Cultic lists themselves as “Black-Death Battle Punk”, which is probably one of the better descriptions of a band’s style I’ve seen in a while. Formed in 2017, this trio lumbers forth with extremely heavy and aggressive instrumentation that recalls some of the earliest death/doom metal while still capturing a bit of black metal and punk in its tonality. Their debut full length High Command may blaze a straightforward path for much of its thirty-five-minute run time, but the thick as molasses riffing and battle cadence of the drums will still prove to be quite appealing for listeners whose tastes skew towards the proto days of the extreme metal genres.
One of the first things that will jump out at you is the appropriately raw production values, which skew heavily towards the low end without losing some of the details in the process. It’s an approach that works in the band’s favor, especially as it suggests that what you can hear on High Command is exactly what you’d get in a live setting. The guitar and bass lumber forth with just the right amount of groove, and the overall tone is slightly murky but mainly focused on pummeling you into submission alongside the warlike cadence of the drumming. At times the denseness of the bass reminds me a bit of Conan, though Cultic’s writing skews more towards earlier death/doom like Winter and some Hellhammer for good measure. High Command maintains a straightforward approach for much of its runtime, favoring mid-tempo riffing and drumming that feels like a battering ram, with only the closing track “Enchained” deviating significantly in tempo. This does result in some repetition and with the similar construction of the songwriting some passages blur together, but the shorter run-time keeps the material from losing your attention.
Given the slightly murkier tonality and heavy hitting drums it makes sense that the vocals follow suit, with the primary pitch coming through as a lower growl that hangs over the recording with a commanding presence. They have just the right amount of echo over them and come through with a good deal of weight, bringing to mind imagery of a barbarian leader summoning his hordes to go to battle. Cultic does shake things up a bit throughout the course of High Command, as you get some higher shrieks and screams as well as some cleaner ranges that give off a slight traditional heavy metal vibe. It’s quite appealing and you can hear some of the additional genre influences in the way the vocals twist and turn as the album progresses, which is something the band should continue to capitalize on as they move forward.
High Command may not deviate significantly from its proto-death/doom roots, but Cultic knows their audience and uses this straightforward approach to deliver some heavy hitting and catchy riffs that could raise the dead with their weight. This trio has left themselves room to branch out further and shake things up a bit as they progress, but they’ve started off with a strong base that will appeal to anyone itching for the formative days of extreme metal. High Command is out now from Eleventh Key Records.
-Review by Chris Dahlberg
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