(This is TheMadIsraeli’s review of the debut album by the Icelandic band Cult of Lilith, which was released on September 4 by Metal Blade Records.)
It’s rare any more that modern attempts at technical death metal impress. A lot of the bands who are producing good stuff were around at least five years ago, if not longer. So when a band come around who are complete newbies, absolute new blood, and they come out swinging with a debut that crushes the status quo of the hum-drum of bad Beneath The Massacre worship, I have to give credit where credit is due.
The thing about technical death metal that a lot of the zoomers (for lack of a better term) don’t get, is that it’s about demonstrating instrumental virtuosity while still maintaining compelling songwriting chops. Suffocation has this, Necrophagist had this, Exocrine has this, you get the idea. It’s hard to find technical death metal bands nowadays who write real songs with definitive elements of progression and logical structure and cohesion while also writing crazy complicated riffs or sections that push both technical skill and endurance.
That brings me to today’s subject, Icelandic upstarts Cult Of Lilith.
Their debut Mara is, in my humble estimation, one of the absolute best death metal albums of the entire year. Bringing together a smattering of Soreption-like machine precision, Black Dahlia Murder-styled neoclassical melody, and Revocation’s tendency toward big, imperial, yet technical fusion-esque ideation, the result is for me, the most compelling death metal record I’ve heard this year.
Opener “Cosmic Maelstrom” was of course going to catch my ear with that delightful harpsichord intro, but the ensuing tidal wave of sound — a delicately balanced mix of Romantic melody and Baroque ornamentation and maneuverability in the riffing department — hits hard and is unrelenting. The first song alone is both a showcase of endurance and a demonstration of top-notch songwriting potential. Excellent dual guitar divergences, a compelling degree of diversity in vocal tonality, and a drummer who has the perfect combination of blistering yet intricate execution in the way he attacks the kit. The surprise slam section that breaks out in the middle of the song is a nice added touch of stylistic diversity that fits while being a nice twist.
The opening smattering of songs on this album alone offers a pretty diverse array of songwriting approaches. “Purple Tide” focuses more around a lot of serpentine dissonant riffs and small alterations to keep you guessing. “Enter The Mancubus” is just pure chaos — fucked-up chord progressions, sinister sounding guitar harmonizations, and flighty passages. Songs like “Atlas” introduce some eerie clean vocals and clean guitar sections that sort of feel like Akercocke in a lot of ways, bringing forth a lumbering behemoth of twisted riffs that feel like one of Revocation’s groovier, darker numbers.
The way this bands hits so many tempos, riffing styles, and other stylistic nuances from all corners of death metal and makes it all work is just so impressive. The cool small tidbits of classical instruments like harpsichord, piano, and such also give the band a vibe that’s sort of all their own. Especially amongst the crowd in 2020.
This might be my favorite debut of 2020? Maybe also the best debut of 2020? You be the judge, but Cult Of Lilith will be on my radar from here on out. An immensely powerful record that’s a testament to everything fun, gripping, and commendable about death metal in all its unrelenting technical and grim glory.