened to him/her back then. The death of a person is able to lead to a complete focus shift, for example. So, no evaluation of a past event is carved in stone, and the different views lead to different stories about the exact same state of affairs.
Every time when we go there
It’s different again
New shades appear – the old fade away
Nuances change our view
I was thinking about my dead grandfather and the many conflicts I had with him. But after his death, I was trying to understand his motives better. It changed a lot and allowed me to forgive him.
Sometimes clarity – sometimes blur
The here and now – a saboteur
Manipulating the scene
No chance to intervene
When it comes to the phrasing, I took much help from Carsten and Ole. Like I said before, in the very beginning, I wanted to really know about their ideas for the placing of the lyrics on the instrumental song. Everything had to fit. I wanted to learn about their vision of a Nailed To Obscurity song.
“Uncage My Sanity” is special in many ways. It’s also the longest song in the history of Nailed To Obscurity so far. Ever since I joined the band, I told the other guys about an idea for a film that I had in mind. Carsten convinced me that my “script-idea” would be a cool idea for a song-text. So I wrote everything down as detailed as I could. And after I got the final arrangement for the song, I started to write the lyrics.
The great difference between King Delusion and Opaque was that we started writing King Delusion from scratch while I was already a member. So, we also had the chance to make minor changes in the instrumentals to fit the lyrics better (not just the other way around). The lyrics themselves deal with a person who tries to flee from his/her past. But there are a lot of encounters and persons who try to stop that process.
No streets – no lanes
Can hold me back
I need to carry on
Even if there’s only black
Breaking these chains
Is what I’m aiming for.
The importance is to really end his/her problems to get a chance to start all over again.
A second chance
To start from scratch
Reborn to rebuild
Uncage my sanity
The major difference between “Torn To Shreds” and “Uncage My Sanity” is that the latter is written more as an abstract story while “Torn To Shreds” is quite direct in some points. The more vivid language within “Uncage My Sanity” works even better with the different moods of the song.
We are currently in the making of a new record and I’m looking forward to writing new lyrics for this one and presenting them to you. Stay tuned for more information on that one and see you at one of our forthcoming shows.