Black Metal in Technicolor: An Interview with Christian Cosentino
In a world where one-man black metal projects are dime a dozen, Christian Cosentino is the change the genre needs. Much like the cover art that adorns his latest album High Rising Times, he is not afraid to add a little bit of color to black metal’s often monochromatic palette.
Building from the eccentricities of his debut record Lawn, Christian’s newest endeavor High Rising Times, is a stunningly diverse record that incorporates everything from symphonic swells to tropical, island music interludes, all filtered through the lens of melodic post-black metal. It’s an album that feels ethereal, but not weightless as its molten metal core keeps it from floating away and dispersing into the wind without having left any lasting impression.
High Rising Times is clearly a piece of work that was carefully and meticulously constructed, so we just had to sit down and chat with Christian himself about his influences, his writing process, and what it feels like to be a one-man band. Read our interview with Christian Cosentino below and stream the album here.
Symphonic black metal has a pretty checkered history within the genre. What led you to want to play this type of music?
Christian: As a listener I probably lean towards more non-symphonic black metal funnily enough. But I definitely have a very strong tendency for orchestration in general and I also became completely obsessed with Emperor in 2017/18. I don’t know if there’s an album more tattooed into my memory than Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk is. It wasn’t really a conscious choice to play symphonic black metal though. I write without any preconceived plan or style in mind so whatever I write is just what comes out naturally at the time.
Between the orchestral elements and more metallic sections, your music is quite intricate. What does the song writing process look like for you? Do you hear the completed piece in your head, or is it something that gets fleshed out as you go on?
I should say, my process seems to entirely hinge upon whether I’m receiving subconscious intuition from my emotions (I tend to suck if I’m consciously trying). When I go to write in these moments of intuition each layer appears kinda one after the other. I'll hear an initial melody or chord progression, then hear the next instrument’s part, then hear the next one, and so on until the section is complete.
In terms of the structure of each song, in some cases I get a few sections of a song in one writing session but in most cases, especially for the longer tracks, sections come in seperate bursts sometimes over the course of years. Formulate was created from scratch in a week and written linearly but on the opposite end of things Factory was written over the course of years and it took a tonne of effort to figure out its final structure (with much help from my friend Drew who is credited as co-producer).
Tracks like “Spyro~” and “Formulate” are very comforting and lush. They also have a very tropical essence to them. Given that black metal is usually seen as a “cold” and alienating genre, what was the thought behind adding these elements?
It just happened naturally. At one point I was confused by the pile of material I had started assembling. It wasn't even until early-mid 2020 that it became clear that I was writing a second album at all. By that time I had already finished Formulate, written over half of every other song and it had been two years since I'd written the earliest material. But it did eventually become clear that even though tropical-sounding, orchestral pop doesn't typically compliment black metal, in this case it was all serving a cohesive atmosphere and story of sorts. A similar thing happened with my first album Lawn. I’d been writing it steadily over 2017 but it wasn’t until the last third or so of the year that it became obvious that the individual songs were one album.
It just comes down to what needs to be expressed I think. In the case of Spyro the lush sections came out of a general love of community and humanity and the much harsher, melancholic mid-section came from feeling very alienated by people. The alienation and lushness existed in the emotions first and served to articulate one overarching "thing" I guess.
Where did the name “High Rising Times” come from? What does the title mean to you?
I find it very hard titling things in general. It just comes down to stumbling across something that feels right. The title came from the line “now I can design high rising times” which was just part of the lyrics until at some point I had the realization that the words “High Rising Times” seemingly capture the general essence of the album. I think the title captures the cynicism and hopelessness I felt at the time if you interpret it sarcastically but it also expresses a genuine underlying hope if interpreted sincerely. I get something eerie out of it too.
The album artwork for this record is absolutely stunning. What can you tell us about why you chose this piece, and why you think it’s a good fit for the record?
I had a clear vision of what I wanted the artwork to look like and what I wanted it to depict so I searched through a tonne of art online until I found an artist whose style matched what I imagined. I found the artist Bis Biswas and commissioned him to do the art, I think the end result was perfect.
One of the goals I had was for the listener to be able to reinterpret the artwork in different ways depending on what emotion is coming from the album. This idea came from a conversation I had about the artwork of Ween’s Quebec. I think that album is a good example because it uses a vast range of styles but despite that every song emotionally coheres to the artwork. I think that High Rising Times’ artwork also does this. An example would be the midsection of the song "High Rising Times" where the music is euphoric and celebratory before shifting into horror and hatred. The city looks grande through the first emotional lens and like a false utopia through the next. I think all of the songs on the album reframe the artwork in a different way which I’m really happy about.
Lawn was a very clean sounding record, but High Rising Times sounds even more crisp. From a production standpoint, how did the recording process of High Rising Times differ from Lawn?
I’m relieved that you say High Rising Times sounds crisp, thank you. I kinda went insane mixing and seem to be unable to accurately judge the production anymore.
Lawn was bizarre in that the instrumentals where finished since early 2018 and just kept being slightly fucked around with until I eventually recorded vocals, rerecorded the guitars, made some small structural edits and finally released it in 2021. The production ended up being the result of slow tinkering over the course of years. I also wanted there to be a slight DIY roughness to Lawn since I strongly associate it with high school and writing on my laptop, so I didn’t make much of an effort change the sound when it came time to release it. It's arguable whether it was the right decision to keep it slightly primitive and haphazard but I think I’m happy with it ultimately.
It was completely different for High Rising Times though, I always wanted it to sound as clean and modern as possible. I didn’t really get it sounding quite how I wanted but I think it's close enough, the emotion/atmosphere comes through which is what matters. In general a lot of the recording was the same between the albums. I used free plugins for the guitars (the rhythm guitar tone is actually the exact same on both albums), a SM58 for vocals and a budget audio interface. One of the only big differences with the production between High Rising Times and Lawn is that there are real drums on High Rising Times which were recorded with the drummer’s set up (his pseudonym is Blastbeatology). Other than that the biggest difference in High Rising Times' production was the mix and the sound I was after. There was a learning curve in mixing real drums for the first time too.
I got extremely obsessive with the mix on this album and in hindsight I needed to take breaks to evaluate things during the process instead of stressing out about it constantly. I’d say I’m content with how these albums came out in terms of production but I think going forward I’ll try to get some better equipment for vocals and do the guitars and drums in a studio to get as clean a sound as possible.
Australia has its own little black metal microcosm going. Are there any other Australian artists you feel particularly inspired by?
Aquilus has undoubtedly had an influence on me, his album Griseus is an old favorite of mine. I can’t think of any other Australian black metal that has inspired me though, I ought to listen to more though.
What do you think some of the advantages are to being a (mostly) one man act? How about some of the disadvantages?
I think it’s a double edged sword in a lot of ways but I definitely like being responsible for everything. With the internet it's easy to find and hire musicians with the precise skills and/or style you’re looking for which is a huge advantage. I guess the disadvantages to this would be firstly: when working online you don’t get an instant “face to face interaction” with the player whilst they’re recording (plus they might not be as invested in your music as a friend and bandmate would be), and secondly: you don’t end up having any musicians to play live with. Another advantage is that you’re naturally forced to master skills which are extremely valuable, I’m steadily becoming better and better at mixing for instance. I don’t want to rely on other people for any part of my process so doing things alone is the only sensible option really. Tracking final guitars is very traumatic and painful though.
What are your plans for the project’s future?
I’ve had writer's block for a while now. I’m certain the reason is because I haven’t had many new or emotional experiences, nor undergone much rapid personal growth since earlyish covid times. It's time to break the current routine. Since my music has always come as a reaction to my emotional state it will just be a matter of seeing what comes as I start moving on with life. The next album will come from my future experiences, so I really can’t make any prediction on what it will be. It will be honest is all I can say. It might seem weird to answer in this way but I think it's necessary to stress that I have no expectation as to what I’ll produce next, it comes from experiences.
For the sake of giving a more musically satisfying answer though, if I had to guess what I’ll create next based on my current interests I’d say there are a few possibilities. I could see myself creating another black metal album that returns to the aesthetics of Lawn but incorporates a much more sophisticated classical influence. Though Lawn might seem very classically inspired (and I did love a handful classical pieces at the time which undoubtedly influenced Lawn) it wasn’t until after writing Lawn and most of High Rising Times that I fell into a real obsession with classical music. One of the few valuable things I’ve written semi-recently sounds like a darker Lawn-esque passage with catchy operatic hooks. I also love pop and art pop so I could just as easily see myself creating a non-metal album, maybe more along the lines of the songs “Formulate” and “Submarine”.
Most solo projects shy away from touring. Is that something you would ever consider for this endeavor, or would you prefer to keep it studio only?
Touring is one of my next goals. I think the biggest roadblock is that it wouldn’t be overly satisfying having the orchestral layers of my music done via backing track since they make up such a large portion of the overall composition. I think it will be challenging finding enough people to pull off what I’d like to do. And if I could somehow get a metal band together in addition to some kind of small ensemble to play an arrangement of the orchestration I’d still have to figure out how to technically achieve everything in terms of the live mix and whatnot. I can’t see any of this being practical at all but nonetheless I’m planning on giving it a shot as soon as possible. I have a lot to learn so it's hard to say what will happen. In the worst case scenario using a backing track wouldn’t be the end of the world.
Also, I’m not sure if I’d ever be able to have this played live but another idea I’ve had is to write chamber reductions for some of my songs. Since getting more heavily into classical music I’ve been slowly attempting to teach myself proper orchestration and writing for chamber ensembles. I’ve had ideas for things like a piano quartet arrangement for the song "Lawn" or a two-piano arrangement for “Spyro”. I have no idea whether any of this would work well but it's something I’d like to start drafting soon in any case. Again, not sure if I could ever get this stuff performed live but I think it's worth doing even if I just hire people to record it.
Any final words?
Thanks for allowing me to share a little bit about my music and my views on things.
And a big thank you to anybody who enjoys my music, it truly means a lot to me.
High Rising Times is out now via Phantom Lure, with cassette pre-orders available and vinyl coming later this year.