Kosmogyr and Putrescine Strike an Unusual, Resonant Chord on New Split (Premiere + Interview)
Artists working with the tools of death metal and black metal are in the process of a colossal act of fusion. In each genre, musicians are grafting elements of old-school '90s releases onto sections of progressive, contemporary metal. It's evident in everything from recent death metal filth to new black metal missives — however, black and death metal artists have hardly moved closer through this process. It's rare to see death metal actually share the bill with atmospheric black metal, and it's even rarer that it works.
Putrescine and Kosmogyr have pulled off this yin-yang combo on Desolate Tides, a split that's roughly one half gnarly, proggy death metal and one half ecstatic black metal. Putrescine's half opens the record. The San Diego five-piece strike a balance between the ferocity of gory mid-90s death metal and the more technical sensibilities of the turn of the Millennium, draping everything in a warm production that balances each instrument beneath Marie McAuliffe's versatile vocal performance. "Seeing the Unknown" sees her howls ricochet off of metal walls amid the oppressive buzzing of guitars. The track's bassline adds a warm, oozing quality to the melange bolstered by guitarist Trevor Van Hook's deep growl. Taken on its own, this would be an exciting death metal EP.
Then, we get to Kosmogyr's "Eschaton," a galloping black metal opus spanning seven and a half minutes. Major chords and propulsive drums guide both "Eschaton" and closer "Rise Towards God," while middle track "Ring" is a much more frenetic track that shapeshifts along at an almost thrash tempo. If Putrescine managed to marshall a decade's worth of death metal to assemble the split's blistering first half, Kosmogyr have turned their portion of Desolate Tides into a dense layer cake of black metal textures.
So, what unites these two halves? In brief: video games. Members of both groups shared a love of the so-called Soulsborne or "Soulslike" vein of immersive action RPGs. In this instance, Putrescine could be seen as the Bloodborne half of the record, with its more visceral, corporeal palette, while Kosmogyr is an epic Dark Souls quest. Both halves of Desolate Tides wander through moldering realms on their way to epic vistas, though they approach their subject matter from obviously very different vantage points.
On first listen, the transition between halves is a bit jarring. However, I know few metalheads still so petty as to restrict themselves to one genre — this split is essentially a twofer of Soulsborne metal by turns claustrophobic and expansive, and it is rewarding for fans of either old-school death metal, atmospheric black metal, or both. Stream Desolate Tides ahead of its September 23 release below, and read on for an interview with Kosmogyr's Xander Cheng and Ivan Belcic and Putrescine's Van Hook further down.
This record is something of an exercise in contrasts. What brought these two seemingly very different halves together for the split?
Ivan Belcic (Kosmogyr): There’d been a Twitter thread about metal bands plumbing the Soulsborne series, something like that, maybe connected to something Astral Noize had run about it, and both Trevor [Van Hook] from Putrescine and I were active in it.
We’d both drawn on Bloodborne for previous work, and if I remember right, it was Trevor who suggested that we collab on a split covering the Old Hunters DLC. I was already a big Putrescine fan at the time and so loved the suggestion that we work together on something.
Cross-genre splits, and cross-genre bills, are something people often seem somewhat hesitant to pursue, and I think that shortsightedness can rob you of very fulfilling creative opportunities. Artists can connect over so much more than the physical shape of their art when their heads are in similar places behind it.
Also, it’s always a good feeling when you can be a genuine fan of your friend’s art, and an even better one when you get to create some with them.
Trevor Van Hook (Putrescine): We came together from an interest in approaching one theme from our own perspectives, but in hearing the complete product it became clear that even with our different styles we have a similar approach in creating music that can build an atmosphere and tell the story we want to tell.
What was the process of creating these songs? Were both bands writing specifically for this split?
Van Hook: For our half, we started writing almost immediately after finishing the full-length. When we decided on the theme for the split, these songs seemed like a perfect fit for the material. The orchestral breaks were added with the overall split in mind to bring the three songs together in a cohesive side.
Belcic: We used this split as a real kick in the pants in terms of getting new material down. Our last record dropped in 2018, and while we’d done some writing since then, COVID really bogged us down. Having something to write for, and other people depending on us to do it without dragging ass, was just the motivation we needed to get these songs out.
I purposely didn’t want either of our bands to share our work with each other until both sides were 100% finished. It was a creative experiment in that way — with nothing more than a shared creative prompt, would the output feel cohesive? While it’s not for me to answer that question, I truly believe we’ve created something that feels like a holistic album.
Xander Cheng (Kosmogyr): I write guitars and Ivan rearranges the songwriting to accommodate the vocals if necessary, then we add bass and drums. Ivan is a professional singer and drummer, so it’s very easy to work with each other.
Some songs were finished before the idea of this split came along but [they] didn’t have lyrics yet. I was going to put those on the next full-length album because I felt superb about those songs, but I couldn’t come up with more good stuff during these recent years, so we decided to release them in this split. We wrote one more song after the decision to complete the set.
Putrescine is among a number of acts drawing on Dark Souls and other eclectic influences outside of music. How do these non-metal ideas show up on your half of this split?
Van Hook: Ivan and I talking about the Bloodborne DLC is what got this split started, so it’s the basis for the lyrics. The music was also chosen for its atmosphere and how well we felt it complimented the subject matter. I love how Kosmogyr captured the more sorrowful aspects of the subject, while our side is focused on the more brutal, visceral aspects.
Belcic: Having both played through Bloodborne, Trevor and I split the content of the DLC between us so that each band would be writing about three pillars of the storyline — characters, areas, story beats, things like that. Naturally there were certain pieces that resonated more strongly with us than others, and it was pretty easy to sort out who’d cover what.
Our song “The Wane” from Eviternity and Putrescine’s track “The Accursed Ones” from this split actually cover the same character, and so it was such a thrill to see Putrescine’s take on someone we’d previously written about ourselves.
Kosmogyr, meanwhile, is about as international of a project as you can get — how do you share musical ideas, and how did you and the members of Putrescine communicate over the gestation of this split?
Belcic: Xander and I write everything in MIDI. We’ll chat about where we want things to go, and a song will usually begin with a collection of riffs that he’ll create in Guitar Pro and send my way.
I’ll then arrange them in what feels like a fitting song structure, and then we’ll look at it, see what’s missing, what it needs, and add and tweak bits until we’ve arrived at what feels like a solid song. Once that’s set, I’ll program the drums and get working on lyrics while he records all the guitars.
For the split, though Trevor and I chat often, we avoided sharing any insights into what our respective bands were cooking up. We didn’t want to affect what the other band was doing — rather, we trusted each other to deliver killer material, and as far as how their end turned out, that trust was very well-placed. I think these are Putrescine’s best songs yet, and I’m thrilled that they’re bundled alongside some of ours.
Cheng: We actually share a common set of musical ideas so there’s no need to communicate a lot. Ivan shares the music he likes with me because I barely listen to any black metal. But since the project started with a great friendship in Shanghai, we’ve got each other’s back.
What are both bands' plans for presenting this project live, if any? Especially with collaborative projects with just a couple of members, playing live can be a challenge.
Van Hook: We’ve never talked about performing together; I’m pretty sure that’s not in the works for Kosmogyr, but if they ever get a full live band going, we would love to play together.
Belcic: That’d be the dream! But for now and the foreseeable future, unless something wild comes our way, we’re going to be online-only.
Cheng: It’s quite impossible for Kosmogyr to play live for now. We have been both veterans of the Shanghai metal scene, but a band requires more members than us two, and Kosmogyr’s music is more fun to listen to with headphones instead of in a livehouse. You need to lay down your head and close your eyes to let your mind fly while the notes are ringing through your head.
With scandals surrounding some bigger acts and politics continually resurfacing, especially in black metal, how do political considerations play into your work, if at all?
Belcic: One of my favorite parts about exploring Bloodborne for our music so far — and only so far, new stuff will finally branch off! — is how open it is to interpretation. We’re not writing about a video game so much as taking the themes and characters of that game and using them to explore other issues that, at times, are explicit in the game, but at others are more allegorical. Or maybe not really present at all, outside my own interpretation.
Our songs on Desolate Tides cover real-world issues including colonialism, state control over information access, state-sponsored violence, and the classist exploitation of others for personal gain.
I’ll be loud and explicit online and in conversation, but I’ve never approached lyrics that way. Maybe it’s time to start.
Cheng: Our music isn’t overtly political, but neither were our previous bands. Us supporting good faith and kindness doesn’t mean we are not metal enough. Black metal is a spiritual journey rather than an encouragement to embrace the darkness and be enslaved by evil.
Van Hook: For us, politics shape how we see the world and how we approach art. Producing music isn’t a political act in and of itself but exists in a political context. On one level, we do want a more inclusive music scene where marginalized people can create art, but beyond that, we hope that we can encourage people to become more engaged outside of music.
What are both acts working on next? Do you plan to reunite for more splits, or are there other things coming down the road for either band?
Van Hook: We have our split with Adzes coming out the same day as this one, and after that, it’s time to work on our next full-length.
Belcic: We’re not the fastest when it comes to songwriting, but we do have some irons in the fire for what we’re envisioning as Album No. 2. I’m working on new music with a couple other bands outside of metal, and I’m fortunate to have had several musicians I respect invite me to contribute vocal features. And, of course, we’d always love to team up with Putrescine again.
Cheng: Though Ivan is never pushing me for another full-length album, I feel obligated to do so because there’s no way we can let such a good project go to waste. But after all, I need to come up with top-quality phrases and themes first. I refuse to release any mediocre stuff. Ivan is fully supporting me, so I’m grateful [for that].
Disclaimer: IO writer Ivan Belcic is a member of Kosmogyr and interviewed here.