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Sometimes the brightest path forward comes from the darkest abyss. In 2013, chaotic metallic hardcore outfit Cult Leader formed from the ruins of underground extreme act, Gaza. After signing to label powerhouse Deathwish Inc. and having a string of EP’s under their belt, the band birthed their first fully-formed sonic offering in 2015’s debut full-length, ‘Lightless Walk’. In our review, former editor/all-around-nice-guy Kane Hunkin praised said record’s relentless tempo, purposeful transitions and ever-changing, chaotic soundscape, declaring:
“Cult Leader have delivered an album with staying power. The band might still be in its infancy but the music is steady, well-structured and performed in such a way that the listener has no choice but to take notice.”
Jumping to 2018 and that period of infancy is now long behind this band. For Cult Leader have stayed, they’ve survived. They’re no longer the new guys, having been a consistent musical outfit for half a decade now, and the industry has well and truly taken notice. Which brings us then to this inevitable question: after the reception and success of ‘Lightless Walk’, can they back it up for LP#2? One listen to lead single and album opener, ‘I Am Healed’, and the answer is an unequivocal ‘Hell fucking yes they can!’
This first track immediately burrows into your brain stem within the first 30 seconds, with an intro that gives you zero breathing room. Angular, off-kilter riffage fires from guitarist Michael Mason; cracking snare and exploding drum fills rip courtesy of percussionist Casey Hansen; the thick bottom end rumbles come straight from Sam Richards; and Anthony Lucero’s throat-shredding vocal delivery storms forward. Lucero’s staggering evolution from former Gaza bassist to Cult Leader’s secret weapon is all front and centre on ‘I Am Healed’ and a large portion of ‘A Patient Man’. The man is an absolute weapon behind the mic and he gives his most bestial performance to date on this new record, with vocals that sound like he uses battery acid for mouthwash.
Around the track’s mid-section, after slithering out of some sliding discord riffs into a pulverizing beatdown, Lucero throws down these pained, blood-curdling guttural screams and utters my favourite lyric on the entire record: “I was born to become a blackhole/In a blue sky/Heal me/Please heal me.” Lucero has mastered the ability to evoke real pain and real anguish through vocal aggression in a way that is both jaw-dropping and truly terrifying. Technical proficiency maybe one thing, but it isn’t everything when it comes to conveying true meaning in one’s own performance. (I’m looking at you, ‘Deathcore Vocal Cover Dude Bros on Youtube’.)
After this ripper of an opener, ‘A Patient Man’ takes cues from its namesake and unfurls its musical complexity with equal does of endurance and self-restraint. ‘Curse of Satisfaction’ comes out as an exercise in selfishness, gluttony and self-destruction, where Mason lays down more slabs of frantic dissonance that scratch coarsely against Hansen’s D-beat backbone. Richards punctuates a breakdown section here with a glorious little bass slide, while Lucero continues to sound like hell-spawn personified. In comparison to the two track’s that precede it, ‘Isolation in the Land of Milk and Honey’ mutates into a brooding, contemplative slow-burn. The back-end of this dark five-minute track sees Cult Leader working through themes of melancholy and isolation, as Lucero screams in pure agony over haunting, plaintive leads from Mason.
All of this builds to the album’s first stark segue. In a somewhat drastic change of pace and mood, Cult Leader switch from the frantic blitz of Converge-esque tension and release and embark on a 12-minute detour through gloomy, menacing soundscapes of Americana dirge. Think along the lines of acts like Dead Can Dance, Mark Lanegan and the more expansive elements of the Neurosis discography. ‘To: Achlys’ is about as close to gothy, post-rock as the group can get without losing their edge, coming off as a six-minute funeral rite or like some evil incantation. Lucero’s imbues his cleans with a warm, low timbre, reflecting on sorrow, beauty and death as a transformative experience. In Greek mythology, Achlys is the primordial goddess of sadness, which adds context to Lucero’s yearning for the “mother of misery” to arise in order for him to dance with the “daughter of the dark” to “the sound of God’s infinite silence.” By contrast, the following song, ‘A World of Joy’, strikes a slightly more rousing note, with Lucero taking solace in emotional numbness and acceptance. All as the band carries him out of the dark with an uplifting instrumental that descends into a murky, sludgy climax.
For the rest of the record, Cult Leader continues to operate within this dualistic mindset. Tracks like ‘Craft of Mourning’ and ‘Share My Pain’ snarl and kick like a tortured animal, but they do admittedly lack the sheer visceral punch of the album’s stellar opener. However, ‘Aurum Reclusa’ recovers slightly off the back of Mason’s hypnotic chugging riffs, a pummeling performance from Hansen and easily the record’s best mosh-ready moment. Kurt Ballou’s gritty and nuanced production all lends itself well here, giving the heavy elements the requisite amount of grit and grime. Towards the record’s end, we arrive at yet another two-track sonic detour: the lingering strain of the album’s title track (the record’s longest composition) and the emotional maelstrom of closer ‘The Broken Right Hand of God’. The latter of which sees Lucero neatly sum up with a curious morsel of fatalistic resignation in the face of perseverance: “We leave or are left behind/We must walk on/We must/We will fail.”
What’s evident on ‘A Patient Man’ is that Cult Leader are clearly experts in their chosen craft; as comfortable whipping out short, chaotic bursts of visceral metallic hardcore as they are ruminating on emotional frailty through folk, post-rock and dark Americana. However, viewed as an album and as a collective work, ‘A Patient Man’ does suffer from some pacing issues, especially when the band switches tack in a jarring or meandering way. Individually, their execution in song-writing holds up, but holistically the mood swings can be a tad abrupt. These small issues aside, ‘A Patient Man’ is still an extremely competent slice of dark, heavy music, in terms of both thematic resonance and raw, sonic power. As the old saying goes, ‘patience is a virtue’, and in that respect, Cult Leader masterfully uses self-restraint to overcome the profound depths of suffering and desolation.
- I Am Healed
- Curse of Satisfaction
- Isolation in the Land of Milk and Honey
- To: Achlys
- A World of Joy
- Craft of Mourning
- Share My Pain
- Aurum Reclusa
- A Patient Man
- The Broken Right Hand of God
‘A Patient Man’ is out now through Deathwish Inc. and you can find physical/digital copies of the record here.