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.

Post a Comment: