The following is an in-depth interview with Milan, Italy-based death metal band COSMIC PUTREFACTION conducted in April/May of 2022 with maestro Gabriele Gramaglia. It was originally intended for a print-only zine project which has since been cancelled. This project had impressed me from the start, even if I’d had some small qualms with their first full-length, and the evolution of G.G.‘s craftmanship has been inspiring since. Since I’ve considered his latest record ‘Crepuscular Dirge For the Blessed Ones‘ as one of the best albums of 2022 and the artist is quite approachable I’d made sure to get in touch and dig into what the project is all about, how his approach has changed over time, and explore the influence of his study of composition at university upon his ideation of death metal. Huge thanks to the artist for the opportunity and for providing detailed and thoughtful answers here, it is one of the biggest highlights of the year for me thus far. As always do your best to support the elite death metal underground coming out of Europe these days and grab a physical copy from Profound Lore Records‘ Bandcamp and webstore.
G.B. — From what I’ve gathered thus far the concept for COSMIC PUTREFACTION was originally built around songs originally meant to be used in a collaborative project. Could we consider ‘At the Threshold of the Greatest Chasm’ a demo of sorts in hindsight? Or, a point where you’d been testing the waters with your own brand of death metal rather than having decided on a fully formed vision of the band?
G.G. — You’re well informed! Yea, more than a half of the material used in “At The Threshold…” was originally written for the supposed OAKEN/THRONE (my older and first band ever) debut album. We didn’t achieve much back in the days, just a couple of songs we recorded in a studio (The Inverno Studio in Alessandria, Piedmont) you can find on YouTube only under the name of “Doomsday” and “Storm” (lately renamed for COSMIC PUTREFACTION “The Acrimonious Darkness” and “The Ruinous Downfall”). Those songs were supposed to be on the debut album in fact, but what happened is that we couldn’t finish it, it’s a long story. We’re talking about 2012/2013.
Then, fast forward to 2018 where I decided to bring that material back to life, I brushed up all the OAKEN/THRONE songs I had ready, written a couple more – that were “The Herald Prophecy” and “The Ancient Demagogue”- and heavily rearranged Oaken/Throne’s “Storm” which as I previously stated became eventually “The Ruinous Downfall”, but instead of lasting 2:15 it lasted now 4:57, so yea its structure was developed a lot more. Plus in 2018 I wasn’t really ready and able to sing a complete record in death metal styled vocals, at least not the vocals I was looking forward, so Brendan Sloan of CCONVULSING fame offered his help to fulfil this duty. And that’s how COSMIC PUTREFACTION was born and, to better answer to your question, I think that the project was born due to a momentary outburst I guess, but it eventually become more serious and made me consequentially consider to channel my main efforts there instead of in THE CLEARING PATH, that was my main project back then.
If we can go back to 2018-2019 and the circumstance surrounding that first album, THE CLEARING PATH had been well-noted prior and you were I believe entering work on your second degree in composition? You’ve recently completed that degree, having shared the impressive Arcturian Maelstrom Suite as your final thesis/project, and I am curious as to how the process of learning and creating for your degree informed your writing and process for COSMIC PUTREFACTION as the band grew.
First of all thanks for complimenting for the suite! Of course my course of studies has influenced me a lot at the point that when I listen again to the stuff I’ve done throughout the years I am kinda able to recognize what I was dealing with at school meanwhile I was writing that precise stuff, for example there are passages that make me think “ok I did it that way because my orchestration teacher hadn’t show me that thing yet” or like “that part has a naïve arrangement because I hadn’t figured out how to deal with such a voicing”. I mean I would say that taking a look to some classical scores would be useful for everyone, regardless the genre, mostly in terms of structure (which is the macro-horizontal way of our brain to elaborate musical material) and voicing /harmony (which is the vertical thing instead). Even if some ways to interpret some extreme genres could have a more minimalistic approach being more power chords based, structures are always important, since no matter how good a riff is if it’s put in the wrong place.
Of course those are kinds of knowledge that you can also master through experience, that’s why there are great musicians in our field that wrote memorable albums despite being self taught. But I’d say in my own case studying such things along with more classical trained professors had helped me a lot and I will never forget my course of studies, especially my orchestration and composition teachers. I owe them a lot and I salute them.
At this point I figure you’ve learned quite a lot about putting together records from the ground up through experience, but I figured you’d have gone into sound design if music production/recording was the ultimate goal. What was the major goal in mind when you’d chosen to focus your studies on composition with an audio/visual component?
To be honest more than the sound design I’m interested in the music for film field, which is by the way quite inaccessible, and video game music eventually, that seems to be instead a bit more open in terms of opportunity and also experimentation. There’s a notable great black metal artist (that I won’t mention because I don’t know if what I’m going to say is a secret), that happen to be an award winning video game composer.
And by the way, since I also did a year course for audio engineers and audio technicians prior to my composition studies and I’ve been involved in some bands productions (mixes, masters, recordings, stuff like that), my goal would be to integrate those acquired composition/ arrangement abilities into the idea of having my own production studio and see what I can achieve in all those different fields and possibilities. It’s a very difficult purpose especially in Italy, a leap of faith, but I’m gonna give myself a relatively restrained amount of time to try, at least.
I have this picture in my mind of you putting these two most recent records together with a very deliberate path mapped out in elaborate notation but the result isn’t stuffy, you know, there is an artist’s touch and the taste of a death metal fan behind it. When you are in the midst of writing, or, composing a piece for COSMIC PUTREFACTION where does your process begin? Is it all that different from creating an scholarly, or studies-related piece?
Oh, definitely this is a very difficult question to answer. I would say that the scholarly related pieces are part of a very broad category, at school we’ve worked from emerging film-makers to completely different commissioners but yea, the key word is in fact “commission”. An exception is made by the track you mentioned previously “Arcturian Maelstrom”, that is in fact a track that took me ages to be written and despite some compromises -because yeah, it always happened to be created among my school’s wall and for school purposes, as it was part of my degree’s project- I did it the way I wanted, more or less.
Anyway, when you work in order to satisfy an external commissioner, of course you have to accept the idea of compromise first. So the product would be obviously more satisfying and interesting if the chemistry between you and the client is very high, if you can read his mind and understand his purposes, but also if his purposes are to make a work of art or just a hodgepodge of messed up ideas of course influences the final result. But besides the compromise thing, another thing that many aren’t aware of is time. Even the great ones during the writing processes for film and such, had a ridiculously short amount of time to come out with their masterpieces. There’s no room for “today I’m not inspired”, in certain cases you have to come out with themes and ideas in a blink of an eye and while you may think this process is an art killer, in a certain way it’s actually very educational and enlightening.
After all we all have the idea that art in general has to decant like good wine to be great, but think for a moment of the greatest composers of the past, or they had wealthy patrons behind or they had to write a huge amount of material for different commissioners, like Bach for example. Of course not everything he wrote was quintessential (well, a lot of his material actually is ahah), but remember for a second the Well Tempered Clavier for example and how many masterpieces it contained. Those books were basically written for teaching purposes!
Anyway, back to my discourse, the process of coming out with musical ideas fast that somehow school brought to me, has influenced my in my external project as well, even though of course on my own I would have time to let the material decant, no one is pointing a gun to my head to have the material ready, mixed and good sounding for the day after ahah. But somehow it taught me to be more instinctive if an idea sounds good to me, I try to develop and arranging it right the second after I find it interesting, instead of goofing off many hours around the riff ad infinitum risking to lose the focus. And I think once you’ve focused the goal, which in my case can be the mood or the idea I’m trying to follow with the music, the riffs more or less will come. It’s all about being honest to yourself and concentrated, in my opinion.
Back in 2020 I’d commented that “Utterance of the Fall of Man” was potentially a glimpse of where you’d take this band’s sound in the future but perhaps I’d underestimated how much further you could go. You haven’t simply added detail to the heavy sound of ‘The Horizons Towards Which Splendour Withers’ but created something new, and vast in its experience. Did you walk away from these sessions feeling like you’d built upon, or even surpassed what you’d thought was possible with COSMIC PUTREFACTION?
I think that this isn’t a question I can answer objectively, but I’m glad that you think this way. All I can say is that for sure I focused my efforts a lot on having the “evocative” elements of the “Horizons…” very present and even boosted without losing pace and ferociousness where required. I think it was very challenging again to have riffs in the sauce of death metal and atmospheres together, that’s because the nature of a riff, which is per definition most likely a melodic phrase (in the sense that it has to be read horizontally, even if occasionally you can find chords in riffs), and to be interesting (in my opinion) you have to – consciously or not – switch scales frequently or think of it very often in chromatic/atonal way. So yeah, atmospheres, in the way we think of them, are often pads or any kind of harmonic “auras” extending themselves for a certain amount of time (so there’s both a horizontal and a vertical thought), and I try to think of them the more layered possible (so at least triadic harmonies, most likely), therefore when I want an atmospheric part layering upon a riffy section, the challenge is to let them coincide preventing one colliding with the other. So sometimes I have to adjust them a bit to make them fit yeah and in this kind of process my music school years have helped me a lot, they broadened my vision a bit.
That’s why – generally speaking – black metal is most likely more akin to be atmospheric than death metal (in terms of writing, of course you can make anything “atmospheric” just adding tons of reverb on it, but this is not a matter of songwriting), because it tends to be more focused in tremolo picking chords or arpeggios, so riffs consist way more of harmonic regions themselves that in a way already create “atmospheres”. So it’s a bit easier to strengthen those atmospheres with wider arrangements etc.
Anyway, of course all these speeches have something to do with the more technical sides and aspects. The more “visceral” aspects of “Crepuscular…” have something to do with my idea of continuing on “The Horizons…” path, even narratively, and I wanted to make an album that sounded aggressive, but even a lot melancholic and that emerges I think especially on the last two tracks, where I wanted to fully express a veil of sadness and nostalgia upon the extreme metal substratum.
I hear elements of brutal death, extreme doom, progressive metal, and plenty more factoring into this new album with perhaps your most inspired display of what I’d call meaningfully applied density. As these pieces where shaping up were you concerned that the experience would be as brutally stimulating as it is? Or is this moreso exactly what you’d envisioned? The “attack” of the album is refreshingly intense.
Thank you very much for your words. I have to say this album is, in my discography, the one that I would define more complete as a result, at least in comparison with what the vision I had for it was in the beginning. I wanted it to sound eclectic, trying at the same time to focus my efforts on having it as much organic as possible and keeping in mind it had to be an extreme metal record, despite the melancholy and the other different shades and sprinkles you described as well. Even the production I have to say that satisfies me, I consider lucky that I’ve made certain choices instead of others. And also, consider that at first I consider myself lucky at all that I eventually made it to finish it! My main mixing project got corrupted and from a certain point I could no more record anything on it. Even opening the main project was almost impossible from a certain point, I had to record some things in separated projects, and some things even by my phone. I interrogated very prepared people on many fields about the crashlogs I got (sound engineers, computer scientists, assistance, etc) and no one could actually figure out what was the source of the failure. My hands are sweating even now, thinking about it again. So yea, only god knows what I did in the mixing process, since it almost cannot be open again and certainly I won’t do it ahah.
Be they books, musical artists, composers, film, etc. did you have any number of muses in mind when writing ‘Crepuscular Dirge for the Blessed Ones’?
To be honest being a lot busy with music, I’ve spent lots of my recent years reading very little and for sure a lot less than I should and would have liked to. Shame on me. But I always say that somehow in my own stuff in general my favorite Florentine madman Dante Alighieri is my H.P. Lovecraft (I know that some readers would have thought of Pacciani in the first place ahah). Other than that there are not really specific inspirations… I can say I’m really bounded to mountains hiking (nothing too hardcore, I’m not an alpinist of course) and to Alps and Prealps in general (two mountain chains layering in my own region), so that kind of nature gives me certain vibes that I take me somewhere else or that adds colours to my storytelling.
Would you consider yourself a perfectionist or, perhaps an particularly ambitious person when it comes to art and creation? I can tell you have a laid back side of course, but do you have a pre-set point of “Good enough” in mind when creating music? When do you feel enough is enough and a song is ready?
I do, but in a certain way the point of “good enough” to me is now even more tricky I’d say when regarding the production aspects, so choosing the guitar sound, which synths, mix and mastering processes, etc. Again, at a certain moment of my life I kinda decided that a riff is good enough when it’s functional and it serves the purpose where it’s collocated, more than obsessively looking for “the perfect riff” (as if it existed…). I mean structures themselves are almost more important than riffs in some cases, to make a song exciting and not boring.
Of course in many instances, when the structures are done and riffs are placed correctly, I can go back to some of them if I’m not 100% convinced of the note sequence or the chords I used but it’s usually details. The only example I have in mind now where I completely changed a section when the song was supposed to be done, is in the title-track of VERTEBRA ATLANTIS’ debut (and I’m very glad that I did it), but it happens very rarely. In the upcoming COSMIC PUTREFACTION I had a very ambitious idea regarding the finale of track “Twisting Spirals in the Murk” that I think was cool per se, but it really didn’t work with the rest of the song. So what was more functional won the ballot and I ultimately went for it. That doesn’t mean that the idea has been thrown in the trash bin, it could be used in future even for different outputs.
I think another exception is made by those sections that for their purpose mean to be more “epic” sounding, like the ending of VERTEBRA ATLANTIS’ “Altopiano Celeste” or the ending of “Crepuscular Dirge…” ’s title-track. Averagely I spend more time on those parts and then, like an architect would do more or less, I would retroactively build the rest of the song to arrive there, so it’s like those sections are the highlights that have to resonate in a brain longer, while the rest of the song’s previous riffs may have more a structural or climatic purpose to get there.
Is ‘Crepuscular Dirge for the Blessed Ones’ a concept album? I’d gotten the sense that this record builds upon the narrative of ‘The Horizons Towards Which Splendour Withers’ considerably, and the incredible celestial atmosphere found on some of the later tracks (“Cradle Wrecked, Curtains Unfurled”) hint at an even more surreal and dark turn in the lyrics. Where did you intend to take the listener in terms of meaning, or, place/setting? Is there a larger parable held within these records?
Yes, I consider both “The Horizons…” and “Crepuscular…” two concept albums where “Crepuscular…” is “The Horizons…” very direct follow-up, in terms of storytelling. I intend to take the listener right in those places that are painted in the artworks: “The Horizons…” takes place in a dying planet where an abandoned soul wanders in search of solace chasing those horizons in the act of darkening and every song describes metaphorically the palette of dreams, feelings and emotions which happen while trying to reach them. The chase though, resembles the concept utopia described by Eduardo Galeano, where you make a step towards the horizon and the horizon moves a step away; you make two steps towards the horizon and the horizon moves two steps away, etc.
“Crepuscular…” takes place exactly where the voyage got interrupted: understood that there’s no solace in chasing those horizons, our lonely soul finds out a hole towards the underworlds which actually brings him in an apparently quieter and hopeful shelter consisting of endless tunnels and warm thermal waters. Through these tunnels though, he reaches a very arcane room built among the caverns, inhabited by an old mystic (this is the scene depicted in the artwork) where a giant mullioned window shows the view of the above where we witness a breathtaking yet very sorrowful scene: The angels are irremediably falling down from the empyrean of the blessed.
So this is the Dantesque touch in the concept; though, I overturned his paradigm, in the sense that the above is placed in the bottom of the below (which at least apparently doesn’t even look like the damned inferno) of and of course adding a more sinister twist in the end.
In listening through most of your releases to date I was impressed that some share a certain sense of arrangement or flow of ideas but each has its own separate intent, performative phrasing and/or voice. Turris Eburnea, for example had an entirely different vibe than Vertebra Atlantis (which I’d surely underrated in retrospect) even if one could likely tell you’d had some involvement in each. Do you have any particular methods for separating the voice of one project from another? Is COSMIC PUTREFACTION gaining ground as your premiere vehicle for your own personal ambitions and style?
Good questions. So, to briefly answer to the first one, I’d say that in COSMIC PUTREFACTION death metal elements are prevalent and the other ingredients (black metal, progressive, ambiances, etc) are mostly sprinkled; vice versa in VERTEBRA ATLANTIS black metal and ambiances prevail in the songwriting, while TURRIS EBURNEA was originally meant to be more oriented to the “experimental” or “progressive” sides of death and tech-death (there Nick McMaster influences are very crucial as well). Until now I think that – at least in my mind – the separation is very clear, despite for sure some passages could be used indistinctly, after all I’m always present in all those project.
To answer the second question I would not say that, in fact me and Riccardo are already working on new VERTEBRA ATLANTIS material, so I think I can consider VERTEBRA ATLANTIS in the same level. TURRIS EBURNEA I would say is equally important to me, but of course logistically is more difficult because while Cosmic is my own thing and Vertebra allows to us to see each others very often since we live close by, Nick lives in New York (so very different time zones as well) and he’s very busy with KRALLICE and his other outputs, so it’s more difficult to know what the future holds for us, but we’ll see!
Was this the first time you’d worked with G. Galati? I still find ‘Cobra Verde’ from Hideous Divinity one of the more memorable watermarks from that year due to his drumming. Do you tend to use a program like EZDrummer to represent your overall composition before sending it in? Did you approach with extensive notes or was a lot of the finesse of the performance up to him?
So, I’ve known Galati for 3 years because 3 years ago I was supposed to join the band NERO DI MARTE in substitution of Francesco that was leaving the project back then, so I came to Bologna (now they all moved in Rome) and jammed with Sean and Giulio some times and we became great friends. I eventually didn’t join the band despite there was definitely chemistry and it could have been potentially a life changing experience, because I don’t like to be on the road very much honestly (another reason why I don’t play live shows anymore) and I would have clipped their wings the very moment when they were about to take to the skies (this summer they’re gonna play Hellfest and many others) but our friendship still remained strong.
Then, fast forward to “Crepuscular Dirge…”. Actually the album wasn’t originally meant to have real drums on it, it was ready with my usual drums programming (which is a veeeery long process eheh, it starts from Guitar Pro 5…) and I was kinda getting used to them. But eventually Chris Bruni (Profound Lore leader) pushed me in the direction of recording real drums, providing me the budget to pay an eventual session drummer and Giulio Galati immediately came in my mind because I was sure he would have nailed them. Though, I had my own drums very crystallised in my brain, so I asked Giulio to keep those tracks and to follow my lines 85/90% with some creativity freedom in fills and cymbal works here and there.
So he had my guiding tracks to study and when he was ready he entered his own studio with Alessio Cattaneo (current NERO DI MARTE guitarist, who for instance already played with Giulio in the band Onryo as well) as a sound guy (they live in Rome which is quite far from Milan) and recorded all the tracks in 3 days and then we kept the 4th day to eventually re-record something. He did an unbelievable work initially already, but we used the 4th day the same because as I mentioned previously I was very used to my own programmed drums that I was feeling some parts needed to resemble them a bit more. But in the end I can say his touch, his fills, his cymbal work gave the whole album a completely different vibe that I love, so I have to thank Chris for convincing me and Giulio for the great work. Ah, and there’s really very little drum editing in it, so what you hear it’s basically what he played, imagine how awesome is that guy!
What is the best way that fans can support COSMIC PUTREFACTION?
To be honest I don’t really know if there’s a better way to support me compared to what’s already currently happening. When I started my own journey I could never hope or believe to receive this amount of support or warmth related to any project I could create and develop. I can only say thank you all very much.
Thank you for your time.
Likewise, it’s been a pleasure. And keep it up with your website and in-depth reviews and interviews! Cheers.
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