What do Bloodborne and leftist politics have in common? Let death metal outfit Putrscrine enlighten you…
Given that much of the focus around the contemporary wave of anti-fascist metal artists has been on black metal, it may initially seem like a novelty to find a death metal band singing openly about politics, but then again it is a genre that has long had an obsession with the worst facets of human existence. Just as its bands have always touched on gory extremes, be it fantastical gross-out shock value or real-world influences like the thought patterns of serial killers, San Diego’s Putrescine turn their focus to, in their own words, “the real-world brutality carried out against the working class.” Indeed, whilst the trio’s sound is unashamedly old-school, it is the conceptual influences that are the key alteration between Putrescine and the bands from which they take inspiration.
Using a combination of their leftist politics and love of FromSoftware’s mind-blowing 2015 game Bloodborne – namely a boss called The One Reborn, a mass of skeletons and corpses that’s the result of a failed experiment in ascending mankind to a level on par with godlike beings – the trio, comprised of guitarist Trevor Van Hook, bassist Zachary Sanders (also credited with the leads and as producer) and drum programmer Marie McAuliffe, all of whom share vocal duties, address labour struggles, imperialism and anti-vaxxers on their debut EP, which boasts a scathing combination of death metal and goregrind.
The trio’s no-holds-barred barrage is a far cry from the mishmashing of genres happening elsewhere in the scene, but as much as we love to see innovation in music, it’s no guarantee of quality, something that the trio’s debut release, also named The One Reborn, delivers in spades. Devoting your sound to a style you know and love is certainly valid, particularly in an age where it’s possible to replicate and even surpass legends of the genre from the comfort of your own home. Putrescine’s sound is as raw as you might expect from a first release, but it boasts accomplished songwriting brimming with face-shredding riffs and steamrolling rhythms, the whole thing buzzing with an electrifying energy that comes to a head on soaring solos which cut through the brutality with searing precision.
Off the strength of the release, we felt compelled to reach out to the band to learn more, so read on to hear more about their formation, writing process, influences, and how their video game and political inspirations may have more in common than it first appears.
How did the band come together? Was there a point of interest or shared ethos that brought you together?
Trevor: Zac and I go back a long way, as soon as he moved down to San Diego we started working on music together. Our first project hit a creative wall, and we decided to do straightforward metal. From there Marie offered to help program drums, and everything fell into place. Marie was in my first band as well, so working with her again felt right.
Zac: Our first project was pseudo-industrial metal mixed with dubstep about Bloodborne. We had two finished songs, one about “The Hunt” from Bloodborne and then another one that was essentially the groundwork of ‘Entropy’. We may or may not let people hear that… So basically Bloodborne was the shared ethos we wanted to write about. Eventually though Trevor and I were texting and basically we were just like “let’s just make metal, Trevor you’re really great at that and doing all this synth stuff is so time consuming.” That’s where Marie jumped on to program the drums that she sent over via Guitar Pro MIDI and then eventually vocals which turned out to be an awesome idea. Her vocals are so high range and bone-chilling it was an excellent counterpoint to Trevor’s more guttural brutal vocals. Recording her was like having a real life banshee in my apartment, it was magical.
Marie: Trevor is possibly my oldest friend and I really enjoy his ability to get projects into motion, so I was excited to be involved in a band with him again.
Your debut EP is an accomplished first release. How did you find the process of creating and recording the project?
Trevor: Would you believe it was recorded in an apartment? I wrote the songs, sent them to Zac and Marie, and we began recording on a weekly-ish basis. Marie took care of the drums and sent them back. The vocals were all done in a PVC booth surrounded by moving blankets, and the guitar was recorded the same way. Zac recorded the guitar solos and bass on his own time and everything came together incredibly well. It was a relaxed and natural process that let us take our time and get everything how we wanted it. It was the epitome of DIY but Zac did such a good job getting the sound right.
Zac: Trevor sent me MIDI from Guitar Pro to drop into Ableton and replace with software instruments, at least so I could learn the bass parts. We recorded the guitars in there as well with a Shure SM57 clone called a Pyle. For the bass I just ran it straight into my interface and hit record, Trevor sent me a YouTube video so I could get an idea for the tone and I did my best to emulate that with plugins. Same thing with the solos I wrote, the guitar went straight into the interface and then through some free VSTs (TSE808, NC 8505 then Poulin cab with Catharsis impulses). Drums were also done via a free kit you can download called the MT PowerDrumKit, freeware is best ware.
Your music is largely quite old-school. Who would you cite as influences?
Trevor: Carcass is a personal favourite, and I believe that shows on some of the songs. Morbid Angel, particularly the Tucker-era is a big inspiration, though I’m not sure that really showed on these songs. I love a lot of the old Swedish bands, particularly the first Carnage album and Dismember. I almost used an HM-2 on this but I’m actually glad I didn’t. I’m also influenced by a lot of contemporary death metal.
Marie: I’m a big fan of old-school mid-paced death metal like Carcass, Tucker-era Morbid Angel, and Bolt Thrower. I was doing my best to channel Ken Owens and Martin Kearns in how I was writing the drums on the EP.
‘Homestead’ samples Mark Ruffalo reading a powerful quote from Eugene Debs whilst Rep. Ilhan Omar is also sampled on ‘Inhuman’, so I assume it’s fair to say your music is not just anti-fascist but also engaged with other facets of leftist politics. Did you always plan to express these views in your music or did you find yourself writing about such topics naturally? Do you think it’s important that bands are vocal about such issues?
Trevor: I wouldn’t say I set out to write explicitly political death metal, but examining the depths of human depravity is part of the genre. Ignoring the misogynistic or gratuitous content that was just for shock value, isn’t that how we’ve always justified the genre? So in the same way Carcass was inspired by forensic pathology, and Cannibal Corpse and countless others by serial killers, I looked to real-world brutality carried out against the working class. The stories of what the El Salvador national guard did, at El Mozote and otherwise are beyond belief. It’s sick, the heights of human cruelty. If death metal isn’t just for childish shock value, then I feel like these topics are perfect for it. What Elliot Abrams oversaw and covered up is shit straight out of a horror movie. I don’t expect every band to have exclusively left-wing politics, or to comment on it, but it’s important to reclaim space for those ideas and viewpoints.
Marie: I’d say it was a bit of both given that there’s so much metal that’s functionally about nothing, and it feels worthwhile to have some actual message. Also given the modern trend of “apolitical nihilists” trying to tie metal to regressive or exclusionary beliefs it’s vital that there be bands willing to have an overtly left-wing edge along with the riffs.
Much of the modern movement of anti-fascist metal artists has been focused around styles that differ from your own, particularly black metal (Dawn Ray’d, Underdark, Neckbeard Deathcamp, Sarparast etc.) but also crust-punk (Redbait, Racetraitor etc.) and doom/sludge (Vile Creature, Allfather, Body Void etc.), but were you at all inspired by such artists? Did you set out with the aim of adding your voice to this movement?
Trevor: Yes, it’s hard to ignore that for the past few years metal’s apolitical, everything goes attitude has been challenged, and in a lot of cases things seems to be coming to a head. I think what those bands have been doing is important; vocally challenging fascism in our spaces is necessary. What they’re doing, as a fan first and foremost, is inspiring. I love all the bands you mentioned, its an honour to be compared to them in any way.
I didn’t set out to cultivate a brand or shoehorn my way into anything, I just set out to make music I love and write lyrics about what matters to me. If that’s science and video games, or labour movements, so be it.
Marie: I set out to write the music I want to first, in this case death metal, and then have the message be about whatever is important to me. I’m inspired by bands like Vile Creature, Panopticon, and HIRS to be unafraid in the message I project but not necessarily to create an overtly left-wing message, we just happened to be leftists.
The EP has tracks about Bloodborne as well as more politically-engaged numbers, is there any crossover in those themes?
Trevor: The One Reborn, if I understand the lore correctly (shoutout to VaatiVidya for making any sense of it), is the culmination of the efforts of men in power to ascend to godhood by crushing human life into a monstrosity. Sounds a lot like capitalism to me.
Your sound takes influence from goregrind as well as straight-up death metal. Is this also what made you decide to write about Bloodborne’s The One Reborn? Of all the game’s bosses, it’s undoubtedly the most fitting for such a style…
There’s a lot of great visual inspiration to take from that game, but the mass of corpses vomiting black sludge everywhere sure is metal.
What can we expect from Putrescine going forward?
Trevor: Tapes are coming via Pattern Recognition Records (who also pressed the Neckbeard Deathcamp demo) October 1st! We’re hoping to get a live lineup together and start playing shows, and a decent amount of writing for a full-length is already done. Thank you for the chance to do this interview!
Zac: More metal, more DIY bullshit and hopefully more video game references.
Marie: I have a much more active hand in the writing process for our next release so expect something even more developed and expect it soon.
The One Reborn is out now. Download it here at ‘name your price’.
Words: George Parr