In September 2021, right at the point the UK found itself between two pandemic lockdowns, extreme metal band Cult Burial released their ‘Oblivion’ EP. A genuine musical onslaught, its three tracks combined elements of thrash metal, technical death metal and hardcore to create an absolutely punishing listen – in the best possible way. For lovers of such extremity, it was a pure joy – an example of a band taking familiar traits and pushing forward into new, complex musical landscapes. If you could bend your ears past the noisiest elements, each of the arrangements showcased a real sense of adventure, proving these musicians were more than a cut above your average death metal band.
Their 2023 full length ‘Reverie of The Malignant’ is both brutal and brilliant. A DIY grind-fest where death metal elements collide with sledgehammer heavy hardcore riffs, its seven cuts rarely let up, making a few other extreme metal bands feel laboured and lazy by direct comparison.
The album’s opener, however, isn’t afraid to break the listener in relatively gently. The first few bars of ‘Umbra’ share a slow, almost gothic drone, set beneath a sheet of light industrial-ish fuzziness. Despite a very dark sound, this slowly unfolds in a way that feels almost soundtrack-like. There’s a sense of impending doom, even without the expected crushing riff. Inevitably, Cult Burial are soon on hand with their trademark heaviness, but even this doesn’t reach their previous peak. Instead, the duo chug through a selection of tightly wound melodic death metal riffs, and their relative mid tempo feels a little closer to the crushing hardcore elements of the previous EP than the genre’s more typical pneumatic frenzies. In case this is somehow too commercial in extreme metal terms, you’ll also find a deep, growling voice that’s ready to keep the unsure at bay, and with that joined by an abrasive black metal husk, the track soon grows into the kind of thing Cult Burial fans have come to expect. With more abrasive guitar riffs cutting between the vocals, a slower, more intensive riff used as a breakdown and an unexpected shift into more gothic tones to allow for a melodic, almost bluesy lead guitar, this track wedges most of Cult Burial’s musical traits into four and a half minutes. It’s to their credit that they’ve managed this without anything sounding cluttered.
Cranking the intensity, ‘Awaken’ introduces the kind of classic pneumatic rhythms usually associated with death metal and applies an abrasive guitar delivering a sheet of noise, leading the charge into a black metal banger where the previous combo of growled and scratchy vocals dominate everything. If you can get past those, the number features more cold and atmospheric gothy traits that add a pleasingly dark texture to Cult Burial’s already dense sound, showcasing some solid guitar work throughout. As with the previous track, the featured solo is far more complex than you’d usually associate with this kind of thing. With a prog-metal angle, a flurry of notes add a world of metallic sounds that shouldn’t necessarily fit with the blanket of noise and yet really lift the track, before everything descends into one of the album’s heaviest breakdowns. Since those riffs take on a massive sound fusing hardcore and sludge metal tones, if you’re already familiar with Cult Burial, this is set to become a favourite.
A track that first appeared on the ‘Oblivion’ EP, ‘Parasite’ sounds as good as ever. The bulk of the track centres around sludge metal and old school death metal tropes, but at the same time, you’ll find flourishes of other metal subgenres battling for your attention. It’s clear from the outset that this number has more of a standard groove, despite retaining many of the Cult Burial intensities. The first half of the track unleashes some great extreme metal underscored by a terrific bass sound from Rick, but there’s a classic riff awaiting at the three and a half minute mark, when guitarist Simon unveils a slow and oppressive chord progression that’s made of the purest doom. The effect of hearing this for the first time is to experience something that could crush everything in its slow and cumbersome path. Sure, Cult Burial are capable of being more inventive, but in terms of sheer heaviness, the riff is a winner. Using that to slowly build tension, the band eventually deliver some traditional death metal brilliance with a world of pneumatic drums colliding with Cesar’s vocal growls, leading into ‘Paralysis’, a thrash/death hybrid that takes elements of early Sepultura, Carcass and Meshuggah, throws them into a grinder and comes out sounding more intense. Simon’s use of contrast between dirty riffs and clanging, cleaner notes gives a jarring effect, but it’s brilliantly used to challenge Cesar’s vocals throughout, resulting in a perfect thrash/death/black metal crossover that’ll appeal to most fans of such extreme styles. In some ways, it feels a little pedestrian after the first two numbers, but in terms of really tight metal, it’s impeccably played, creating a real treat for fans of the style.
‘Strive’ ventures into darker musical waters when a deep drone immediately signifies something ominous, and a sludge metal riff rises from an audio swamp. This is contrasted by some finely placed black metal guitar work with a cleaner tone, but this really doesn’t offer any respite from the growing intensity. Then, to make things even scarier, the vocal latches onto some deep, guttural death metal tropes, delivering a performance that’s one of Cult Burial’s most intense. This is a track that’s for committed fans and lovers of the most extreme tech-death sound only. At least that’s the case until the mid point when the lead guitar adds a layer of cold sounding notes, almost sounding inspired by bands like Mork and the most intense strains of folk metal. The respite from the impending doom is incredibly brief, however. After just a few bars, it’s back into the sludge and a really slow trudge through several minutes of doom, augmented by more death growls. Even by Cult Burial’s typical extremes, this is hard work. It’s sort of cool, but definitely more challenging than their already challenging norm. Clearly understanding the importance of sequencing an album effectively, the duo then unveil something substantially different, when ‘Existence’ shares an atmospheric intro working some clean guitar work, more in a progressive black metal tradition. This promises more melody throughout, and in directly relative terms, it certainly follows through. Granted, the rest of the number is as heavy as hell, but a combo of hardcore drumming, jagged guitar riffs and death metal vocals gives a far better insight into talented extreme metal musicians than the previous (almost) impenetrable swamp. More in keeping with numbers like ‘Parasite’, its combo of heaviness and relentless energy rounds out this album very effectively.
The lengthy final track, ‘Oblivion’ – also making a return from the EP – is the sound of a band progressing. In musical terms, you might even say they are taking their doom/death hybrid into progressive territory. Clocking in at almost ten minutes, that track is pretty much the culmination of every Cult Burial experiedsnce and experiment to date. Its opening passage reels in the listener very slowly via a lot of distortion interspersed with clean guitar sounds, giving no real indication of what’s to follow, and then, after a minute or so, Cult Burial wheel out an absolutely crushing doom riff. This is particularly effective since it’s contrasted by the clean notes, setting up a really great and gothic atmosphere. It doesn’t last: barely a minute later, they’ve switched gears again for a few bars of crushing death metal, before moving into a thrash/black metal mood. This restless spirit continues, and is swiftly followed by a brief interlude where more goth-infused riffs dominate, before everyone settles upon a push and pull between pure sludge and classic death metal. Linking the ever restless music, there’s a deep and throat-caned vocal that draws heavily from death metal’s roots – something that’ll be make or break for most listeners – but it’s quickly obvious that this band truly means business. Five minutes in, it’s all change once more for an instrumental section where thrash metal mechanics are heightened by an abrasive edge of black metal, lending an almost industrial feel to everything, before a lengthy instrumental break focuses heavily on pneumatic rhythms and a classic metal lead guitar break. By then dropping into pure doom delivered at a funereal pace, Cult Burial appear to revert to expectations, but a heavy layer of relatively melodic guitar helps make the slow and oppressive sounds more interesting, before some pure black metal mechanics create something of a frightening climax. There’s a song in here somewhere…but, in some ways, it’s best not to cling on to anything for too long; this works much better if you approach it as a collection of great extreme metal ideas strung together as a CV of everything Cult Burial stand for. It’s bloody epic, to say the least – and if you had even a passing interest in their debut you’ll certainly have endless fun navigating the musical twists here.
Cult Burial are never easy listening, but as the ‘Oblivion’ EP more than suggested, and the full length ‘Reverie of The Malignant’ often confirms, is that this band – in the great scheme of extreme things – has the guts of something special. Their meticulous musical hand allows their brand of noise to twist into fascinating, ugly shapes with regularity, giving the extreme metal scene a worthy kick up the arse. Yes, they can be tiring, but also really thrilling in their quest for the ultimate grind and the most intensive chug. Simply put, if you’re looking for brilliant extreme metal sounds, this self-released disc will not let you down.