Hunt by NAUTRelease date: February 24, 2023
Label: Season Of Mist
It’s well known by now that everything that was once popular will inevitably come round again but the crucial factor always comes down to the intent of the next wave of artists. Is it a nostalgic cash-grab or is it an attempt to reapply the aesthetics, tone and ethos of past works and repurpose them to reflect something more vital? NAUT thankfully fall firmly on the latter side of the spectrum. The Bristol-based quartet wear their influences – Sisters Of Mercy, Killing Joke, Bauhaus – proudly on their sleeves but inject the cold, stark noir chic of their post-punk forebears with danceable hooks and lush synthesised textures. There’s enough variation that each of these eight cuts is able to forge its own identity while retaining a ‘last dance before doomsday’ vibe that is as authentic as it is relatable.
Much of Hunt’s effectiveness comes from its players. Gavin Laubscher is an impressive vocalist, his deep gothic drawl providing a wonderful blend of drama, hauteur and malice but while the generally flat delivery suits this style as well, he frequently rises to a sharply emphatic bark that carries a sense of violence, always perfectly timed to drive each dramatic beat home. Likewise, Laura Taylor’s synths are typically content to provide texture and context, broad splashes of colour that enrich the underpinning melodies, but they also serve to subvert the songs themselves. On ‘All The Days’, she shifts the tone from brash punk fury to a sense of eerie claustrophobia with one brief interlude of horror-inflected chill, while her contributes to the otherwise upbeat ‘Nightfall’ lend it a sense of violence and dissonance. At the lower end of the scale, Andi Effe’s basswork is essential in a way that transcends the normal role of rhythm. There’s a warm energy to his playing that really rescues this album, turning what could have been an exercise in icy detachment into a more rounded and altogether humane sound. The importance of this is even more pressing given NAUT’s return to the use of drum machines following the departure of their drummer in 2019, a move that works well yet could have been jarring in the wrong hands.
Although some percussion is provided by jack Welch, it’s his guitarwork that truly shines. He has an ear for melodies that are clean yet immediate, simple hooks that dig deep into the brain while setting hips swinging, as well as a grasp of tone that is crucial to Hunt’s songwriting. Within ‘Unity of Opposites’ he masterfully guides the listener through too-cool-to-care detachment to pure rock fury and chaotic abandon without every really showing his hand, a smoke and mirrors execution that has to be heard to be appreciated, and while his measured approach lends ‘8 to 3’ a kind of dreamy wonderment that allows its relatively imposing length to breeze past, a relatively minor change in approach on ‘Damocles’ instead offers up tension, a sense of malice permeating each verse and building up to an effortlessly catchy chorus.
While NAUT are not precisely a new band, Hunt is a great example of the progression that they have shown through each progressive release. Raise The Lights was a promising enough start but second EP Semele was a marked improvement in every sense. In moving onto a full-length, they evidently felt the need to continue that growth exponentially and in most senses, Hunt is a definite success. It strikes a number of balances simultaneously – tradition and innovation, energy and atmosphere, immediacy and deliberation; it has the spirit of that cool older brother who read Alan Moore and listened to Suicide brought into the modern day; it works whether you want something immersive or something to just groove to. Also, that cover art is worth the purchase price alone.