Few Spaniards emigrate to Iceland, but it might turn out to be one of the more fortuitous events in metal history, like a certain tennis player from Denmark moving to LA in the early 1980s. New Cult of Lilith vocalist, Mario Infantes Ávalos, is the missing piece of the jigsaw for founder, Daniel Þór Hannesson, who now gives us a complete band for the ‘necromechanical baroque’ metal he envisaged for the first Cult of Lilith EP in 2016.
Nothing follows a script in the world of these Icelandic virtuosos and those hoping for a progressive metal record with a bit of spice need to straighten their shoulders, dust down their trousers, and get ready for a bludgeoning waltz through the vicissitudes of extreme metal. This isn’t just another experiment in merging heavy music with unforeseen melodic tangents. Opeth are far too good to eclipse in that regards and Pennsylvania’s Black Crown Initiate already claimed the prize for 2020. No, Cult of Lilith cultivate the same progressive blackened death as Lancashire’s Slugdge and explore the bizarre avant-garde experimentation of label mates, Igorrr. At its core is a metallic fury that is as good as anything by Isahn and as heavy as the most brutal slam metal found in the sewers of the underground scene.
Those who had the chance to digest the band’s single, ‘Purple Tide’, might have an idea what to expect but this is a group that second guesses the listener throughout the album. With a mid-section that sounds like Van Halen interpreting Meshuggah and a persistent question of what Dillinger Escape Plan would sound like covering Dream Theater, these are the least of your curiosities when the Moog notes kick in on ‘Purple Tide’. The same happens on standout track, ‘Profeta Paloma’, where they switch from brutal tech death to an emotive flamenco passage with effortless ease. This is after a Beethoven flourish wrapped in chunky guitar riffs. The level of technical ability is astounding. Every song takes an extreme metal kaleidoscope of riffs and blast beats and infuses them with all sorts of grooves and double-bass kicks.
Cult of Lilith want you to set aside thirty-six minutes of your day to listen to this album from start to finish. ‘Atlas’ will standout after the first spin. This starts with delicate guitar arpeggios and a melodious croon but soon explodes into a blast of frantic guitar downstrokes and high vocal screams like Daniël De Jongh of Textures. Listeners will also recognise the same demented rage that permeates through Strapping Young Lad’s Alien album. The best example is ‘Comatose’, where Mario meditates on the theme of overthinking and the anxiety of self-torture that comes with deep introspection. His bizarre parody of an alter ego is the sound of a man talking to the walls. Behind him are four musicians who can play anything that pops into their heads.
‘Technical ability is an excuse to cover up poor song-writing ability,’ you might say. This is the one reservation you could level at the band. Every song has a thousand notes and ideas trying to co-exist with Mario’s theatrical death metal voice. Often the former overwhelms the latter, to the extent that it starts to feel like the vocals and lyrics are more of an afterthought than an integral component in the music. It took this reviewer five attempts to comprehend this album, which of course was impossible. But that’s what makes this a unique listen. It is so unpredictable yet so intriguing. And it’s also heavier than a beach whale.
Cult of Lilith will write better albums than this in the future, which is a testament to their potential. Mara is an impressive work of art.
Release Date: 04/09/2020
Record Label: Metal Blade
Standout tracks: Purple Tide, Atlas, Profeta Paloma
Suggested Further Listening: Ihsahn – angL (2008), Slugdge – Esoteric Malacology (2018), Igorrr – Spirituality and Distortion (2020)