Cultic – Of Fire and Sorcery


Pennsylvania’s Cultic mix alchemy and primitive death metal with the same alacrity as an amateur poisoner. They also enjoy the darkness of dungeon synth music. Put all these together and you get something that Celtic Frost created in 1985 crossed with the strangest form of industrial sounds seldom heard since Throbbing Gristle. Now on their second album and reduced to a duo after the departure of bassist, Reese Harlacker, the husband-and-wife team of Brian and Rebecca Magar are all that stands between your sanity and their gratification. This album will scare you shitless with the lights out.

You might allow yourself a chuckle when you hear the timpani drum and bass trombone of ‘Mystical Exaltation’ give way to the raw death-doom of ‘Beseech the Olden Throne’. Artists are not supposed to sound like this in 2022 – indeed, it should not be possible in the post-analogue age. And that’s what makes this record so fascinating. Forget about all those plastic extreme metal bands with their type-writer drums and Pro-Tools enhancements – Cultic want to take you back to the days of Sepultura’s Morbid Visions in the mid-1980s. Brian Magar’s vocal abrasions throb with a menacing echo effect that renders Tom G. Warrior’s throat performance on the Hellhammer demos tame by comparison. Imagine if Grand Magus decided to imitate the Swiss legends on their next album by recording it on an eight-track with the benefit of a strong digital mastering service.

Perhaps the definition of dungeon synth varies, but ‘Weaver Deceiver’ is more like sinister drone music with clichéd percussion effects and squirming keyboard notes that belong in a Lucio Fulci film from the late 1970s. It’s ugly and too excitable in its purpose to send a shiver down your spine, but it’s also captivating. You want more, and they give you more. The festering death-doom of ‘Potion’ could grace any record from the golden age of the genre on Peaceville Records between 1990 and 1992. ‘The Tower’ will remind you of the intro to Celtic Frost’s ‘Ground’ from their 2006 comeback album. Listen how Brian Magar adds a second channel of guitar noise to his simplistic swamp of distorted chord changes. Here, Rebecca Magar’s drum rhythms stay in the amateur basement school of proficiency, but they suit this music to perfection. A double-bass pedal or blast beat would spoil the charm of these songs.

It may be fifty-two minutes in length, but you can work out the structure of this record within fifteen. Every track with an odd number is a sinister interlude piece; those with an even number go heavy on the filthy death-doom. Like most bands from this cavern, they also run into a couple of plagiarist moments. ‘Iron Castle’ is like a cassette recording of Celtic Frost’s ‘Dethroned Emperor’ with scarier vocals and grimier guitars. ‘Warlock’ is not a Skinny Puppy cover but a composition that takes – you’ve guessed it – Celtic Frost’s template for ‘Dawn of Megiddo’ for its inspiration. And yet the latter is an excellent song packed with grisly vocals and malevolent French horns in the chorus. The lyrics are absurd enough to be taken seriously: “A secret bastion/ With gates of steel/ Contains a specter/ Of magic and might/ Sworn to the shadows/ A veiled life/ You must take heed/ To the mystic’s vision.” How can you dislike something as entertaining as this?

Do you remember the last time a metal album spooked you? If not, then, this is the one to give you goosebumps. Maybe the band dragged this reviewer into the mouth of madness during his listening experience. The twelve-minutes of ‘Iron Castle Redux’ appear to stop dead at 06:08 seconds for a period of silence. You rewind back to this point, but it plays where you know silence existed. The same thing happens at 07:09 seconds – the song comes to an abrupt halt. You rewind it to this point in time after thirty seconds, and the solemn execution drums play as if they never faded out. What the fuck? (Am I going insane?)

All those bands that go back to the blackened thrash metal of 1985 with tongue-in-cheek humour could benefit from a listen to Of Fire and Sorcery. If we must return to a golden age, let it be the grimy proto-death metal of Hellhammer updated with the esoteric menace of droning synthesisers.

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 22/04/2022

Record Label: Eleventh Key

Standout tracks: Beseech the Olden Throne, Warlock, Iron Castle

Suggested Further Listening: Hellhammer – Triumph of Death [Demo] (1983), Sepultura – Morbid Visions (1986), Celtic Frost – To Mega Therion (1985)