November 9, 2018

Cult Leader - A Patient Man

By Justin C. Cult Leader, formed by the members of the defunct Gaza, made relatively quick work of establishing themselves as their own band, not just a continuation of Gaza with a roster change. Gaza officially disbanded in 2013, and Cult Leader put
By Justin C.


Cult Leader, formed by the members of the defunct Gaza, made relatively quick work of establishing themselves as their own band, not just a continuation of Gaza with a roster change. Gaza officially disbanded in 2013, and Cult Leader put out Nothing for Us Here the very next year, followed by an EP and full-length in 2015. They took a little bit of a pause after that, but 2018's A Patient Man was worth the wait. It finds the band expanding their sound even further, while still building on their hard-to-categorize baseline.

You'll see Cult Leader still labeled with variations of "hardcore" (and that seems to keep them out of The Metal Archives, for good or ill), but I think that's just a holdover from their Gaza days. What I hear in the band now is a mix of sludge's heaviness but without the murk, and grind's technicality but without the extreme level of chaos that tag usually implies. Add to that a new level of expansiveness in song structure, and A Patient Man makes for an album that took me many listens to wrap my head around.

The album starts off with a blaze. Punch your steering wheel and shout along with the growled refrain "HEAL ME!" in the opener, "I Am Healed." "Curse of Satisfaction" follows a similar path of tech-ish brutality, but the third track, "Isolation in the Land of Milk and Honey," starts to showcase a wider palette of sounds as it progresses, and the the album takes a hard right turn at "To: Achlys." This track prominently features a cleanly sung baritone, and it's a vocal style that dominates "To: Achlys" and the following track, "In a World of Joy."

The clean singing isn't new to Cult Leader. They used it in "A Good Life" on A Lightless Walk, and the haunting closing track of Useless Animal, "You Are Not My Blood," also used similar styling. What immediately struck me with "To: Achlys," though, is how prominent the clean singing is. To my ear, this style was pushed back in the mix a little bit in the band's previous albums, but here it is front and center, often with very minimalist backing.

It's a bold choice. "To: Achlys" and "In a World of Joy" are two of the longer songs in the album, and they veer into what I might call "dark folk" for a solid 12 minutes smack in the middle. I wasn't sure how I felt about this at first, but the more I listened, the more I was willing to follow them. These songs are filled with regret and isolation, and the vocals are earnest and almost primitive in a way. It's not a virtuoso vocal performance, but I don't think that would have been nearly as effective. I'd also argue that, in spite of the drastic stylistic difference, there's never any sense that these tracks are experiments. It's the same band, and maintaining your band's core identity in two very different modes is no easy task.

Cult Leader may switch back to the heavy churn after those tracks, like in "Share My Pain," but they're not done with their new expansiveness. The title track and the album closer, "The Broken Right Hand of God," are truly something else, and I'd be lying if I said I'd had a chance to fully absorb them. Listening to this album has been a journey for me, and I'm curious if it will get the attention it deserves in a distracted, I'll-listen-to-30-seconds-and-then-move-on scene, but I hope it does get that attention.

November 6, 2018

Madder Mortem - Marrow

By Kevin Page. 20 years these quirky Norwegians have been kicking around the metal scene. After a 7 year wait between prior albums (2009's Eight Ways and 2016's Red in Tooth and Claw) they've taken pity on us with only 2 years between releases.
By Kevin Page.

Artwork Thore Hansen

20 years these quirky Norwegians have been kicking around the metal scene. After a 7 year wait between prior albums (2009's Eight Ways and 2016's Red in Tooth and Claw) they've taken pity on us with only 2 years between releases. This album is a definite 'grower' as it took a few more spins than usual for it to sink in. But your patience will pay off in the long run. Here is my track by track breakdown.

After a brief intro, the album kicks off with "Liberator". The band doesn't waste any time getting right to the point. This track centers around a big fat juicy riff that weaves its way into your frontal lobe. For long time fans of the band, this would be the "My Name is Silence" of the album.

"Moonlight Over Silver White", one of my favorite songs on the record. There's something about that main guitar riff that tickles me with excitement. Masterfully woven together with smooth jazz and melodic metal, it bounces back and forth between two worlds.

"Until You Return" can be considered the most tender song the band has done to date. I could envision them in suits in a dark smokey lounge noodling away. But in typical Madder fashion, it's punctuated with fits of rage before returning to its casual beauty.

"My Will Be Done" is the most oddball/divisive track on the album. Essentially a groove metal bro dude tune with screamo vocals, interjected with the sonic feelings of present day Gojira/Mastodon on the pre-chorus and interspersed with Agnete's signature voice. I'll be damned if it didn't win me over in the end though. I'm not going to claim it's my favorite track or anything, but for something I initially thought stood out like a sore thumb (or even a down note), I'm totally fine with it. Consider it somewhat of a palate cleanser.

"Far From Home" is heavily reminiscent of "Armour" from Eight Ways. Soft, gentle, ends on a high note with Agnete's soaring vocals.

"Marrow", the title song and my 2nd favorite track. Not only is this a full on metal jazz song (with overtones of "Changeling" from 2006's Desiderata). It's another number I can see them playing in a nightclub lounge. Yet after lulling the audience into a false sense of security with "Until You Return", the utter shock and dismay of the unsuspecting crowd would be a glorious sight to see.

Photos by Aline Meyer.

"White Snow, Red Shadows" is fairly straightforward, at least for a Madder Mortem composition. Punchy and upbeat from start to finish. This is the only time I've heard Agnete vocally trying to keep up with the music.

"Stumble On" really snuck up on me and turned out to be my clear cut favorite. The backbone of song is a slice of Midwest Americana folk (with shades of "Hangman" thrown in for good measure). Featuring some of the finest vocal and lyrical work by Ms. Kirkevaag to date, it elicits that chemical reaction in my brain that moves me emotionally. The galloping drums and the build to the final crescendo is a thing of pure beauty.

Threads of purpose through our life
We will stumble on
Blinding darkness and endless light
We will stumble on

This is the time when shadows grow longer
When sharp blades grow blunt and you need to be stronger
This is the point where you don't run for cover
When everything's urgent and nothing is over
This is the truth and the heart of the matter
If you cannot hold, then everything SHATTERS

"Waiting to Fall" is the closer with a bombastic 9 minute run-time that ties together all the varied textures and emotions of the songs that came before it. Again, as a callback to previous albums, you'll get a distinct "The Eighth Wave" vibe here.

In my review of their prior album, Red in Tooth and Claw I felt the band had essentially let it's hair down and become fully comfortable in their own skin. Now with Marrow they have taken that a few steps further with a seemingly "we don't give a shit, here it is" attitude. Yet with an expertly crafted production (you end up learning a few things over two decades) they do indeed care.

November 2, 2018

Morne - To the Night Unknown

By Calen Henry. To the Night Unknown’s cover sets the tone; band and album name in simple typeface with a stark greyscale photo of flowers. It is stripped to the bone, but those bony fingers stretch toward epic heights.
By Calen Henry.


To the Night Unknown’s cover sets the tone; band and album name in simple typeface with a stark greyscale photo of flowers. It is stripped to the bone, but those bony fingers stretch toward epic heights. Morne take the slow burning riffs and the expansive guitar leads of doom metal and combine it with the bludgeoning slow build of post-metal and the minimalist composition of crust. Crushing bare-bones riffs, led by powerful drumming, underscore mournful leads and howling vocals. It’s as tightly focused as it is expansive.

Many a stoner or doom band hammers out a riff for several minutes and calls it a song. It takes a special band to make that approach work. In lesser hands, Morne's stripped-down approach could end up that way. “Less is more” says vocalist/guitarist Milosz Gassen. Like the album cover, riffs are as minimalist as can be but structured and arranged to create an engrossing whole.

Album opener and title track “To the Night Unknown” sets the album’s sonic palette; a crushing two note riff forms its backbone and its forward momentum. The riff twists and turns through variations upon which the band layers lyrical leads and supporting riffs, maintaining a balance between smothering menace and wailing agony. The focus is razor sharp, but the skill with which it all unfolds is mesmerizing. It’s an album to get lost in.

The lyrics feature a similar laser focus. All the songs speak of sadness and loss, darkness and cold, and loneliness and fear. They’re the perfect fit for the instruments giving life to the mood of the music.

The songcraft is excellent, and the album is thoroughly engrossing for those so inclined. The album length coupled with the band’s devotion to minimalism will polarize listeners. On top of the potentially divisive dichotomy of epic doom and stripped down punk aesthetics, To the Night Unknown is 67 minutes long.

Morne’s singular approach is worth it, though. They’re a unique metal voice accomplishing exactly what they set out to do. They will be exactly what many are looking for, though some may come away unmoved.