In the original Dark Souls game, the player must defeat a boss known as the Four Kings, venturing through the desolate, drowned ruins of New Londo, now inhabited only by ghosts and creatures of the Abyss, before descending a long winding staircase that eventually comes to an abrupt end. Below is an endless expanse of utter blackness. To confront the boss, you need to take one more step, dropping down into the Abyss itself, a formless void that seems at once mind-boggling in its scope and yet claustrophobic in its overwhelming darkness.
Encountering this unique realm is an experience that sticks with you long after you’ve moved on from the Four Kings (if you’re stuck on them, just get close and pray you don’t get hit by that AOE), and its frightening presence is felt elsewhere in the world of Dark Souls and its sequels. In Dark Souls III, the first boss is a hulking brute with a huge halberd, a frightening sight in its own right, but after whittling down his health, an abyssal serpentine mass erupts out of his body, changing the characteristics of the fight and scaring the absolute shit out of first-time players. Elsewhere across Lothric Castle, the same horrifying transformation occurs in mindless hollows, perhaps the weakest enemy in the game, injecting a constant source of paranoia into future enemy encounters.
Though you do not visit the Abyss directly in Dark Souls III, its presence is well and truly felt throughout, particularly in boss battles against the Abyss Watchers and High Lord Wolnir. No wonder, then, that San Diego death metallers Putrescine have a song entitled ‘The Abyss’ on their long-awaited debut album, The Fading Flame, a record which takes heavy influence from Dark Souls III’s beautiful but gruelling world.
It’s a ruthless track showcasing the ways in which the band have progressed on the album. Their usual old-school approach has begun to be warped by less conventional methods, with ‘The Abyss’ featuring labyrinthine leads that gives the guitars an aura of fluidity, like the serpentine darkness of the Abyss ensnaring the hollows of Lothric Castle. Today, Astral Noize is honoured to host an exclusive premiere of this track, giving you an early insight into this phenomenal album. But alongside the stream below, we also spoke to guitarist and vocalist Trevor Van Hook for the lowdown on the band’s latest material.4
“Since Marie [McAuliffe, vocals/drum programming] has become instrumental in the songwriting process our sound has shifted more towards the more progressive and weird sides of old school death metal,” explains Van Hook. “We’ve been trying out more counterpoint between the two guitars and exploring the early Gothenburg style of death metal. It’s all blending into a nice mix of both composers. The compositions are much more complex with a focus on dissonant harmonies.”
The album has been a long time coming. Van Hook tells us that material was being written even before the band’s first EP was released. “The recording was done last winter,” he says. “As I understand it Covid put a delay on the record plants, but Tridroid [Records] has been great at getting everything together and ready to go.”
The resulting album is a formidable beast, delivering on the promise shown on the band’s previous material and then some. In 2019 the band dropped The One Reborn, a fierce statement of intent setting out their conceptual and philosophical stall with a blend of Bloodborne lore and anti-fascist, leftist perspectives on the capitalist hellscape in which we exist. Future singles ‘Reek Of Putrescine’ and ‘Devourer Of Gods’ showcased the ways in which the band’s material was evolving into weirder sonic territory, with the latter also hinting at the conceptual underpinnings of the full-length itself.
The Fading Flame is in-part a Dark Souls III concept record, delving into the game’s Lords Of Cinder, past heroes who have now shunned their duty. But, as always, the band also wear their politics on their sleeve, as well they should in a scene infested by nazis and abusers as well as their sympathisers and enablers. “The other [non-Dark Souls] themes include a view of the current stage of capitalism and the trauma it inflicts,” Van Hook reveals. “It ranges from intensely personal to more grand in its perspective.”
But these two things are not entirely disparate. “The Dark Souls theme more or less happened because I was playing it at the time and needed to get some lyrics done,” begins Van Hook. “But some of the themes mesh with our revolutionary politics.“
The band explore the Soulsborne series through the lens of their worldview, seeing metaphors for real-world issues in the game’s narrative and worldbuilding. “The lore of all hitherto existing Soulsborne games is the lore of class struggle,” the guitarist suggests. “Personally, I think there is room for a Marxist interpretation of certain aspects of the lore. The main theme that seemed to come up writing the lyrics specific to the Lords Of Cinder was that the pursuit of linking the flame always resulted in suffering. The most tragic example was Yhorm’s story, how linking the flame destroyed the subjects he was trying to do right by. Since the linking of the flame represents the continuation of the age of the gods, and letting it fade is the age of humanity, I think there’s an interesting dynamic that can certainly be interpreted as class struggle.
“The story of the Abyss Watchers can be viewed as the tragedy of militarism and hero worship. Like Artorius, they dedicated their lives to destroying the abyss but ultimately they succumb to the void. Much like soldiers fighting wars for some abstract concept of freedom, it’s ultimately a fruitless struggle and we come upon them forgotten, broken and locked in a constant struggle against themselves, consumed by the void.”
The Abyss Watchers themselves are the most notable example of the ways in which The Abyss and its corruption hangs heavy over Dark Souls III. The pitch blackness of The Abyss represents sinister forces, but also the uncertainty regarding an age of dark, a time when the world moves past its current cycle of prolonging the status quo by any means necessary despite the constant and ubiquitous deterioration of the world at large. Darkstalker Kaathe also refers to this potential future as the “age of man”, when the humans of the world are no longer ruled over by gods who distort the natural order in an attempt to preserve their own power.
If any of this seems vaguely reminiscent of the plight of the proletariat under late-stage capitalism, then perhaps that’s because Putrescine have a point about the political underpinnings of Dark Souls.
For more on the band’s politicised interpretations of Dark Souls, check out our interview with them in our new zine, The Soulsborne Issue, available now for pre-order.
The Fading Flame is out 26th March on Tridroid Records. Order here.
Words: George Parr