- Words by Faye Coulman
US doom metallers Pulchra Morte discuss making of pivotal second album ‘Ex Rosa Ceremonia’
Forging music out of the darkest, most unspeakably tortured and broken parts of ourselves has long been something of an occupational hazard in extreme metal circles. Aside from the obviously messy business of spilling one’s proverbial guts to hundreds upon thousands of literal strangers spanning all corners of the globe, there’s always the naggingly persistent doubt that maybe, just maybe, your music will somehow spectacularly fail to move and resonate with other human beings. That the private universe of existential torment raging in your own head will barely register as so much as a ripple of half-distracted interest in the track-hopping, chronically impatient mind of the average modern music consumer. And in a world laden down with tidily compartmentalising trends and genres, the act of loudly and fearlessly asserting one’s artistic identity certainly requires no small amount of metaphorical cojones. But with a richly nostalgic sound whose every ghoulishly elongated line of distortion and vocal cord-shredding howl audibly reverberates with emotion of the most intensely harrowing character imaginable, it seems American doom metallers Pulchra Morte are more than up to the challenge…
“It's a perfect representation of where we are mentally and spiritually right now, but there's also a bit of fear about that, right? I mean, is anybody actually going to give a shit about this?” reflects Pulchra Morte sticksman Clayton Gore on the groundbreaking yet evidently anxious run-up to the unleashing of the US doomsters’ second anticipated long-player, ‘Ex Rosa Ceremonia’. Established back in 2017 out of a line-up numbering players sourced from such prestigious names as Skeletonwitch, Eulogy and Abigail Williams, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the principles of sheer, uncompromising extremity would likely be the foremost priority fuelling this exceptionally talented circle of musicians. Yet, while there’s no shortage of delectably pulverising aggression to be found within the densely muscled, ink-black contortions and raggedly visceral screams that richly abide here, it’s clear that this is but one facet in an altogether more complex and darkly intriguing musical vision. Specifically, reports Clayton, it all began with a desire to rekindle the eerily entrancing majesty of that very particular strain of early ’90s doom that Yorkshire genre legends Paradise Lost were famously instrumental in the making of.
“I’m not sure what it was exactly, I don't think it's something you can necessarily just put your finger on,” the drummer muses. “There was just something about the way that it all came across, particularly on ‘Gothic’. It was something that kind of came under the radar, back when a lot of people were paying attention to that Tampa death metal, Deicide kind of sound, and didn't really have a whole lot of interest in that. But me and lots of my friends were going around waving the Paradise Lost flag, like, no, no, you guys are missing the fucking boat here, ‘Gothic’ is amazing and it was on endless play at our house, for sure. And just that idea of creating songs that have a feeling that's not just necessarily aggression, but something deeper and more melodic, but still very heavy and brutal, and not overly technical either. And that era just seemed to kind of come and go with a couple of albums and then people were kind of moving on to faster stuff, and black metal was really on the rise too. In fact, Paradise Lost themselves also kind of abandoned that sound too, until just a few years ago when they kind of came back and it was really heavy again. So it just kind of felt like, hey, you know, there was something there, there was a lot of feeling. Personally, I felt like I'd kind of done the death metal thing already with Jarett [Pritchard, guitars] in Eulogy and that I’d said everything I wanted to say there. But I’d never really played this kind of music before, so it was a personal challenge to see if I can kind of slow it down, pull it back a little bit and create something that's got some weight and feeling behind it. And I used the idea of that early Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride kind of sound as an influence.”
Having made an exceptionally accomplished studio debut with 2019’s ‘Divina Autem Et Aniles’, the US collective’s richly nostalgic early melding of skull-splitting heaviness and ghoulishly immersive atmosphere was impressively quick to beguile listeners and critics from all corners of the extreme metal spectrum. But for all this deliciously sinister vintage charm, the need to establish a sound of their own inimitable design fast became an increasingly pressing priority as Gore and co. set about crafting a sonic identity forged from the most unflinchingly soul-baring content imaginable. Indeed, from the earliest outset of the creative process, it was abundantly clear that the anticipated follow-up to ‘Divina…’ was destined to be so much more than just a misty-eyed homage to the old gods of the genre.
“We were like, okay, we've established that we have given a nod to this era of music on the first record. Now we want to stretch our legs a little more, and give you more of a glimpse into what we sound like,” long-time bandmate and guitarist Jarrett Pritchard explains. “Not that we didn't sound like us on the first record, but the first record is a very much a respectful nod to an earlier era of music. And I think that one of the main concepts going into this one was, you know, we're going to take this a little further now. Now we want you to see a little more who exactly we are, as far as the subject matter and content for the record is concerned. I've worked Adam [Clemens, frontman] on many other projects, so I kind of know what to expect from him and I've always really liked his writing. I didn't know what he was going to write, but I knew we’d be roughly on the same page with everything. It's interesting, because as you're producing a record, one thing sort of feeds the other: the song feeds a vocalist, what they're going to sing, and then you hear what the vocalist is singing, then it comes back to the producer that may, for instance, add an effect or an outro or an intro to it. So it's kind of this revolving circular creative thing that's constantly feeding off of each other until the end, and then you look at it and you go, oh wow, there’s a common thread here and there's a concept, but it's not necessarily the one that you started with. It kind of appears as you do the work.”
Among the tantalising smattering of singles debuted ahead of the record’s release earlier last month, there’s no disputing that the sonically crushing yet intricately crafted ‘The Archer & The Noose’ makes for one of the most uniquely characterful compositions Pulchre Morte have ever accomplished. With a musty, sepulchral whiff of My Dying Bride emanating from its densely churning layerings of darkly abrasive bass groove, it’s with gracefully unhurried poise and pacing that its respective strains of elegantly entwined guitars weave intricate yarns of harrowing melancholia. In short, this is a composition that demands the listener’s full and undivided attention, carefully hand-picked on the merits of its unique design and stirringly evocative depth, rather than on the more typical criteria of easy, listener-friendly accessibility. Commercially speaking, something of a gamble, for sure, but one that was, as Clayton attests, carefully calculated from the get-go.
“It's tough when you're when you're sitting with a collection of songs that were put together to be consumed as a complete album and suddenly you have to pick a single to share and tease which is always a tough decision. So we shared a pre-production of ‘Knife of the Will’ back in February, just to let people know that, hey, we're still here, and here's a taste of where the new album is going. But, you know, ‘Archer…’ is something that is probably the most different song on the record from the first album, and there's just something about it. When it all came together in the final mix, and we were listening to it, it’s the kind of song that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up as it slowly builds to that crescendo. There’s something about it that I really love.”
Indeed, while it’s easy to get caught up in the petty trivialities of genre trope and popular trend, Pulchra Morte are one of those rare breeds of artist whose open and fluidly instinctive approach to the creative process defies any such contrived attempts to tidily compartmentalise their sound. Belonging to the unique conditions of the very particular space and time in which it was originally created, such timelessly authentic art has the power to transcend era and genre, endure decades, sometimes even centuries, its ageless vibrations echoing forever in the hearts and minds of those keenly attuned to its darkly entrancing eternal spell. And it’s this free and uncompromising spirit of self-expression that continues to prove a vitally enabling factor in fuelling the boundlessly creative entity that goes by the name of Pulchra Morte.
“That's how I feel about it too,” Jarrett agrees. “I have this whole idea that like, you're sitting in your bedroom or wherever you're at and you write up a piece of music, or you get together with your friends and write a piece of music. And, you know, you're feeling something at the time, and then whatever you're feeling translates into the music. And then that music is a tangible thing that can vibrate the air, and then another person could be across the room, they could hear those vibrations, and those same vibrations make them feel something. So in a particular way, it's a transfer of emotion from one place to another, an unspeakable language. It's something intangible that you make tangible, so that you can give it to someone else. And then they receive it, and it makes them have a feeling. It may not be the exact same feeling that you had from when you wrote it, but it's still almost like a telepathic movement of emotions with music being the vehicle. Personally, I think that's fantastic. I think that's a really cool thing.”
'Ex Rosa Ceremonia' is out now via Transcending Records