‘How do they manage to introduce an element of self-satisfied muscle-flexing in such an unforgiving and morbid headspace?’ asked Scream Blast Repeat in our review of Cult Burial’s 2021 Oblivion EP? It’s a question the London duo have had to time to ponder over the last eighteen months. Given the critical praise heaped on Oblivion, they decided to structure their sophomore album around the 2021 EP and include it as a critical part of their latest release. This might dismay some long-term fans who will only discover four new songs on this seven-track effort, but Reverie of the Malignant is another dark descent into a world of desolation and misery. Indeed, the bacterial causes of pneumonia would probably sound like this if they could be transcribed into an audio language.
The predatory guitar arpeggio in the opening passages of ‘Umbra’ hint at what you can expect from this record. Motifs emerge like fungi and re-appear like viral infections. The heartbeat of throbbing bass notes give way to an aggressive slab of ugly death metal with unfathomable chord sequences. These hold out the promise of melody the way a sex offender hopes to stay on the straight and narrow. There might be a good heart underneath the wild urges and insatiable desires. You can hear the iconic death-doom of the debut Paradise Lost album in the atmospheric high-register patterns that feed off the grimy low-end chords. But this is not doom in the traditional sense. A better description would be a post-metal band picking apart death metal. Or even black metal. ‘Awaken’ takes the visceral aggression of the latter and strips it of its unimaginative tremolo rhythms in favour of a more ethereal slash of the plectrum. It’ll remind you of the latest Svalbard album, but the bass is much louder and more likely to leave a scar on your chest.
Including all three tracks from 2021’s Oblivion EP will benefit those that have no prior knowledge of Cult Burial’s music. The double assault of ‘Parasite’ and ‘Paralysed’ retain their efficacy in the new order of arrangements. Indeed, the skull-crushing rhythms in the intro to the former will leave you wanting more; the latter sees the drummer trying to blast-beat his way out of the claustrophobic fuzz. You’ll feel paralysed after listening to this slough of despondent noise. That’s the point. It all makes sense when you read the lyrics: “I wonder why I act so beastly / Something I can’t control / Painful regret and a sharp sorrow are the entirety of my soul.”
A wave of trapped distortion warns you at the beginning of ‘Strive’ to be ready for more of the same. But Cult Burial sail close to the malevolence of Deathspell Omega in their determination to enhance atmospheric darkness with ritualistic violence. Multiple layers of echoing guitars swish in the mix like lingering poison agents. Danish death metal fiends, LIVLØS, operate in similar territory where melody and uncontrollable noise collide. Clear death metal rhythms simmer from the guitar amps, but the drums remain in a stubborn doom tempo. This paradox is a defining feature of the music. Last year’s Strigoi album aims for the same nauseous sensation.
Cult Burial’s music is fascinating, but that does not mean it always leads to enjoyment. You’ll need to acclimatise to their Darkthrone-inspired doom posturing on ‘Existence’. The faster guitar riffs avoid the sharp high-treble settings in favour of a dry fuzz that sticks in the back of your throat like a cough. Closing track, ‘Oblivion’, sounds as bizarre as it did in 2021. You hope the new Autopsy album can replicate something close to this standard of barbarism. Not that the US veterans would go off script with a post-punk ode to Siouxsie and the Banshees in the middle of a song like Cult of Burial do here. These nine minutes and sixteen seconds are as ambitious as an Ulcerate composition and as aggressive as Watain.
Extreme metal will always find new ways to evolve. Cult Burial can mislead you into places your misanthropic and morbid mind would love to dwell. The more you surrender to these impulses, the more you’ll enjoy it.
Release Date: 20/10/2023
Record Label: Self-released
Standout tracks: Umbra, Parasite, Strive
Suggested Further Listening: LIVLØS – And Then There Were None (2021), Strigoi – Viscera (2022), Darkthrone – Astral Fortress (2022)