Interview: Pulchra Morte
We all came together because we share common interests and all feel like there just aren’t many bands doing this type of music that we want to hear more of, that there is a hole in the metal landscape we’d like to fill.
The new Pulchra Morte album Ex Rosa Ceremonia is a great melding of death, doom and black metal with a nonstop barrage of riffs and primal grooves. Gavin Brown caught up with Pulchra Morte drummer Clayton Gore to talk about the album and the making of it as well as the stunning artwork that adorns the cover and other subjects including the Serpents Choir, the history of Pulchra Morte and essential doom, black and death metal albums.
E&D: Your new album Ex Rosa Ceremonia is out now. How did the creation and recording of the album go?
Clayton: We started writing Ex Rosa Ceremonia before our first album was released. Jeff is the primary idea generator, and he’s a riff machine. Then I take a swipe at the idea, maybe moving some things around, changing tempos, etc., and send to Jarrett, who further expands on the idea, and sends it back. We go in that circle until we’re all happy with the result. Then of course Adam and John layer their parts over it. We are constantly moving forward, writing and recording new stuff. We started tracking the new album in September of 2019, right after Full Terror Assault fest. We got the drums and guitars done, then started bass and vocals in January. We were continuing to record through spring, adding things like cello and our frequent collaborator Heather Dykstra, while Jarrett toiled away at a proper mix. It’s a process, but like I said, we are always working. It is enjoyable.
E&D: The track ‘The Serpent’s Choir’ opens up the album. Did you always intend to open up the album with such a vast and powerful track?
Clayton: While we had given some thought to album track order throughout the process, we really wanted to wait until we heard final versions of all the songs before finalizing album order. The songs need to piece together in a certain way to tell a complete story. We strive to ensure that listening to the complete album is a journey and tells a story from beginning to end. As it worked out, ‘The Serpent’s Choir’ was the proper way to begin this particular story.
E&D: A song like ‘In The Mourning Light’ on par expands the heaviness that the band are renowned for in terms of atmosphere. Was that always your intention with the new material?
Clayton: We don’t really put any kind of guard rails or restrictions on our writing. It’s a very positive, creative process for us. We write what we are feeling without thought about whether or not it is like our previous material, if it’s an expansion or growth, etc. We have certain internal criteria for what makes a good song, and are very adamant about that, but as long as it’s a good idea, we will explore where it’s going. Some songs are heavy, some are more epic and atmospheric, but we kind of let the song tell us where it wants to go.
E&D: What has been the biggest influence on Ex Rosa Ceremonia?
Clayton: We all listen to a wide variety of music, but we don’t consciously say, “This album should sound like this other thing,” or anything like that. I think we’ve made it very clear over the years that our foundation is in late ’80’s – early ’90’s “death/doom” metal in terms of weight, atmosphere, feeling, and tempo, but as far as actual song or riff content, again, we just write what we are feeling in the moment and let it lead us through a story.
E&D: What does the album’s title refer to?
Clayton: We don’t really like to over-explain what we’re about. We present enough material for the listener to analyze and come to their own conclusions and interpretations. I will say, though, that we encourage a great push-back on the contrived de-intellectualization of our societies. The current obsession with technology and living in a two-dimensional world isn’t sustainable or the way forward. It just isn’t reality. People seem to be accepting what they are told and shown versus questioning and experiencing what they actually see in their world. There have been times throughout history where esoteric spiritual and/or cultural movements pushed (or dragged, kicking and screaming) humanity forward, and that’s something we’d love to see again.
E&D: Can you tell us about the vivid cover artwork for the album?
Clayton: Sure. As we started exploring ideas for what our cover should be, one of the artists that came up was LGRDMN / Brian Sheehan, who Adam had worked with before. Upon chatting with Brian about what he’s doing and has done recently, he showed us some pieces, one of which he titled “Ex Rosa Ceremonia”. It was quite striking, and really surprising, as we already had a song called that! So the centerpiece really came together by pure synchronicity.
E&D: Can you tell us about the actual Serpent’s Choir who have featured on both of your albums and how they complement the Pulchra Morte sound and how the idea came to life?
Clayton: While we had some great backing vocalists feature on the first album, it was nothing like The Serpent’s Choir. That idea really spawned when the global lockdowns started. We were in the middle of mixing the record and lamenting how we wouldn’t be able to play live for quite some time. We started talking about how we could bring people into our world to experience the music in other ways. The idea came up that, since everyone is stuck at home, it would be cool if we could provide a creative outlet for people and invite them to come together virtually, joining us on the gang vocals for the track. So we put out the invitation via a show I did on Gimme Radio, via a YouTube video, via our social media – anyone that wanted to join us was welcome. We provided a guide track and asked people to sing along by whatever means they had available – a studio, their computer, their phone, however they could record sound and get it to us was fine, we’d make it work. Of course we also reached out personally to some friends, peers, contacts we’d made over the years in bands, etc., for certain voices we wanted in the mix. In the end, every single person that sent in a track is on the record. People from all over the world, from all backgrounds, etc. We didn’t care. The idea was that if we couldn’t bring a show to you, we could bring you to the show. A bunch of people who don’t necessarily know each other, screaming together to a chorus, just like at a show. And it came out great. We’re very happy with the results.
E&D: The Serpent’s Choir on this record features members from bands like 1349, Immolation, Exhumed, Black Tusk, Mondo Generator, Scour and Exhorder. Did you just reach out to your friends in those bands to take part?
Clayton: Yeah, like I said, in some cases we reached out directly to people we knew and really wanted to be a part of what we were doing. With the lockdowns happening, almost everyone was very happy to participate in something cool and really, I think people were very curious how we would pull it off, haha!
E&D: Who would you love to join The Serpent’s Choir in the future?
Clayton: It’s not necessarily something we are intent on duplicating. I mean, if the song calls for it and the feeling is there, of course we’d do it again. But it’s not some gimmick, it was a very real reflection of what was happening not only on that song but in the world. So I’m not even thinking about potential additions right now. The wish list would be very long!
E&D: Do you think that Ex Rosa Ceremonia ups the stakes in terms of your sound in terms of scope and heaviness from your debut album Divina Autem Et Aniles?
Clayton: We didn’t really set out with those goals in mind. As I said, we write what we are feeling in the moment. If it comes out “heavier” or more broad in scope, great. We write songs that we’d want to listen to as fans. That being said, I don’t really know how to describe where we went with this record. I feel like some songs have faster parts than we had on the first record, and some songs have much slower parts. Some songs have more space to breathe, but are also concise and not overly-long. To me, this record sounds like “us”. It’s an accurate representation of where we are mentally and emotionally. I think with the first record, we set out to make a statement, and were successful in doing just that. With this one, we wanted to draw people in a little further to what we’re about, to pull the veil back a bit. I think we succeeded.
E&D: Are you pleased with the reaction that the album has had so far?
Clayton: Yes, for sure. We’ve had some really great reviews and reactions. It’s fantastic when people really “get” what you’re doing. Yes, we write music for us and songs we want to hear, but when other people in the world can hear what you’ve done, internalize it, and it means something to them, that’s really great. We appreciate it so much.
E&D: With members of the band having been in various different bands including Wolvhammer, Skeletonwitch and Abigail Williams. Do you feel that all of your experience in your previous bands brings a fresh approach to the music of Pulchra Morte?
Clayton: You’re right, all of us have been in other bands over the years. For the most part, you could say we’re “veterans” of metal music. Everyone brings their unique perspective to the table. We all came together because we share common interests and all feel like there just aren’t many bands doing this type of music that we want to hear more of, that there is a hole in the metal landscape we’d like to fill. Everyone contributes their ideas and when it all comes together, it really fleshes out our core ideas.
E&D: Did you always want to merge elements of death, black and doom metal within the music of Pulchra Morte?
Clayton: We didn’t really have any grand design on doing that exactly. We didn’t build a Venn diagram with those genres and plot ourselves in the middle. I think if you hear those elements, that’s by virtue of the members spending decades being in, and listening to, those types of bands. So naturally we have certain leanings, stylistically. Music is subjective though. I think if you talk to 20 different people, you’d probably get 20 different definitions of those genres you mentioned. What, objectively, constitutes those styles? When I listen to us, I don’t really know how to describe it. It’s not straight death metal, it’s not straight doom metal, etc. But my definition of those things is informed by my having lived through their formation. Someone newer to metal, having found it after some of these genre buckets were well-accepted, probably has a completely different perspective.
E&D: Will you be hitting the road in support of the record as soon as it is safe to do so?
Clayton: That’s the plan. We’d love to do so.
E&D: What has been the most memorable tour that Pulchra Morte have done so far?
Clayton: Playing dates with 1349, Uada, and Cloak last year was fantastic. Some really great crowds, and as you pointed out, we have some elements of various genres in our music, so we were really well-received by fans. Getting to hang out with friends every night is a bonus.
E&D: How have you been keeping busy during the lockdown period?
Clayton: Always be productive is our motto. In fact, just last week we all got together a few days for a bit of a rehearsal/writing/recording retreat. Tracked a couple things, filmed a few things, lots of interesting stuff that you’ll be seeing and hearing soon. We have something like 4-5 song structures for a new record already. Jarrett also owns and operates his own screen printing business. He’s been very busy making a bunch of new shirts for us, as well as other clients. I think he’s recently done shirts for Transcending Records label mates Amiensus and Convulse, too.
E&D: What are your top three doom metal, death metal and black metal albums of all time?
Clayton: Haha, that’s a very difficult question! There are five of us, and we probably all have different answers to that. My own answers change frequently depending on how I’m feeling or my mood at the time. I’ll give you three off the top of my head: My Dying Bride – Symphonaire Infernus Et Spera Empyrium, Bathory – Under The Sign Of The Black Mark, Morbid Angel – Altars Of Madness.v You tell me which one is which!