Gonemage Draws Down a “Sudden Deluge” of Surreal Post-Black Metal (Early Album Stream + Interview)
It’s one thing, impressive all on its own, to release eight records in one year. It’s quite another to do that and have them all be incredibly good. But that’s just what Garry Brents will achieve by the time 2021 comes to a close: two full-length records as Cara Neir, two EPs as Homeskin, a full-length and a split as Sallow Moth, and two full-length releases as Gonemage.
Gonemage’s second album Sudden Deluge picks up where its predecessor left off—and if you haven't been following the saga told over the shared universe between Cara Neir, Gonemage, and now Homeskin, here’s what’s going on:
On Cara Neir’s last record Phase Out, the band were warped into a pixelated videogame dimension. But at the same time, a piece of Garry’s being was somehow splintered off and incorporated into a dream realm. Here, this incarnation of himself is known as Galimgim, and Gonemage chronicles his saga as he comes to wield the power to manipulate the dreams of others. Meanwhile, Homeskin follows Garry as he soldiers on in the real world.
If all this sounds wildly imaginative and fantastical, it should—and this is aptly reflected in the music. While Cara Neir glitches in and out of digi-black metal blasts, Gonemage brings in gleefully saccharine turbopop melodies and a legion of guest musicians on Sudden Deluge to embody the shifting entities of Galimgim’s nocturnal dreamworld.
Navigate Gonemage’s latest dreamscape with our exclusive full premiere of Sudden Deluge, then pop down for a detailed interview with Garry about his entire body of work.
There’s absolutely nothing conventional about Gonemage. To put it quite directly — how does one come to make music like this?
Thank you. It comes from a desire to experiment with various styles and sounds that I enjoy -- maybe partially as a personal challenge to crossover different interests together, like pixel art and black metal or electronic pop/chiptune elements and black metal. But the root of it is about having fun and expressing creativity.
To expand on one example of a creative yet technical aspect behind it: using what would normally be a tremolo riff on guitar and either reinforcing that with MIDI notes through traditional chiptune sounds/plugins or instead replacing what the guitar would traditionally do by treating the guitar as a ‘pad’. And of course, sometimes they trade off such roles depending on what I want to convey with complementary melodies and harmonies.
Can you give me an example on this record of such a moment and talk me through your process when putting that together?
In the chorus of “Gumubulang Na Alon,” the guitars are strumming chords while there's this underlying MIDI lead playing in a tremolo fashion panned off to the left a bit. This happens again around a minute in a half, but both elements are playing more in tandem with that technique.
Another example would be about a minute into “Pixel Expedition” during a blastbeat. Guitars strumming fast chords while a MIDI part is playing a trilling lead underneath directly in the center. In the past, with Cara Neir or previous works, that type of lead or counter-melody would have been a third or fourth guitar part.
Other than the instrumentation, what separates your songwriting process for Gonemage from how you approach your other bands? When it comes time to work on Gonemage, what sets that experience apart from your other work?
Definitely, at least from Cara Neir. With Gonemage, so far, I’ve gone into each release (and each song) with an end goal in mind. I envision the outline of what I want to do and then build up to that as I’m writing and recording simultaneously to reach the goal, maybe with a few revisions from the initial ideas along the way.
Cara Neir has had that approach quite sparingly, almost always executed with a puzzle-piece/improvisational mindset with less strict final goals. However, Phase Out was certainly the outlier with a grand album-scope and aesthetic from the beginning, and of course the catalyst for the idea of starting Gonemage. I would say Sallow Moth is somewhere between both projects in how I approach the songwriting.
How closely do the finished tracks match your initial vision you had in mind when first conceptualizing this record? Do you hear songs more or less fully formed and then recreate them in the real world, or is your songwriting process an evolutive one?
This follows up the previous question and answer perfectly. I would say the finished tracks match pretty closely to the initial vision. The song structure is usually conceptualized but then all of the unconventional additions could be attributed to an evolutive process (essentially all of the MIDI counter-melodies, SFX for extra impact or transitional purposes, and maybe extra vocal and MIDI parts).
Most of the time the song structure is deemed by rhythm guitar and drums first, although tracks two and four were first written and recorded with the basslines. Those foundational aspects of guitar, bass, drums, and basic MIDI would help me decide on the completeness of songwriting as a big checkpoint, which then led to a stage of contemplative listening and then finally a step of vocals and any extra flavor through my own means and/or guest additions.
You mentioned that you had the idea to start Gonemage while working on Phase Out for Cara Neir. What was it about that record that sparked this idea in your mind? Was it simply the act of composing a work with a “grand album-scope,” or something more?
It was primarily that very notion and that I knew I wanted to expand upon those ideas, implementing more of the black metal influence of the “pie” of sounds. Also, since Cara Neir changes dramatically with almost each successive release, I wanted to carry that torch elsewhere while both projects do their thing.
And how do these processes differ from the way you approached the recent surprise Homeskin EP Subverse Siphoning of Suburbia—you know, the one you wrote and recorded all in roughly half a day?
Homeskin, by all accounts, was purely an impulse-based creation with no overthinking, just improvisation and quickly calculated methods in terms of writing and recording it simultaneously. The art and idea came first, and then I wrote music to the energy I instilled with the aesthetics.
It’s meant to be a “daytime” counterpart to Gonemage, where it’s set in reality instead of dreams. I did a once-over full listen after finishing the songs and decided to not be picky as nothing jumped out worth changing, and then felt it was complete. Whereas my other projects, Gonemage in particular, are very methodical and deliberate processes.
Before dropping Subverse Siphoning of Suburbia, you’d tweeted that of your five (non-Homeskin) 2021 releases, this Gonemage record is your favorite. Why is that?
Certainly. I feel it’s my most realized work of what I’ve wanted to blend together for awhile. Pop sensibilities within the confinements of black metal, a more blended-in implementation of chiptune, and overall cohesion of the album. I believe that Cara Neir’s Phase Out and [Gonemage’s] Mystical Extraction were launching pads of many ideas, and I love what went into those albums.
Sudden Deluge feels like the refinement of these unconventional ideas. I also feel that this one is sonically my favorite and is the first album in my discography where I’ve handed it off for final mastering touches—to Angel Marcloid at Angel Hair Audio. I knew I wanted completely fresh ears to finish off the album’s production strong, and her expertise achieved that, making me perceive this album with almost a fan-perspective level.
With Sallow Moth’s Stasis Cocoon, I am really proud of that album as well, but I think it’s mainly that my tastes have changed quite a bit since writing that album in early-mid 2020. The upcoming “surprise” Cara Neir album was also incredibly fun to make, but there’s something about the story-building of Gonemage that gets the edge personally, since it’s solely my creation. Maybe at heart, I’m enjoying music with hooks just a bit more lately.
Speaking of Gonemage’s story-building — as far as I can tell, all your projects’ respective discographies consist of concept records, but linked together in a shared universe and narrative (which I love deeply). Can you dive a bit into the inspiration behind the story you’re telling across these records, at least with regard to Gonemage?
Also, am I correct in reading that Gonemage and Cara Neir share a universe, and various versions of you are the protagonist in both? I’m a massive Coheed nerd, and I love when bands lean this hard into the worldbuilding aspects of their storytelling.
Definitely Gonemage and Sallow Moth. I would say the concept record idea is wholly new for Cara Neir in Phase Out. We have had a little backstory, one- or two-off small stories, in the past, and one of those became expanded upon, leading to a fully fleshed-out concept record in Phase Out.
With Gonemage's story, it's an alternate reality to what transpires in Phase Out's videogame warping dimension. They share a universe, but aren't interacting with each other (yet), where there's a protagonist version of me in Cara Neir alongside Chris, and an initial protagonist version of me in Gonemage who slowly becomes more of an antihero and considered a villain of mischief.
More on Gonemage's story-building: Prefacing with Cara Neir's characters being warped into a videogame dimension on Phase Out, a mysterious entity splinters my character off into a dream realm simultaneously as a totally separate being. This act and reality is unknown to any characters in Cara Neir's timeline.
This mysterious entity is introduced as The Curator on the first Gonemage album Mystical Extraction—she curates and tends to dream realms, peacefully as a sort of constant architect of people's and other beings’ dreams. There are others who have this ability, but are not divulged in Gonemage just yet. She bestows these powers and responsibilities to my character so that she can pursue pressing matters elsewhere, hinted on the track “Delirium” on Sudden Deluge, a chapter to be further unraveled in a future album.
Meanwhile, my character is adjusting to this ethereal state of being and already faced with an adversary known as Dust Merchant, an unscrupulous being who siphons souls from dreams or other realities and sells or barters them as dust in videogame cartridges. Without going too deep, that's the overarching premise thus far.
The fundamental inspiration behind it all is my fascination with dreams and exploring them in a fantasy or adventure setting. Certainly not a new subject in art or media, but perhaps my own spin on it with these colorful characters and tensions that unfold.
I’d watch a show set in this world, for sure. I’ll be waiting here when you get that big streaming franchise deal.
That would be absolutely incredible to see realized one day! Likely an animated version.
Do you find that you identify more strongly with the Cara Neir or Gonemage version of yourself? Which hews closer to the way you view yourself in our mundane fleshworld?
I would say I am leaning more to the Gonemage version of myself. More introspective, whimsical, seeking ways to create constantly. He does become more of a villain as time goes on, which isn’t me, but I wanted to paint a version of this character heading into that trajectory.
I guess more like between Freddy Krueger and the Cenobites in Hellraiser as he becomes this dream/nightmare demigod interacting with the dreams of other people, and even animals, as an orchestrator and trickster. The Cara Neir version is purely methodical, not whimsical, and hyper-focused with objectives and his abilities.
Going back to those guests—this record is overflowing with guest features. How did you go about orchestrating and arranging these collaborations? Did you have certain people already in mind when writing certain songs, or specific parts within those songs?
This step of the album was part of the post-songwriting stage, that evolutive stage, where I had the whole album done except for track 10. I had guests in mind, but had no idea where and how I wanted the guests implemented initially. It took a lot of listening to the album pre-guests, just thinking of parts that could be thickened with other vocal textures, or even taking the forefront in some cases while making my own vocal part a background element.
Conceptually tied to the album’s story, each guest could be seen as representing a part of my character’s “Pixel Summonings,” where he summons creatures (animals, humans, other beings like faeries) to act as companionship, adventure, and eventually mischief in this dream realm setting.
I would send each guest the general prompt of what I was looking for or just let them do their thing, and go from there in the mixing stage. Most of the guest vocals are a few words here or there, adding another vocal layer to the mix, and then some are full phrases.
How did you sort out who’d go where? Can you give an example of a moment where you thought, “Right, this part would be perfect for…”
That was a tricky challenge and more of an impulse across the board with almost all the harsh vocals from guests. It sort of ended up as a “first come, first served” in that whoever could get me their parts first would go into the sections I intended. That applied to maybe the first half of the guests—my initial mass reachout. Then I reached out to more after I’d received some contributions.
But a lot of these guest-intended sections overlap, so there's some parts where there's four or five vocalists all at once, including myself. One big example of that are the choruses on “Delirium,” namely the second chorus where it's myself, Abysmal Specter (Old Nick / Grimestone), Alec A. Head (Ghostbound), and R. Loren (Pyramids / The Sound of Animals Fighting / Rx Bandits / etc).
All of the guests who contributed clean vocals were deliberate, though. Essentially any part that's deemed a chorus, if I wanted clean vocals at the forefront or just blended in, I'd sort the clean vocal prompts there. R. Loren even included an embellishment with the use of a vocal counter-melody on the second choruses of tracks 6 and 7. Subtle, yet genius little idea that elevates those parts. Any part that he was in, I knew those parts would be perfect for him.
Another perfect moment, one of Abysmal Specter’s lines in “Delirium” is him doubling me on “gather round ye pixel human broth,” which is a turning point for my character’s turn to mischief and whimsical misadventure, so to speak. That vibe is something I perceive in Old Nick and thought it would be perfect for him to accentuate that line.
The closing track on the record is written and performed entirely by chiptune and synth artist Lunar Cult. How did that collaboration come together?
That’s correct. That song’s instrumentation is all by Lunar Cult. I added a choir-like layer of vocals to synthesize with his music as a subtle flavor of “this is essentially his song set in Gonemage’s world.” Stuart of Lunar Cult is an exception to the guest list, in that I knew from the beginning that I wanted an entirely synth-based album outro and wanted to give someone else an opportunity to be a part of the album with that role.
Similarly, this applied to the outro piece of track 8 with Winterquilt. I also intend to collaborate more with both artists in future Gonemage releases.
What was the process like for these two collaborations? The ends here clearly justify the means, but initially, how did it feel to essentially yield creative control to another artist for significant chunks of your record?
With Lunar Cult, I asked for a general feeling of melancholy with a specific tempo. I had sent the track “Delirium” to give context of what would precede his composition. With Winterquilt, it was initially an impulse with that specific part. I had recently become friends with him around the time Mystical Extraction came out, and I knew I wanted to work with him in some capacity.
He's a very busy musician, and when the idea for that short outro on “Pixel Expedition” came up, he was delighted and fortunately available to take part. Similarly, I asked for a general feeling—in this case, something grandiose yet concise like an old Final Fantasy victory song after a battle or achievement.
Overall, it felt pretty exciting to yield that creative control to both artists. It's not something I'm used to for a solo project, but this album felt like the right time to open that door.